Report: How to unlock the promise of agile in the enterprise

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The promises of agile — getting product in front of users faster, embracing requirements changes, choosing and trusting solid contributors — map incredibly well to today’s business environments, where disruptive technology and the ability to quickly capitalize on opportunities either make or break entire verticals. While agile methodologies have had tremendous success in task-oriented teams, many larger businesses have been slower to embrace them as a corporate standard. But agile is not a panacea, and not all projects, business processes, and corporate cultures are natural fits.
The typical enterprise will support multiple methodologies, and making them work together isn’t easy. From budget forecasting to performance benchmarking and accountability, agile presents new disruptions to traditional processes. At the same time, its more granular, responsive approach and the tools that support it can bring new efficiencies to the projects, teams, and organizations implementing them. This report will examine the current state and the future of the multi-methodology enterprise and examine procedural and technological changes that can help enterprises integrate agile methodologies into a larger ecosystem.
To read the full report click here.

New workflow software aims to empower younger, quieter employees

It’s nearly impossible to overstate the degree to which work has been changed by the world we live in today. From the fundamental changes of Internet and email to the more recent additions like cloud computing and Slack, we just don’t work like we used to–we work a whole lot faster and a whole lot harder. And, as a result, workflow tends to get a whole lot messier.

One of the newest tools in the workflow management game is Scalus, a Google Ventures-backed startup that’s looking further change the way we work. While Scalus is far from the first workflow management solution, its approach to common problems in the workflow pipeline is a little different.

Built on the back of BackOps, a solution that Scalus founder and CEO Kristen Koh Goldstein developed for back office management, Scalus focuses on repeatable tasks and turning conversations into actionable items. Though Goldstein and her team didn’t necessarily set out to build Scalus, as their own operations tasks grew more complex and increasingly difficult to manage, they found that the existing project management solutions weren’t quite working.

“There are a lot of collaboration or project management systems that come out of the design or marketing agency world,” says Goldstein. “They’re very gant-charty and assume that a project is super complex and deep and don’t really think about how to break up those projects into modular components that repeat. And operations is really about perfecting a workflow and repeating the heck out of it, so trying to repurpose these application coming out of what I call the ‘Don-Draper World’ was really hard.”

Applications like BaseCamp and Asana are crazy powerful and widely-used project management systems, but ones that are purpose-built for the design and engineering worlds. They’re also typically built under the assumption that everyone on the team is a willing self-advocate–someone who doesn’t have trouble speaking up and making themselves a part of the conversation.

But in Goldstein’s experience, not all employees are equally willing to speak up. She noticed that junior members–often Millennials–felt as though they didn’t have permission to make their voices heard, particularly when they were looking to change things or keep a more senior team member accountable for work that was getting stuck and creating a bottleneck. Goldstein’s BackOps crew needed a way to harness voices that weren’t getting heard and to bring together a distributed workforce. And so, they built their own scalable solution, and Scalus was born.

“What we needed that the other applications couldn’t do for us was to bring in the collaboration of the shy members of the team because they just didn’t want to look like they were bragging or blaming other people,” says Goldstein. “So that was a big problem. We needed to bring workflow automation into the picture so that the shier people who wanted to ask permission rather than forgiveness knew what to do next.”

So Scalus was built to be a kind of equalizing collaboration software that makes contributing and accountability more simple. But what does it do, exactly? Put simply, it makes items that are broadcast throughout workflow networks trackable, actionable and repeatable. Under the big umbrella of “operations,” Scalus brings together sales, accounting, customer management and HR ops and integrates with other vital office tools like Slack and Salesforce.

For example, when someone in a Slack channel tags Scalus with a to-do item, Scalus turns that item into an actionable, trackable task. Because everyone in a department is privy to the tasks at hand, workflow is made more transparent, and accountability comes from everyone. Also, chat and email integrate with Scalus to create activity audit trails, meaning that tracking the progress of a task goes beyond the Scalus platform.

“There’s a tool or a mechanism for them to communicate in the way that they want to communicate and that makes a lot of these companies a heck of a lot more efficient because they have transparency,” says Goldstein. “And the immediacy of that transparency that Scalus enables feels a lot more comfortable.”

Scalus is available for everyone beginning today. With $10 million in investment capital from Google Ventures, Sherpa Ventures and others, though, Scalus’ work is just beginning. Goldstein’s mission isn’t just to change operations software. Instead, she’s looking to change the way that we work, and the way that young people in particular fit inside of a larger working ecosystem.

“I want to make sure that the really smart, hardworking younger employees or the less experienced employees of these companies that have a lot to add don’t always have to worry that they don’t have permission to speak up,” Goldstein explains. “We’ve created a mechanism to capture their brilliance in a way that doesn’t offend anybody. And I want to go down being remembered as the person who did that.”

For now, Scalus will be laser-focused on carving themselves a place in the world of workflow management systems, which will likely mean deeper integration, bigger partners, and a larger user base. When it comes down to it, though, for Goldstein, Scalus is more than just trackable project management — it’s a way to empower employees to work and communicate ways that feel comfortable and natural.

