Looking for ways to help your business stand out in an increasingly competitive market? Many companies are turning to a new collaborative project and task management approach called “Work Management” that promises to improve business agility, boost performance and results, and optimize customer service.
Work management enables business professionals to streamline and transform critical business processes with easy-to-use, self-service solutions. With these solutions, organizations unlock core business information for day-to-day interaction, automate processes, capture and manage data and work streams, provide transparency and enable collaboration within and outside the company. Thus, they drive improved business productivity, operational efficiency and business growth.
The strategy is being driven by a rapidly evolving Work Management solutions market that is helping companies close the chapter on siloed data and point applications that hinder progress and productivity. Work Management solutions are designed to quickly deliver a unified software products and services environment that brings collaboration, data sharing and project and task management together into a seamless, efficiency boosting experience.
With so many Work Management solutions to choose from, it’s important to be informed about the different types, classifications, use cases, and benefits each one brings to the table. It’s also helpful to understand the levels of expertise needed to take advantage of different types of Work Management offerings.
With this information, you will be able to assess the Work Management solutions that best meet your needs—whether your goal is to unite and automate data and processes within and across business units for better project collaboration, streamline day-to-day tasks for individuals, or both.
Gartner Inc. defines Work Management as “a set of software products and services that apply workflow structure to the movement of information as well as to the interaction of business processes and human worker processes that generate the information. Work Management streamlines and transforms crucial business processes and thus can improve results and performance.”
Forrester, another independent analyst group, defines it under “collaborative Work Management for the enterprise.” According to Forrester, “Organizations are waking up to the realization that their employees want engaging, easy-to-use solutions that let them keep track of what they're working on, collaborate with team members, and provide transparency to leadership about their performance — all without too much administrative rigor.”
Work Management solutions fall across the spectrum and range from collaborative project management to individual task management.
Project management solutions focus on bringing cross-functional internal teams (such as those from marketing and technology) and often external teams (such as partners and suppliers) together to, for example, streamline the delivery of products and services to customers.
Task management solutions typically focus on the processes surrounding individual activities. Often these applications are leveraged to simplify and automate repeatable tasks such as HR onboarding.
If you’re reading this article, you may be struggling with redundant tasks eating away at your productivity. You may also have challenges with team collaboration and sharing information across departments or vendors, or you are looking for ways to improve communication across project or campaign teams. You may be using types of project collaboration tools at your disposal such as spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel for example), cloud-based FTP, document storage and sharing services (DropBox or Box for example), and a host of other readily available tools that only add to the data silos issues created by non-integrated point solutions.
According to Forrester Research, Inc., information workers use an average of eight applications to perform their jobs. Research from the American Psychological Association cites that the mental blocks caused by switching tasks reduces productivity by 40 percent.
To avoid these pitfalls, Work Management solutions should always be supported by a unified application platform with a central database and project portfolio management and reporting functionality.
It is important to note that some Work Management solutions will focus more on collaborative task-driven planning and tracking while others focus more on social collaboration and only light task management. Work Management tools are also typically accessible to everyone in the organization—whether the user requires a general-purpose platform to manage a work effort or project, needs to grant access to contributors to a project or campaign, or is managing the delivery of services. This avoids the access or licensing issues associated with some enterprise project management or document management solutions such as Microsoft Project or SharePoint.
Work Management solutions are not vertically focused, but bring value to many different departmental roles and functions across the organization. Whether to increase cross-functional or cross-organizational initiatives and collaboration—or further improve the productivity of teams and avoid the “cognitive switching” drain caused by using multiple solutions to get the job done—Work Management solutions are increasingly replacing a number of point solutions to plan, schedule and track the efforts of information workers.
According to the 2016 State of Citizen Development Report from QuickBase, Inc., information workers on average were replacing 11 point solutions with custom applications built on their QuickBase Work Management platform, which is up from 8 in 2015.
Work Management solutions are also providing the data accessibility and empowerment users need to improve day-to-day operations. Examples might include facilitating automated integration into CRM or other enterprise solutions such as ERP or SharePoint where access is typically limited, or enabling users to create their own workflow productivity application without requiring IT resources to code it.
