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Workfront Leap 2020 - will Chief Work Officers take their place alongside CIOs and CMOs? Customers share their remote collaboration stories

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed June 25, 2020
Are we ready for Chief Work Officers? And what is the criteria to earn such a title? As Workfront Leap 2020 kicked off, I looked into those questions. A customer story from CenturyLink brought the art of remote team productivity into focus.

Workfront Leap keynote with CEO Alex Shootman
(Workfront Leap kicks off)

One thing I don't expect at virtual events? Bold pronouncements. But we got one at Workfront Leap yesterday.

At Workfront's first virtual user conference, CEO Alex Shootman (pictured right) made this prediction: someday, Chief Work Officer is going to be a recognized job title, along the lines of a CFO or CMO.

And that's not all. During his Workfront Leap keynote, Shootman said:

I'm going to tell you why I think a few hundred chief work officers will become thousands over the next few years. These bold individuals will turn information about projects and tasks into insight that allows their companies to become more competitive. They'll take a work management system, create an operational system of record, and they will launch their careers.

Shootman referenced the rise of the CFO in the 1980s, and the CIO in the 1990s. Both roles have attempted to be more strategic, with the aid of improving technology. Can a Chief Work Officer do the same? Shootman says yes. So what accounts for the rise of the Chief Work Officer? Why now? Shootman says a "work revolution" is forcing the issue:

If you think back just four years ago, we were together in Salt Lake City. And we talked about the work revolution. We talked about it happening for three main reasons. Number one, the level of digital transformation that was happening, the generational change that was occurring inside of companies, and the need to drive knowledge worker productivity.

A Chief Work Officer must rise above the fray

Shootman says the efforts Workfront customers made towards this work revolution have paid off with a serious test: pandemic times. He cited the 3,000+ Workfront customers whose projects inform the question: what will it take to become a Chief Work Officer? How can we productive/fulfilled/strategic in any economic circumstance? Workfront didn't work all 3,000+ customers into the keynote interviews, but quite a few chimed in.

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. Shootman says this imperative has sharpened Workfront's product strategy into five priorities:

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

Defining a new software category is no small matter. Workfront isn't classic HCM software. Nor is it CX/CRM - though Workfront's close partnerships with firms like Adobe are crucial. Improving workplace productivity after decades of unspectacular gains? That's a worthy goal - as is a centralized work management platform. Especially when you consider the proliferation of software today's workers must duck in and out of. Keeping twenty browser tabs open sounds more like Chief Browser Officer than Chief Work Officer. There must be a better way.

One Workfront Leap session to check out: "Our Workfront journey - a lot can happen in a year," with CenturyLink. As the second-largest U.S. communications provider to enterprise companies, CenturyLink has 43,000 employees globally. That's enough employees to create plenty of scurrying around for files and reports.

Session presenter Shane LaBounty illustrated the problem facing his 175 person marketing team, and how a year with Workfront has changed things. To drive the point home, LaBounty put up a slide with just the number 28,000 on it. What does that mean? As LaBounty said: 

28,000 - What does that even mean? In our instance, it was 175 people, times 40 hours a week, times four weeks, so 28,000 hours of resources we had. How do we answer questions like: what are they working on? How are we prioritizing the work? If someone asks, "Where are the projects that these people are working on?" Could we tell them? There were eight to ten different systems, all with different amounts of information, all with different amounts of updates.

Now, stir the pot some more: everyone is working remotely. LaBounty: 

We're doing this session remotely instead of all standing together in Orlando. So if something changes, or we have a high priority project, how do we actually know what the opportunity costs would be? So we really started from ground zero. 

LaBounty's "before" slide illustrates the problem well: 

Workfront - CenturyLink - "before" slide
(via Workfront Leap)


And where is CenturyLink headed? LaBounty showed us: 

CenturyLink - Workfront Leap direction
(via Workfront Leap)

The only problem with elevating work across the board: where do you start, when so many processes could be improved? That's why one of the big themes of Workflow Leap 2020 was making "best practice" templates available to customers. LaBounty says the partnership with Workfront brought the right use cases to light:

Workflow was a great partner to help us kind of card sort and say, "Okay, well, here's 100 things we could do. Let's break it up into smaller chunks, and go do individual pieces." Once you roll out the discovery piece, you really start to dig in, and you build. This is where things like templates and roles, your intakes and your reports, start to come together. And again, you can start small, and iterate and continue to add to them, and then test and train.