“There are a lot of people who are better at standing up for themselves compared to others, and we want to create a tool where that doesn’t cloud the truth of what’s going on because we’re just listening to the squeakiest wheel. We want to hear all of the wheels.”

Nadella will continue strategic acquisition of mobile productivity apps

Dina Bass at Bloomberg Business has been tipped by people familiar with Microsoft’s plans that Satya Nadella is planning to continue his acquisitions of mobile productivity applications for iOS and Android. Nadella has recently scooped up the popular calendar app Sunrise (see Microsoft reported to acquire calendar app Sunrise), and the email/calendar app Acompli, which has been relaunched as Outlook for iOS (see The best Gmail client is Outlook? Really?).

Microsoft has a large number of apps for those platforms now, and as I explored in a recent post — Nadella’s first year shows he’s staying ahead of the cloud/mobile wave — but Bass’ article shows that this is part of a larger strategic plan, not just a few random deals. According to Bass’ informants we may see other categories of apps acquired:

Now Microsoft is trying to complete more such transactions, with categories under consideration including note-taking and project management, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are confidential. Microsoft is looking largely at deals valued from the tens of millions of dollars to as much as a few hundred million dollars, said one of the people.

‘Project management’ could mean all sorts of things, in this context, but task management tools would make sense, for certain.

One Bass informant explicitly mentioned Yammer, which Microsoft bought in Ballmer’s day for $1.2 billion, and comments,

While Yammer has helped alter Microsoft’s development culture, it hasn’t pulled through as many Office sales as anticipated, said the person.

Hmmm. I didn’t think the metric for Yammer success was ‘pulling through Office sales’, but I guess that’s the negative judgment at this point. Although, my understanding is that the changes in Microsoft development culture wasn’t a function of using Yammer, but the spread and adoption of Yammer’s agile development practices. Those form part of the push that Nadella launched last year to change the development culture at Microsoft, specifically pulling development and testing back into one functional group, as well as decreasing outside consultants.

The negative vibe about Yammer matches other indications I’ve gotten in recent months, too , and of course David Sacks, Yammer’s founder and CEO, left Microsoft last summer (see David Sacks leaves Yammer as part of Microsoft reorganization), which may be another indication of a souring attitude about Yammer at Microsoft. Also, Microsoft seems to be developing Yammerish capabilities directly in Office 365 (see Microsoft rolling out Groups in Office 365: the end of Yammer?).

The limitations on deal size rules out bigger companies like Evernote, Slack, and other companies valued over a billion.

Task management company Asana might fit the bill, as the last round of funding valued the company at $250 million.

A Bass informant specifically calls out smart ways to work with spreadsheets on mobile devices as an area of interest. Maybe they should take a look at Quip, then (see Quip adds spreadsheets to its productivity tool). There’s also Smartsheet, which include spreadsheets and project management, too (see Smartsheet announces Workmaps, a tool to visualize connections), although it’s not primarily mobile.

At any rate, it looks like Nadella’s acquisition spree won’t be slowing soon.

Nugg is a team performance tool positioned above project and task management

I got an interesting email from an old friend, Tris Hussey, telling me that he is working for a start-up called Nugg as the director for customer success, and inviting me to give it a whirl.

It’s quite interesting, both because of a clear, simple design, and the philosophy behind it.

Nugg is a team performance application rather than a task management or project management tool. They characterize this as being ‘above lower order apps’, as this chart shows:


We were joined in the email thread by the company’s CEO, Steven Forth. I pointed out that people would still need to track tasks, and if Nugg wasn’t going to support them they’d have to use both, for example Asana or Trello. He responded in this way,

For work that is task centric task management apps are for sure necessary.

But tasks are not what is critical to teams having impact, and there are many types of teamwork that are not best organized in terms of tasks. Most knowledge workers are pretty good at managing and tracking tasks themselves […].

For Nugg the critical unit of information is an update (or Nugg). Updates will come from many places, most often e-mail (the world is still e-mail centric), but also the notification feeds of Basecamp, Trello, Asana, etc. and more business centric apps like Chatter or the updates now provided by some of the better marketing automation offerings. We will filter these, though […].

You can then act on this update stream to call out critical updates that need some form of special treatment: a question has been asked that needs to be answered, a decision needs to be made, a goal needs to be tracked.

Here’s what Nugg looks like today. Users can create Nuggs — either a status update or a weekly question — and discussion threads trail off of those.

Screenshot 2014-06-24 15.59.28

During the discussion, the users can indicate that they think something said is important, has been acknowledge, or that a decision has been reached on an issue raised, as in the case below, where I used the tool’s filtering to show only decisions:

Screenshot 2014-06-24 15.57.24


The Bottom Line

The company has raised a $350K seed round led by Vancouver and Silicon Valley angel investors in December, 2013, and is now bringing the product to market. At present, the various integrations discussed — with email, and task and project management tools — are under development, so it’s hard to say what the user experience would be like with those in place. At present it feels like a chat room specialized for discussion around decisions to be made.

