Work management vendors adding more structure and speed to their tools

In just the last few weeks, I’ve been smacked in the head by a new trend — as demonstrated by three different companies — where companies are providing a higher level of structure in the information objects being created and shared within their work management tools. Those companies are Atlassian, SAP, and Qortex.

The tl;dr short version: we are going to see a rapid reconsideration of the plain vanilla status update and tasks, and its displacement by much more structured and specialized sorts of information.

Now, the analytic walk through the three examples.

Atlassian Blueprints

Atlassian briefed my on new features and company growth this past week. With of 5.5 million users and 30 thousand client companies, Atlassian has become a leader in software development work management. They find that they start in development, with Jira and Confluence, and then Confluence tends to spread outside of the development team into product, marketing, and elsewhere.

Rather than just a stream of undifferentiated updates, tasks, and files, people want more structure in their work lives. Atlassian is adding more structured objects with the newly released Blueprints.

Here, the create panel for a Confluence space shows a list of composite blueprints:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 16.06.37

Meeting notes include the sorts of things you’d expect: attendees, agenda, notes, action items, and so on:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 16.07.02

Screenshot 2013-11-24 16.07.23

Users could have created these elements individually, but this dramatically speeds things up and lends a consistent pattern to meeting documents.

Atlassian integrates these Confluence Blueprints directly into Jira, its requirements management tool. so A confluence requirements Blueprint could lead directly to a series of requirements for a sprint, for example.

Work Patterns by SAP Jam

A year ago, SAP launched JAM, and now reports over 10 million subscribers. After learning a great deal through that year, Sameer Patel and his team have developed Work Patterns by SAP Jam, which are intended to conform to type work patterns in the organization. As he describes them,

Each work pattern is:

  • Centered around you: Dynamically connect the dots by recommending and assembling 20% of the data, process, content and network of experts you need 80% of the time.
  • Repeatable: Slow kills. Kick start each pattern you follow by suggesting prior art – formal and informal learning content to allow for repeatable best practices to get you working, fast.
  • Flexible: Your needs will change. Fine-tune any element of a work pattern to conform more closely to how you work.

This re-thinking of how we work cuts right through the tenuous relationship between systems where we engage and others where we transact. Work patterns by SAP Jam are designed to celebrate how we’ve always wanted to work. And it can only be done effectively because of the underlying business context that SAP Jam can not only access, but also interpret.

SAP is launching with 13 work patterns for sales, support and human capital use cases. Here’s a screenshot of an account management page as a sales-oriented work pattern:

National+rivera+Account+Group+overview-v3

Related work patterns exist for opportunity management, deal rooms, and so on, providing a fast and consistent way of working for Jam users.

Qortex

Qortex is a work management tool from Tokyo-based the Plant, with a well thought through design. They have a subtle touch with minimizing information overload, while providing access to a great deal of information metadata. For today’s discussion, I want to focus on their implementation of tasks.

Tasks are not all alike. For example, in a project principally based on the creation, editing and review of reports, users might want to have tasks progress through one series of states, while in a sales context, leads might go through a different series.

Most work management tools — even task management tools that specialize in task metadata — do not allow users to create such task state transitions. Bu Qortex does. Here’s the task states from one project:

qortex states

Note that the metastates — ‘not yet open statuses’, ‘open statuses’ and so on — are fixed, but users can create any number of states in each.

These appear in task lists of the project, along with any labels. Here’s a list organized by user, and showing the states and labels for each task, along with other metadata. For example, Qortex also supports optional time tracking.

Qortex-UI-1.45-PM-todo-list-byuser

In line with SAP Work Patterns and Atlassian Blueprints, these state specifications can be reused. When a new project is created the user can reuse states from an earlier project. While this seems less sophisticated than the structured pages of the other two approaches there is an added and general wrinkle. Because Qortex knows about the metastates, these state transitions can be exploited by the tool. So, for example, when time tracking is on and a task moves from an open to a closed status, the tool automatically asks the user to enter the time applied to that task. This sort of automation is another take on adding specific sorts of structure to work management. And in the future, it is possible that Qortex could expose these hooks so that users could define their own protocols, stipulating next steps when certain states are reached. For example, in a sales example, if a deal ends without a sale, the tool could require the user to fill out a post-mortem on that broken deal.

The Bottom Line

In the period of a few weeks, I have seen three unrelated examples of competitors upping the ante on structure in their work management architectures. These efforts are driven by the same goals: to add value for customers by allowing them to manage work more quickly, more consistently, and with a more structured form of information management and sharing.

This is a trend that I expect to accelerate, and that will reach across all functionality of these and competitive solutions, over the next few years.