The Definitive Guide to Work Management

By Joe Weller | June 27, 2017

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, organizations must deliver goods and services faster than ever while outperforming their competitors in quality. To meet this demand, many companies are refining their internal processes with the hopes of eliminating redundancy, reducing waste, and gaining efficiency — all with the goal of increasing product success at market. The underlying framework for this process assessment and adaptation is work management, a comprehensive way for organizations to manage and improve upon their existing processes.

In this article, we’ll offer an in-depth definition of work management and explain the differences between it and other popular management methodologies. Then, we’ll explain the benefits of using a system to store all work management information and offer guidance on how to assess your current business processes and choose the best software tool to fit your needs.

What Is Work Management?

Gartner research and advisory firm defines work management as “a set of software products and services that apply workflow structure to the movement of information as well as to the interaction of business processes and human worker processes that generate the information. Work management streamlines and transforms crucial business processes and, thus, can improve results and performance.” Breaking down this definition can be difficult because the term work management applies to many different business functions. In essence, work management defines the ways organizations manage and improve upon their internal processes to maximize success. 

Adopting a work management framework means examining the entire range of business operations, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of current processes, and improving them. This includes individual workflows, administrative, support, and IT systems and the planning, production, and distribution of goods or services. Overall, work management touches upon all the behind-the-scenes processes that impact an organization’s bottom line. 

In work management, professionals are concerned with the how questions: How can we increase the success of our products/projects? How can we improve our processes to better support our business goals? Often, employing work management strategies answers these questions by helping companies streamline processes, eliminate redundancy, and reduce waste. To do so, organizations must develop more efficient workflows (which define work order, i.e., the sequencing of tasks): This is work management.

Work Management vs. Project Management

While work management and project management (PM) share many of the same underlying principles — increasing efficiency, reducing waste, streamlining processes — they are two distinct frameworks. Work management concerns every level of overall business/organizational management, from the individual employee all the way to the processes themselves. Project management, on the other hand, is about individual project processes. 

In traditional project management, companies organize (or reorganize) their work structure to maximize efficiency and success for each unique project. In work management, companies zoom out and and look at the big picture — their entire operations system — and make adjustments to maximize overall business success. At the personal level, project management is concerned with designing teams with complementary skillsets to ensure project success, whereas work management improves work sequencing and processes so that every individual can continuously perform to their best ability within the system.

Because PM is concerned with individual projects, it does have some limitations. Theoretically, stringent project management can create work silos, which leads to poor inter-departmental communication. Additionally, many software solutions aimed at project management can compartmentalize work. So, while adapting your project management methodologies will often improve individual project success rates and cut down on wasted time and resources, it cannot solve all your operational needs. This is where work management comes in. 

Work management also shares traits with the following management realms:

  • Enterprise Work Management: This framework is nearly identical to work management but is only applicable to large-scale organizations. In enterprise work management, resources are organized in direct alignment with the company’s mission and objectives. 
  • Operations Management: As the name suggests, operations management deals with the production process as well as strategic business operations. In operations management, success is defined by continuous organizational growth over time. 
  • Work Activity Management (WAM): This is an emerging strategy to help teams delegate and track progress on work items. The goal of WAM is to keep processes moving in a timely manner, so teams can identify where work is getting stuck. 
  • Resource Management: This includes all types of an organization’s resources (financial, material, human, etc.) and is concerned with successfully accessing and/or deploying those resources when necessary. 

While many of these specific disciplines overlap, this article is primarily concerned with work management as a stand-alone realm.

Work Management Systems and Software

If work management is the theoretical methodology to help teams improve efficiency, a work management system is the tool that makes it possible. With so many moving pieces in any organization, large, enterprise-level companies or small nonprofits, you need a platform to map out processes, monitor progress and resource allocation, and store all key documentation. What’s more, a strong work management system also provides users with communication and collaboration features that streamline work and cut down on in-person meetings and email chains. Moreover, it helps with version control. 

Given what a work management system should provide to users, it’s logical that the most popular work management systems are software solutions. Rather than clunky, manual management systems, software tools enable faster communication and revision functionality, greater data storage, and heightened ease-of-use and customization options. 