One of CenturyLink's first Workfront use cases? Simplifying the brand and legal approval process. Since then, LaBounty's team used Workfront templates for different use cases, according to the type of deliverable.

Dealing with the lifecycles of marketing assets can be a monster challenge. As LaBounty joked, it's not unlike renting a storage locker and digging around for what you need:

We had an online asset management system, but it was really just a bunch of storage units... We had a person on our team that was responsible for when you finished, you put it in a folder and they put it in the digital management system, and you prayed that you could find it. Honestly, it's where creative files largely came to die.

To tackle this, they used Workfront in conjunction with Adobe Assets. LaBounty says they rethought this process with Workfront, approaching it not as a storage bin but as a distribution center, or "DAM 2.0." (DAM = Digital Asset Management). The new process ties in workflows from the Adobe Creative Cloud:

We really worked to create this distribution center strategy, where all the downstream systems needed to be able to consume what comes out of our creative shop. It's really interesting in that distribution strategy to not only think about how do we track the final PDF, but how do we keep the InDesign file and the four images that it takes, and the five fonts that it takes. How do we keep them all together, and actually keep them in context of each other?

So we're actually doing that, and we're passing Workfront data that we're already collecting in the project to Adobe Assets, and then passing metadata back from Assets back to Workfront. So this has been a really exciting piece that we've worked through.

My take

Of course, the shift to Chief Work Officer means turning data from a siloed headache into a business asset. LaBounty's team is pushing into that as well, working on capacity and forecasting. Serving business stakeholders means knowing how many resources projects are going to take - no easy task. Example: if a project involves video deliverables, can we accurately project hours, given that video is a notorious and unpredictable time suck?

Every business unit struggles with capacity planning. LaBounty says marketing is no different, but Workfront is helping:

There's a lot of things to get capacity and forecasting data in. We're still on that journey, but I really wanted paint the picture of what are trying to do, and why? You can start to have database conversations with your teams, your leaders, and even your stakeholders, to say, "Hey, when you ask us to do these things, here's about how much that takes."

A single source of truth around work and tasks is a fundamental goal for these data conversations. This comes out in the Workfront Leap use case from my colleague Derek du Preez, How Disney Yellow Shoes used Workfront to help bring Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to life.

In his final takeaways, LaBounty said something I wish I heard more often: don't be afraid to make mistakes. One of Workfront's big themes is "work boldly." Well, you've got no shot at working boldly if your workplace culture has no tolerance for mistakes. As LaBounty says:

Don't let analysis paralysis get you. You're going to get it wrong. We did, and we learned a lot from it.

In LaBounty's case, being able to turn to Workfront's professional services and support were vital to getting unstuck.

There is Leap news to digest from the day one keynote, including news on Workfront One, as well as 2020 plans for Workfront Align and Scenario Planner. I won't get into that here, but I'll speak to Workfront leadership soon for context and report back.

Deeper integration with Adobe and Microsoft Teams was also announced. Customers will surely welcome that news. Much of Workfront's success will come down to plug-and-play with other popular cloud apps.

There was a provocative keynote segment with Workfront partner Accenture, where dismal statistics on digital transformation project failures were discussed. That's for another time, but I do generally agree with the assertion that DT is way too focused on the "D" (digital) part. "80 percent transformation, 20 percent digital" sounds about right to me.

I don't put much stock in job titles, so I don't personally care if Chief Work Officer ever shows up on business cards en masse or not. But thinking big and outside-the-box - I can always get behind that. I look forward to delving into more stories, to see what Workfront customers are taking on next.

Note on event content access: Workfront Leap debuted on June 24. The free registration now gives you access to all the sessions on-demand.

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