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Key Criteria/Market Landscape

Key Criteria for Evaluating Work Management Automation v1.0

Everything That Can Be Automated Will Be Automated

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Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Report Topics
  3. Key Criteria
  4. Emerging Practices
  5. Vendors
  6. Radar Chart
  7. About Stowe Boyd

Summary

As time has passed, work management tools from many leading vendors have become increasingly mature and sophisticated, adding functionality that builds on team task management, adding additional capabilities in one or more domains, such as project management, automation, social communications, business intelligence, or specialization for specific corporate domains or industries. The breadth and depth of services that project work management vendors are offering are so broad, it is not practical to explore the totality of the features they offer comparatively. In this report, we will focus specifically on features supporting business process automation as an adjunct to the baseline features of work management, and examine how leading work management offerings meet the criteria for work management automation.


Work Management

I have used the term work management for years to differentiate a category of work technologies:

Work management is a term that has emerged in recent years as team task management tools were enhanced with various social communication capabilities, or as project management solutions were enhanced with team task management and social communication.

In the chart below, work management is shown as a task-centric work technology, distinguished from the message- and content-centric work technologies.

Figure 1: Work Technology’s Many Variants

Note that this chart does not show every sort of work technology. Omitted are outward-facing technologies like Customer Service Management (CRM) software, and marketing technology (martech). Likewise, we have not included in this chart a long list of additional work technologies, like employee experience, email, file sync-and-share, and intranets.

As time has passed, work management tools from many leading vendors have become increasingly mature and sophisticated, adding functionality that builds on team task management and additional capabilities in one or more domains. The capabilities can include: project management, automation, social communications, business intelligence, or specialization for specific corporate domains or industries.

As just a few examples, we see a number of products in the work management market that have evolved into sophisticated project work management solutions. These products often include automation capabilities, as well as a list of other advances:

  • Incorporate more structured project management features, allowing scaling of large and complex projects
  • Support patterns of use like costing and resource management and other sorts of estimation and analysis, including financial analysis
  • Deliver business intelligence, like dashboards to visually display status, dependencies, and critical issue notification, targeting management
  • Build out use cases for marketing, professional services, software development or engineering

The breadth and depth of what project work management vendors are offering are very broad. It is not practical, therefore, to explore the totality of the features they offer in a comparative way. The exercise relatively quickly becomes an apples-and-oranges problem, because the various solutions are not point-for-point comparable, since one may have deep support for costing and resource management (like Mavenlink), while at the same time, another may focus on deep support for marketing functionality (like Wrike), and a third might be organized around integration with a work chat application (like Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Teams).

Work Management Automation: Definitions and Expectations

For this investigation, we have selected one specific dimension of differentiation — work management automation — and I will be looking into how a shortlist of vendors are supporting business process automation as an adjunct to the baseline features of work management.

I am not investigating automation as a general phenomenon, but looking at it specifically in the context of work management. In this domain, the foundation is task management in the context of business processes. A business process is simply a representation of a logical sequence of events through which some business activity is accomplished: for example, responding to a request for customer support in a product organization.

In the absence of any automation of these processes, people perform the various steps (the individual tasks) manually. That is to say, the person performing each task has to determine what to do based on their understanding of the general idea of the process, given the specific circumstances of the particular case at hand. Put another way, the customer support process has a general flow, but many different outcomes based on the specific customer, the issue they have encountered, and other factors. The rules may be explicit, such as ‘all VIP customers’ support requests are handled by a VIP support representative,’ or the ‘rules’ may be based on tacit knowledge, which may be more vague or subjective.

Automation of a business process at the present day relies a great deal on taking advantage of explicit rules of the sort just outlined. And the implementation of work management automation relies on various bits of information being associated with the business process. One of our hypotheses is that as a general rule, this sort of information will be related to tasks, through custom attributes, or some other kind of ‘case folder.’ So, returning to the customer support example, the customer’s name, the problem description, a support ticket number, and other case-related information follows the task around and is accessible to appropriate team members, who may reassign the task to other people to handle the request for support. Assignment of the task and other information, such as the task status, is also associated with the task and acts as a proxy for the status of the business process as a whole.

Another expectation is that work management automation will follow one or both of two approaches. Some vendors will implement automation as a core, central feature of their offering, while others will opt to integrate with partners’ automation capabilities. Smartsheet, for example, has implemented very sophisticated automation directly within the product. Wrike, on the other hand, is a blend: it implemented a form-based means to initiate automated processes, but for more sophisticated workflows, they have white-labeled Workato’s automation platform, which opens the door to that company’s ecosystem of connected enterprise apps. Other vendors may opt not to support process automation at all.

Over time, it is believed the payoffs from automation will lead beyond work management as a manual means to coordinate work, and the increasing emphasis will shift the center of gravity in the value of work management toward execution and routinization. The following chart represents perhaps the most important hypothesis we will be testing in this research; presuming we see a rapid transition from automation being of secondary importance in enterprise use of work management tools, to primary value being placed on automation.

Figure 2: Transforming Data from Liability to Asset

In this case, the time frame spectrum: near-term is the next one to two years, medium-term is three to five years, and the long-term is five years and longer. Note that in this time horizon chart, the likelihood of probable events is greater than those that are only plausible, which are in turn more likely than merely possible events.

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