Productivity is too narrow - we need outcomes. The future of work, according to Workfront

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed June 30, 2020
At Workfront Leap 2020, bold predictions were made about the future of work. But there was also a flurry of product news. To sort it out, I got three members of Workfront's team on a post-event debrief.

(Workfront Leap review call)

In my Workfront Leap 2020 roundup, I put Workfront's prediction on the emergence of the Chief Work Officer through the stress test. But I left one thing hanging: what is Workfront doing to bring customers into this future? As I wrote:

You can't become a Chief Work Officer on your own. It's Workfront's job to enable community members to grow into that role. Workfront CEO Alex Shootman says this imperative has sharpened Workfront's product strategy into five priorities:

  • End user usability
  • High-end reporting and analytics
  • The ability to connect to all the other key systems in the organization
  • Enterprise controls - is this system ready to be run by a company?
  • Connecting strategy to the actual execution of work

"Intellectual capital is just as important as actual capital"

But how does that translate into software companies can use today? How much of what we heard at Leap is ready, and what's on the roadmap? To a clearer picture, I had a post-conference Zoom catch up with two members of Workfront's leadership team. Let's start here: what did Workfront want Leap attendees to take away from the keynote? Andrew McCarthy, VP of Communications & Brand at Workfront, told me:

The central theme of what we're talking about is that large enterprises need to think about work the way they've thought about people and finance and customers. Building the intellectual capital of an organization is just as important as actual capital. And that's why we invented a system of record for work management.

The Workfront Leap keynote was something of an elaborate affair, with more of a talk show vibe than a speech. I'm not the one to judge such productions; I'm more of a no-frills type of event consumer. But Workfront did mix in a number of informative, pre-recorded customer interviews. McCarthy:

If you look at Prudential as one example, this is a company that's undergoing strategic business transformation. With this notion of creating connectivity, so they can have smaller teams that can migrate from initiative to initiative. 

Work decisions need better data

Enabling a work transformation is a worthy mission. But: building a work platform to make that happen is no small task. You must deliver on everything from user experience to plug-and-play with other systems of record. How do you turn a proliferation of work data into productivity? Or even better, working smart? McCarthy:

When you think about an enterprise, all of a sudden you've got interlaced, cross-functional teams. Now there is the opportunity and the desire to look at, "How am I resourced in terms of getting a work outcome?"

That's the essential fabric of what we're working towards: "How do we get the right data to drive those essential resource decisions?" And you do that through better work automation.

During our Zoom session, Scott Lee, VP of Product, added customer examples:

As you were talking, I thought of two customer stories. I saw one over lunch today, which was the piece diginomica did on Disney Yellow Shoes and building the Galaxy's Edge. The other is Stanley Black & Decker. The parallel I want to draw here is when Monique Evans and I were doing that interview - we didn't show it in the keynote - but I asked her, "What is the mission of Stanley Black and Decker?" And she goes, "Oh, that's easy. We're building the world."

Part of why they have Workfront is that Workfront helps them do that mission of building the world. I didn't talk to the Disney folks, but I would imagine, if you talk to them about Star Wars, that's about building imaginary worlds, right? 

You can't pursue ambitious corporate missions without intellectual capital. The push is coming from the customer. Lee:

This isn't just us going, "Hey, you should do this." These are our customers telling us: "Help us find a way to actively manage our intellectual capital, because it matters now." The world shifted: we don't need outputs, we need outcomes. That's the reason behind this whole agile movement.

Why workforce planning matters

And that's where the five product priorities come into play. Lee again:

When we think about our investment themes and where we're investing, in order for our customers to get the insights about intellectual capital and work that they can get for their financial capital, or their people resources, you have to build a system that they want to engage in.

So how is Workfront progressing?

  • End user usability - "We just did a massive update to the UI and in Workfront from the user experience, and we're continuing to do that with workflows and and other things."
  • High-end reporting and analytics - "To give insight that means you have to have really good reporting and dashboards, yes, but you have to have analytics. So we're investing in analytics."
  • The ability to connect to all the other key systems in the organization -  Thus the investment in deeper integrations with Adobe and Microsoft Teams, two that were featured at Workfront Leap. Workfront Fusion 2.0, the next interation of Workfront's integration platform, is coming in the next couple of months.
  • Enterprise controls - is this system ready to be run by a company? - Enterprise-grade software brings a higher degree of compliance, and granular expectations around role definitions, data, and security.
  • Connecting strategy to the actual execution of work - Several new Workfront applications fit into this one, including Scenario Planning.

Scenario Planning was an area that caught my ear at Leap. It's targeted for General Availability in August. Financial Planning is one of the hottest markets in enterprise software - but why do we need workforce planning? McCarthy:

The CFO has driven planning in organizations, because it's been a money-based model. But then you get into the operational leaders, and it's: "How do I put buckets all over the place? And how do I make sure that the buckets are so full, that I don't have to worry about it.?" And then it's "How many headcount do I have?" - it's all different discussions. We want to consolidate that.

Ergo, a new planning application. And we need it now more than ever, as we consider multiple scenarios for how to get employees back to the office safely, or keep them remote, or any combination thereof:

What you'll see in Scenario Planner is that integration of people and money in a way that business leaders can go, "What are my key objectives; How am I going to allocate those resources against those key objectives? And can I create multiple different scenarios that I look at, and compare with more people with more money allocated in different ways, and then pick one and turn it into the plan of record?"

That issue struck me as I wrote up the Workfront Leap Century Link story. CenturyLink's Shane LaBounty shared challenges on capacity planning for different projects. McCarthy responded:

How do you understand performance unless you set plans? Workforce management has traditionally been an observation of reality. But you have to have a plan in order to judge an outcome.

My take

Workfront is progressing on Workfront Align, also in beta, also due to come out later this year. Align brings enterprise goals down to the individual level. McCarthy:

Most goal setting has been within an HR system, which isn't bad or wrong. It's just not oriented to the operational management of the company.

During the Workfront Leap keynote, Penn State University talked about how Align and Scenario Planning were helping them. As Penn State's Jennifer Krempa said:

It makes it so much easier to make adjustments to what those plans are within Scenario Planner. To be able to say, "Okay, here's what we were looking at before; our goals have shifted in this way, we now need to reallocate a certain amount of resources to this goal over here." Or, "Hey, this objective just cropped up because, all of a sudden, all of our students across all of our campuses are remote. And how are we supporting the remote enterprise?"

Though two of the main product announcements (Align and Scenario Planning) are still in beta, all told, I saw more forward-thinking product news at this show than most. Generally, product news at other spring events was scarce. Most felt more like last-minute scrambles than coherent events. Workfront was able to set out a clear agenda and release timelines. Now they get to take their own prescription, and measure their own performance against those goals.