A growing commercial photography studio was struggling with tracking day-to-day expenses and matching them to specific jobs from disparate systems. Using a Work Management solution the team created the “Holy Grail” of accurate, automatic reporting of profit and loss percentages on every project, effectively tying every transaction to a related job by integrating its project management and finance applications—all with just a few clicks on the one system.
An insurance services company needed to replace an overloaded, off-the-shelf customer relationship management (CRM) system that was crashing constantly and required expensive development work whenever business needs changed. The company turned to a Work Management solution to custom build and maintain an agile CRM app that now supports seamless management of growing volumes of information related to its policies, claims, and payments. Today, the company can flexibly and quickly track and report on details down to the policy level, making it easy, for example, to see what products its customers have and those they might need. That ability alone has led to $120,000 in new premiums in the first quarter of use.
Since workflows vary depending on the structure of your organization and the nature of tasks being performed, Work Management software must be extremely flexible. Vendor offerings, such as those from QuickBase, offer ready-made Work Management solutions that can be tailored to need or built from scratch, and updated as required.
The level of developer or non-developer expertise and support you may need will depend upon the type of work management solution you choose (e.g. complex enterprise class project management versus a solution for a small internal team). When making your decision, consider the skill sets available within each department across your organization and how they apply to your application building resources.
Builders are categorized as business professionals who have basic to advanced Microsoft Excel skills, such as formulas and macros, but are typically not able to code. Their primary job function is conducting business, and the applications they build would be mainly for themselves and their immediate team. These simple to moderately complex applications would enable employees to, for example, access data, perform tasks, automate processes and collaborate to get work done.
Builders and power builders often collaborate with one another at varying levels. A builder, for example, may build, deploy and update an application independently but engage the power builder to help connect and authenticate corporate systems. Builders and power builders may also team up to develop more complex applications, with the latter prototyping and iterating the application while the former adds business logic, workflows, reports, and dashboards to meet their exact requirements.
Consider your use case for today, but also be sure to plan for the future. What does success look like and how will you measure it? It may be clear to you and your team that processes are “broken” or require way too much manual work to be efficient. However, unless you have a baseline of information on the current state, and metrics to show improvement once a solution has been adopted, it will be difficult to declare implementation a success.
Before choosing a Work Management solution, consider these tips:
1. Lay out your entire work lifecycle
By understanding the processes you currently have, you can better select a Work Management solution that will suit your team’s needs now and in the future. Outlining processes throughout the entire work lifecycle will put the focus on team needs versus individual needs to provide a clear picture of what the team needs as a whole.
Do you need to bring cross-functional internal teams and external teams together? Do you need to track individual activities of team members? With this information, you can evaluate Work Management software to determine if you require a more collaborative, task-driven planning and tracking solution or a lighter social collaboration and task management solution.
2. Select a vendor that supports a flexible platform that allows you to develop and grow an integrated set of applications.
The flexibility of collaborative Work Management solutions benefits both project managers who require task-driven solutions to monitor progress and other team members who use process-driven solutions to get the work done.
When selecting a Work Management vendor, evaluate the platform’s flexibility to adapt to evolving needs. Working in a platform that can scale and adapt to changing processes and easily integrate with new applications or enterprise solutions is essential. The flexibility of a Work Management platform will bring immense value when your organization has a need for both operational support and project management.
3. Consider your builder resources and their skill levels when making your choice.
Can your regular line of business person integrate with other systems without IT support? Can they build off of it like a platform for additional use cases? Select a vendor with capabilities to serve the needs of different users and expertise.
In this blog we have covered the types of Work Management solutions, the different ways in which they are used in businesses today, different skill sets required to make the most of them, the value they are bringing to organizations of all types and sizes, and key considerations to help you determine the right Work Management solution for your business. With that decision in hand, you are well on your way to greater business agility to keep up with fast-paced change. You have the insight to quickly find and capitalize on new opportunities through real-time information sharing and automated reporting, and the means to drive greater productivity and better service for enhanced competitiveness and a stronger bottom line through point and click integration, right-sized governance and enterprise scalability.
Ready to start improving your business processes with work management software? Check out the Process Improvement Playbook.