Workfront acquires Atiim to help every business succeed like Google

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 16, 2019
Work management vendor Workfront acquires OKR platform Atiim to add a goal management framework and improve enterprise-wide alignment

Soccer ball hits goal net with cloud and sky behind © Billion Photos - shutterstock

Work management vendor Workfront is adding goal management capabilities after announcing its acquisition of Boston-based startup Atiim. The new Workfront Goals, due for release early next year, will allow business leaders to set overall company goals that act as a framework for the work done by teams and individuals throughout an organization.

Atiim (pronounced "A-team") has built a SaaS application that allows midmarket businesses to track Objectives & Key Results (OKR), a management methodology pioneered by Intel co-founder Andy Grove and subsequently adopted at Google when the search giant was still a minnow. The methodology establishes quantifiable business goals and the key results that will underpin those goals, and then has team members check in regularly on their progress towards those results and goals.

Workfront will incorporate Atiim's capabilities into its 'system of record for work' that aims to co-ordinate teamwork across the multiple tools, projects and tasks of a modern enterprise. In a pre-briefing ahead of today's news, Workfront's Chief Product and Technology Officer, Steve ZoBell, gave us an example of how the company will itself use Workfront Goals to prepare to ship the product to customers.

Our overriding objective is, we want to have this product in market early next year. How are we going to measure that?

We're successful with the launch. We get it in market by this date. We get this many customers thrilled using it. We get this amount of revenue. We set objectives, how we're going to measure that.

Visibility across the board

Those overall goals and targets then cascade down into more granular objectives within the organization:

Each function is going to set objectives, whether it's marketing preparing a press release and marketing campaign, product management making sure the code is ready and that it's branded correctly, customer success making sure the team knows how to white-glove implement people.

Ultimately these goals and measures cascade down through the organization into specific tasks each individual has to complete. But because it's been done in the framework of overall goals and results at an organization level, everyone can see how their individual work contributes to the whole:

They're going to see, 'I'm doing this work because that ties into getting the product to market to this date, to get to this objective ...

'I'm not just turning a crank mindlessly, but I get where it's going.'

That visibility works both ways, adds ZoBell. Whereas goal management as a standalone application depends on people declaring their progress, the advantage of combining it into the Workfront platform is that this is a system of record for what work is being done. Management therefore gets visibility into whether their goals are on track:

In a work management tool, that's generally where you see the truth of what's happening. If the goals are not connected to the truth, people might just happily say, 'Things are green.' But if I see, projects are late, there's risks on tasks, there's core dependencies, it'll automatically tell me this goal and objective is in trouble, without them having to actually go and do dual data entry [in two separate tools].

It'll make it so I can snap a line from the truth of the objective, all the way to the work that's been happening, without a lot of dual work. That's what makes me excited — it'll help us be aligned.

Aligning around goals

Giving greater visibility to line managers also has the effect of making individual contributions more transparent, he adds.

Who does not like to know that their boss, or their boss's boss, or *their* boss's boss, sees their work is getting done, and they were accountable and responsible for it? ...

Employees want to be recognized. Tying the objectives that you're setting as a leader, with the work I'm doing, creates a virtuous cycle, that makes it so much stronger.

Joining the dots in this way answers a key challenge that most companies face today, he believes:

Nearly every company is working really, really hard. I don't see companies where they're lifestyle companies, feet on the table, just chillaxing.

But the problem is, it's like everybody's going in so many different directions. They're not all moving unified together. So much of that energy is just wasted calories. Align them, and you can express, accelerate, and pass up the competitors.

Terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed. Atiim had raised over $1 million from early-stage venture capital firms Accomplice, Beast Ventures and Triage Ventures.

My take

This acquisition is firmly in line with an emerging trend among enterprise work management vendors to be able to view discrete projects and teamwork in the context of organization-wide goals. As more and more work has become digitized, the software engineers doing that digitalization have realized that no one is mapping those individual islands of work to a joined-up whole — and yet the technology is now starting to make that a realizable goal.

Of course there are a lot of new work processes and cultural changes that have to be followed through to make all of this a practical reality. Workfront's acquisition of Atiim gives it the technology platform to help organizations achieve more alignment around their goals. Now it has to make it work.

My conversation with ZoBell last week was part of a wider analyst day that covered a fair bit of ground, which I'll be writing up in further pieces over the next week or so. Workfront is one of a number of vendors in the digital collaboration and teamwork space that I've been spending time with recently, and all of this research has provided much food for thought, which I'm eager to share with readers as soon as time permits.

Image credit - Soccer ball hits back of net with cloud and sky behind © Billion Photos - shutterstock

Disclosure - Workfront is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing and funded the author's travel to attend its analyst briefing in Salt Lake City

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