Work Management in Theory: Context

This is an excerpt of the upcoming report, Work Management Narrative, in which I will be reviewing around a dozen products, including Asana, Azendoo, Basecamp, Clarizen, Fleep, Flow, Liquid Planner, Mavenlink, Smartsheet, Trello, Work Front, Wrike, Zoho Projects and others.


Work Management in Theory: Context

Work management is a term that has emerged in recent years as task management tools were enhanced with various social communication capabilities, principally derived from design motifs from work media tools. This increase of capabilities — and the resulting overlap of work management capabilities with those of work media tools — means that trying to assess the trends that are prevalent  in work management really require stepping back. Today, there are a wide range of approaches to supporting cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for  team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.

The Lay of the Landscape

Here’s a table that attempts to make sense of a variety of technologies that are used in business to support cooperative work. It is not exhaustive, but I hope it will clarify some of the distinctions between these classes of tools. At the same time, there is a great deal of overlap so some degree of confusion is inevitable.
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Today, there are a wide range of approaches to support cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.The primary distinction here is the degree of emphasis for task-centric versus message-centric tools. Those that we will focus on in this report are task-centric, even though there have to include some fundamental level of social communication to be considered work management tools. So for example, Todoist is a leading team task management tool, widely used in business. However, the tool lacks social communication aside from comments (‘notes’) associated with tasks: Todoist does not support messaging, discussions, activity streams, or ‘call outs’ (also called ‘@mentions’). While tasks can be assigned to others by the task creator, there is no other way that users can reference each other, or ‘talk’. And at the least social level of task management, personal task management tools don’t allow even the most basic level of business-oriented task assignment. As a result, team task management tools are not covered in this report, although Gigaom may develop a report like this one for that market, at some time in the future.
Work management tools share a lot of similarities with various message-centric work technologies. Note that I have divided the message-centric tools into two sorts:

  1. Follow centric — like Yammer, where the primary orientation of messaging is around following of message sources, and messages are primarily displayed in activity streams based on the user choosing who and what to follow.
  2. Chat centric — such as Slack, where the primary orientation of message is around chat rooms, or channels, and messages are principally displayed in those contexts when the user chooses to’ join’ or ‘enter’ them.

Some work media tools provide a degree of  task management, although it may not be the primary focus of the tool. And, as a general case, products like Jive, Yammer, and IBM Connections have little or no native task management, relying instead on integration with third party solutions. Likewise, many leading work chat offerings, like Slack and Hipchat, don’t have native task management, also relying instead on integration with task management tools, like Asana and Jira.
Lastly, the class of tools I refer to as workforce communications (like Lua, Avaamo, Fieldwire, and Sitrion One) have characteristics that are like those of work media and work chat tools, but are principally oriented toward communications management with an increasingly mobile contingent of the out-of-office ‘hard’ workforce, such as construction, retail and restaurant workers, field sales, security, and others.
At the bottom tier of the table in figure 1 are tools that are not principally oriented toward business use, like personal task management (Todoist, and Google Tasks), social media (Facebook, and Twitter), and consumer chat apps (Facebook M, and WhatsApp). This are widely used in business contexts, although they aren’t geared for it. Note however that this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be recast as team or work oriented tools, like the trajectory of Facebook for Work.
There are other less-closely related work technologies that are also not investigated here, like curation tools, conferencing tools, and so called ‘productivity’ tools (like Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox Paper, and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides). These, again, are candidates for inclusion in another report.


Next week, I will be posting another excerpt from the report. 

Atlassian’s IPO is just part of its lofty goal for the workplace

One of Silicon Valley’s “unicorns” (that is, a tech company valued at over $1 billion), Atlassian is the company behind JIRA, HipChat, Confluence and BitBucket, all of which are aimed at making collaborative efforts within companies easier and more efficient. The company is one of Silicon Valley’s oft-fabled “unicorns” — that is, a company for which the valuation has surpassed the $1 billion dollar mark — and last week the company saw its shares jumping over the initial price of $21 to just over $27, where it has held for the most part. 

Atlassian was founded in 2002 and specializes in workplace software. Most of their products are aimed at streamlining workplace communication and simplifying collaboration in teams. 

HipChat, one of its most popular products, is an email-buster comparable to Slack that brings ongoing correspondence out of lengthy email threads and into a simple chat interface shared by teams and departments within a company. JIRA Software is a project-tracking software development tool. JIRA Service Desk is a task management platform that allows teams to coordinate the living, breathing, changing tasks that often become the foibles of service teams everywhere.

From BBC to Adobe and NVIDIA to Land Rover, Atlassian products are used by over fifty thousand teams worldwide. Which is great, but ultimately just the tip of the iceberg where the company’s concerned. With the successful IPO under their belts, Atlassian’s chasing down some seriously lofty goals.

