(This summary of AtTask is part of a longer story “Battle of the Business Models in the Task Management Market: Will a Top Down or Bottom Up Approach Win?” that appeared on Forbes.com.)
AtTask is a 300 person company, based in Salt Lake City, that has been operating for 10 years and has 1,500 customers. Eric Morgan, CEO, who joined the company in 2011, has a strong background leading both enterprise sales teams and entire companies.
“AtTask started out 10 years ago as a SaaS Project Management solution, but started making the transition to Work Management and Social several years ago with a collaborative teamwork space called Team Home,” said Morgan. “With the recent launch of the AtTask Enterprise Work Cloud, the transition is complete.”
The bulk of AtTask's customers are IT departments, although the company's new product focused on marketing departments is gaining significant traction. Other types of functions using AtTask include business operations, administration, HR, finance, and product development. Marquee clients include Adobe, Box, Workday, RedBull, REI, Grainger, Disney, Cirque du Soleil, HBO, Qualcomm, Cisco Nike, ABC, 3M, and Trek.
Reducing Work about Work
Morgan believes that enterprise software of all types has too often been inflicted on individual workers by management, who received little assistance from the products in doing their jobs. Enterprise software created "work about work" for individual workers who used applications to track their work so that executives could see what was going on. Morgan sees Salesforce as one of the pioneers in rising above this model and providing software that actually helped both workers and management at the same time.
Right now, many people in enterprises are suffering. "They are trying to make Outlook and Excel do things they were never intended to do. Outlook is not a workflow tool or a collaboration tool or a document management tool, and Excel is not a scheduling tool," said Morgan. "But when they start using something built for project management, often the solutions are expensive, cumbersome, and complex. This has driven employees scrambling to bring in tiny point solutions from start-up companies that address a very small and narrow problem. This is a symptom of the fact that Microsoft and other enterprise focused solutions are not addressing the problem."
The Looming Unmet Need
Morgan believes that a simpler solution must be offered. Most enterprise software is designed to solve niche problems (email, IM, tasks, documents, social, projects, collaboration). Not only do these tools lead to more complexity, more silos, and less productivity, but they also don’t address the heart of enterprise work, the looming big unmet need. To meet this need a work management solution must:
- Support the entire work lifecycle (identify, prioritize, plan, coordinate, execute, deliver, measure).
- Allow for the degrees of freedom needed to support all types of work and work flows, as well as structured, partially structured, or ad hoc processes. In any of these modes, changes and variability must be allowed along the way. In other words, one system must support everything from complex structured repeatable work with hundreds of coordinated tasks and timeframes to simple ad hoc tasks.
- Collaboration must be fully enabled at each step of the journey with the right people, including support for social communication, documents, meetings, virtual teams, team spaces, and so on.
- Support for collaboration without integration into the practice of getting work done is insufficient. "How do managers know that their social collaboration platforms are increasing productivity and not making it worse?," said Morgan. "To be productive, collaboration must take place in the context of the prioritization of the work getting done, and tracking of what is happening must be as automatic as possible to avoid the growth of work about work."
- Finally, visibility and reporting at a summary and detailed level helps delivers real enterprise value. Managers and workers can see and understand what everybody is working on in real time. This allows everyone to justify resources, ensure capacity to deliver on expectations, align resources to the right work, support planning at the right level, improve prioritization, and increase efficiency of repeatable work.
Morgan argues that focusing on task management alone without a management perspective is also too narrow. "Managing a simple task or follow-up list will only get us so far—we need to determine how to get a view of structured, unstructured, planned and ad hoc work, with the end goal of infusing visibility into enterprise work," said Morgan.
Increasing the Productivity of Knowledge Workers
The goal for AtTask, Morgan said, is to rise to the following challenge from Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant. "The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th Century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing,” said Drucker. "The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker.”
AtTask's product accomplishes this mission in the following ways:
- Collaboration: Work becomes social. Communications are gathered and tracked with the rest of the project data, in real context. Everyone uses the same communication tools, increasing the frequency, quality, and visibility of their conversations. AtTask is adding additional social and gamification elements.
- Prioritization: Team members can customize and refer top priorities assigned within the enterprise work management platform by management and spend more time actually doing their work.
- Productivity: With all project data gathered in one place, team members and managers see performance and progress in real-time reports. With status meetings reduced, team members have more time to do their work. Managers have more time to strategically improve their team’s performance. AtTask has created templates that are starting points for the execution of tasks in specific domains such as IT and marketing.
- Alignment: Seeing which tasks are most important and what everyone is working on, team managers can easily move their team members where they will make the biggest impact. As ad hoc changes decrease, team members settle into a groove and thrive.
- Resourcing: Senior managers see what their resources are working on in real time and what projects are coming down the pipeline. They have time to adjust resources and keep work moving through the process so projects are delivered on time. Planning and reporting can take place at all levels of grouping and for resources as well.
- Justification: Senior managers have visibility into the entire end-to-end work lifecycle of their team, allowing them to clearly see progress and team performance. They’re able to justify every dollar spent.
- Integrations: Tailored integrations with online document and content management solutions (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Docs…), as well as business application (Salesforce.com, Jira…) and collaboration tools (Jive, ProofHQ…),
- Security Requirements: Unique in the industry, AtTask’s 256-bit encryption at rest (and in transit) enables enterprise customers with regulatory compliance requirements (like HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, FISMA, and others) to confidently use the AtTask Enterprise Work Cloud.
- Specialization: AtTask has created special purpose tools to support common process steps, such as a proofing tool used in marketing to gather comments about an asset from many different people.
- Work outputs: AtTask focuses on a team's primary work outputs. These are usually repeatable, frequent, and require high team engagement, for example, those that require a collaborative team/cross-team effort to deliver vs. individual-centric. These are sequenced tasks (and there can be hundreds of tasks in each all running simultaneously). Examples of complex work outputs include designs, research papers, videos, and tax filings.
AtTask provides end-to-end Enterprise Work Management, which Morgan defines as a synthesis of what project management was in the past and what task management is becoming in the present. "Project management is a top-down system. Raw task management is a bottom-up system," said Morgan. "The ability to marry the two through a social interface gives you the full view of work, from the planning—because a lot of work does need to be planned, prioritized, and managed—to the engagement and execution by the individual. Both must be supported, and everyone wins, because a natural byproduct of the combination of tasks and work gives management visibility into productivity."