However, it is the case that decision making is a core aspect of working socially, and one that is perhaps underemphasized in many tools.

I have argued for years that work technologies don’t provide a means of clearly negotiating work assignments. For example, I might be asked by a Gigaom director to consider writing a report, and we’d negotiate dates, length, fees, and impacts on other work. That needs to be captured somewhere as a prelude to actually starting the project. With freelancers it ultimately takes the form of a contract, but for employees that isn’t really appropriate.

I’ve always thought a thread like that should to stored explicitly in project contexts in tools like Asana and Basecamp, as a kind of antechamber to someone joining a project team, and only after settling the terms of participation does the new team member get to participate. Maybe negotiations like that — and the broader spectrum of other decisions — is the province of specialized tools like Nugg, and not complexifying task and project management tools.

The organizational challenge of disruptive technologies

As firms grapple with implementing the mobile, cloud, and big data technologies that are transforming their businesses, getting the organizational process and procedures right for managing those implementations is often the greatest challenge.

Computerworld this week covers an IBM survey on the mobile strategies of 600 enterprises, finding in effect that only half of the companies surveyed currently have an effective mobile strategy. No more than 50% of the participants reported that their mobile strategy is aligned with the overall business strategy, that the organization has a clear funding mechanism for mobile initiatives, that there is executive-level oversight for mobile initiatives, or that there is an established governance structure for mobile initiatives. Although only 20% of the firms believe they have a superior or leading mobile strategy today, 44% anticipate pulling ahead of their peers in the next three years.

Among the other tidbits: The subset of those firms reporting the best and most pervasive use and management of mobile technology reports both greater plans to increase mobile funding next year and a greater mobile strategy role for the chief marketing executive. Overall, the CIO is seen to have the most influence, as would be expected, with the CFO number two when it comes to funding, the line of business number two for generating ideas and setting or managing priorities, and the chief technology officer number two in providing governance.

The role of governance is critical in a firm’s ability to manage rapid innovation. One banking industry participant is quoted as stating, “Our governance structure—which includes representatives from finance, risk, operations, customer service, product and application development, project management, technology, marketing and strategy—has been immensely effective in terms of increasing the precision and speed with which we deploy mobile solutions.”

And banks shall lead them

Banking has always been an early adopter of new technology. Bank of America offered a glimpse of how it is juggling the innovation of technology with the requirements of the bank, as reported by American Banker. Hari Gopalkrishnan, the bank’s eCommerce, architecture and segments technology executive described an application process whereby the bank’s best programmers are first brought together to create functional code. The bank’s compliance officers follow immediately thereafter, to assure that requisite encryption, opt in/out, geo caching and other standards are incorporated into the application.

Bank of America took first place honors for user experience, accessibility, and alerting platforms in Javelin Strategy & Research’s annual mobile banking survey, as also reported this week by American Banker. As evidence of the rapid adoption of mobile bankers, the survey found 45% of consumers had used mobile banking in the past 90 days, up from 26% in 2012.

As seen in the IBM survey, executives in other industries are expecting mobile’s importance to grow as rapidly—but they don’t believe their companies are organizationally ready to handle it.

Short takes: Smartsheet integrates with Dropbox and Zapier, Clarizen releases v6

Smartsheet, a project and work management platform based on the spreadsheet user experience, announced integrations with Dropbox, and Zapier today. Dropbox is the well-known file sync-and-platofmr, used by millions. Zapier is an integration clearing house that allows users to connect participating applications in dozens of inventive ways. Smartsheet joins a long list of other products connected through Zapier, like Salesforce, Evernote, Paypal, and Jira.
Mark Mader, the CEO of Smartsheet, has a good insight into how the form factor of work is changing tool use in the modern business setting.

from the press release
“The idea of a one-stop, do-everything app is dead. People use many apps to get work done.”

Here’s some examples of the connections users can construct using the Zapier integration:

  • When a new note is created in Evernote, automatically create a new task (row) in Smartsheet where due dates and reminders are established.
  • Automatically create a lead in Salesforce when a user fills out a Smartsheet web form at a trade show or on a website.
  • When someone makes a purchase via Paypal (or QuickBooks Online, Stripe, Recurly) create a new row in Smartsheet to track the transaction.
  • As a new help desk ticket comes into JIRA (or Bugzilla, FogBugz, Zendesk, PivotalTracker) create a new project task in Smartsheet.

I reviewed Smartsheet most recently in May.

Clarizen has released v6 of the company’s work management platform, with a long list of improvements and refinements. I have recently got a demo, and plan to do a more extensive write up after exploring the tools features, but several aspects of v6 are compelling:

  • Internal and External Social Collaboration:  Clarizen user experience support cross referencing of information elements, like @mentions to refer to users and the use of #hashtags to link to information objects. This fluidity can lead to very rich social communication.
  • Drag & Drop Resource Allocation: Clarizen is a work platform that also has strong project management capabilities. Clarizen v6 enables managers to assign – and reassign – users to tasks in a drag-and-drop manner. Project managers have visibility into what team members are working on, and reassign work easily.

As I said, expect a write up after some more research.