“Our mission, ultimately, is to have every employee inside of every company using Atlassian products every day,” says Atlassian President Jay Simons. “And when you consider that there’s more than 800 million knowledge workers around the world, that’s a pretty big ambition and it’ll take a while to get there. The IPO doesn’t really change that. That’s basically been a goal of the company since inception.” 

A pretty big ambition, indeed. But it’s a pretty big market, too, and it’s no secret that email’s not particularly well-suited to the way that we work today. Inboxes that tend to get cluttered paired with our own abysmal skills when it comes to staying on top of the constant digital deluge, email’s become something of a dirty word in some circles. 

Though email’s something of a necessary evil that likely won’t be going anywhere (no matter how much I wish the opposite were true), Atlassian products exist largely to bring conversations and collaborative efforts that don’t belong in our inboxes into more appropriate arenas. Even with fifty thousand companies already onboard, there are still thousands of teams stuck in the cluttered trenches of email-only communication.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of white space across teams with a lot of inefficient use of email,” says Simons. “I don’t think email’s going away anytime soon because it is an effective way to direct certain kinds of communication to people, but I do think that when you use our products, your inbox becomes a lot smarter, more directed and more appropriate for what email’s good at.” 

In Simons’ eyes, the successful IPO signals a recognition that what Atlassian’s doing is not only working, but that there’s room to grow—more tasks to manage, more email chains to prevent, more projects completed on-time with fewer hiccups and dropped balls. The way we work is changing, and the response yesterday would seem to suggest that Atlasssian’s going to be around to usher in some of these changes in the way we get things done.

“I think that the market and the investor enthusiasm recognizes that we’ve built a pretty special company,” says Simons, “and also recognizes that there’s a big opportunity in front of 800 million knowledge workers worldwide and teams all over the place that are trying to figure out how to work better together.” 

Atlassian splits flagship JIRA product into three ahead of IPO

Atlassian has split its JIRA service, a project management and collaboration platform, into three separate products, the company announced today.
Now, instead of having one service do everything, the company will offer tools to specific types of workers: JIRA Core for non-technical staff; JIRA Software for developers; and JIRA Service Desk for all of the poor bastards who work in IT and support. It’s a pretty big shift, but also one that’s likely to help JIRA scale beyond its use as a tool for technical folks.
The company has also announced that the JIRA services are used by 35,000 businesses across 165 countries. Dividing the tool into distinct parts is supposed to help it address the needs of people who aren’t developing software — such as members of the human resources or IT departments — and continue its growth.


Here’s what Atlassian co-founder and co-chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes said about splitting the company’s flagship product in a press release:

For team collaboration to truly improve, the right tools need to be accessible by every team in every organization. It’s why Excel, Word, and email remain where teams attempt to track and manage processes despite being entirely inefficient. That’s also why we design our products for the Fortune 500,000, not just the Fortune 500. We don’t want to fix collaboration for the few – we want to fix it for everyone. JIRA grew to tens of thousands of customers because it solves a real problem, is affordable and easy for teams to try. Bringing JIRA to all teams is an important step toward our goal of becoming the central collaboration touch-point for every team.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Atlassian has secretly filed to go public under the JOBS Act. It’s said to be planning to make its public debut before the end of this year, according to the Journal, and its private valuation is around $3 billion. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are working on the IPO.

Atlassian’s “Stimulus Package”: Get JIRA & Confluence for $5/Year

atlassianBack in February, I wrote about the internal culture of Atlassian, one of the leading lights in web-based collaboration software.
Beginning today, the company is offering the “Atlassian Stimulus Package,” almost giving away its flagship products — JIRA & Confluence — for just $5 per year, including support. These starter editions are fully functional, but are limited to five users and so suited to freelancers and smaller businesses.
As the company’s Laura Khalil explained, the promotion’s goals are to sell 5,000 licenses and donate the proceeds to children’s education charity Room to Read. The promotion runs for five days only. At the end of the year, you’ll be able to renew for the same price, with that money also being donated to charity.
JIRA is very powerful bug-tracking software, while Confluence is an excellent wiki-based collaboration tool used by many businesses worldwide. However, the cost of these products may have put off many freelancers and small companies. By lowering barriers of entry for small groups and startups, Atlassian may well be enabling an entire generation of freelancers to quickly integrate powerful support and collaboration mechanisms into their businesses.
This “stimulus package” is an interesting marketing tactic. It should expand its user base and address customer needs simultaneously. It’s easy to picture this as a cynical maneuver, but it’s a shame more companies aren’t thinking creatively about how to navigate the recession. Imagine what a similar “stimulus package on” Microsoft Office (s msft) or Adobe CS4 (s adbe) could do for small companies and startups!
What do you think of Atlassian’s offer?