The demand for software work management systems is increasing in today’s digital age. This need reflects the increase in size and complexity of management systems and the increasingly competitive marketplace that demands faster service (and, therefore, more efficient internal processes). In response to this growing reliance on software solutions, there are several work management tools available for you to choose from.

The Benefits of Work Management Systems

The most important benefit of work management software is that it can improve your overall business performance. By using tools that make it easier to track, manage, and organize work, you’ll not only discover inefficiencies within your current operations and workflow systems, but also reduce the time previously spent manually tracking and updating progress. Ultimately, using a strong work management system will lead to more reliable, faster production and more efficient internal processes.

Regardless of the type of work management system you choose, you’ll reap these benefits:

  • Collaborative Task Management: Team members can use work management systems to come together to accomplish work. Many systems let you assign tasks, update progress, make lists, and collaborate in real time. 
  • Centralized Communication: Many programs also offer capabilities, like comments, notes, and chat features that allow workers to “talk” within the platform. Rather than assembling notes from multiple in-person meetings, email chains, and phone calls, a work management system stores all relevant communication as an easy reference. This functionality supports collaboration among team members as well as between teams and departments. 
  • Flexibility: Because using a comprehensive work management system makes it easier to view and track work, you’ll gain flexibility in your process timeline(s). Identify bottlenecks or roadblocks, and discover extra time within your current operations schedule. Often, teams using work management software solutions employ agile methodologies to increase efficiency. 

Using a work management system also has direct personnel benefits. By gaining visibility into your processes, you can optimize resource allocation, so people have an appropriate and equitable workload. Additionally, work management systems can free up managers’ time by reducing the time spent manually tracking and managing processes. This enables managers to spend more of their valuable time making the important strategy decisions, which means that employee time will also be better directed and, therefore, better spent. Ultimately, all these worker-oriented benefits can lead to a happier, more self-directed and efficient workforce, which is important for company reputation, morale, and employee retention. 

Remember, adopting a work management system does not mean you must scrap your current business processes. Rather, you can use work management principles to integrate with your existing workflow and improve upon the system(s) you already employ. A work management system, adds power to your operations by helping organize, manage, and track your work and by enabling faster, easier communication among team members.

How to Select a Work Management System for Your Organization

While there are many work management systems with sophisticated functionality, the biggest determinant of success is company fit. Before you begin looking at solutions, however, you must first examine your current workflow processes. In order to improve upon them and adopt a brand new system that will help solve and manage them, you must be fully informed on the state of current business affairs. 

To begin this investigation, ask questions like these:

  • What is working in the current work processes? What isn’t working?
  • Which processes do you need to completely change, which do you need to adjust, and which do you want to keep?
  • What is the most critical area of improvement for your business (product success at market, production speed and efficiency, inter-departmental communication, etc.)?
  • What are the current limitations on your success? Where in your processes can you combat these limitations and improve?

After you’ve answered these questions and determined the areas in which you need improvement, think about what you want a work management system to provide. Again, keep your specific needs in mind — a fancy software program may not always be the best choice for every organization. Therefore, take the following into consideration as you search for a solution:

  • Company Size/Longevity: How many people, teams, and departments will the system have to provide for? How concrete are your current processes, and how open is your staff to adapting them? Planning for the volume of work that will cycle through your system will give you critical information on whether you can handle it manually or need to opt for a software solution. 
  • Type(s) of Systems Currently Used: Do you update processes and progress manually, or do you already have software in place? How difficult will it be to adopt a new system? Consider the actual software integration as well as ease-of-use for employees.
  • History with Current Processes: Consider both the system’s performance and the employees’ satisfaction with it. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your current system(s), so you can emulate or improve upon it when you update. 

These guiding principles will help you determine what type of system will provide the greatest benefit to your organization. In the next section, we’ll walk through several more criteria to take into account if you choose to pursue a software solution.

Selecting a Software Solution for Work Management

In general, software solutions offer three big advantages over manual work management systems:

  • Automation: Save time with automatic data syncs, updates, and alerts. 
  • Cloud-Based: Gain anytime, anywhere access from any device. Multiple team members can also access cloud-based systems simultaneously.
  • Real-Time Updates: Maintain version control with one central information hub that updates across devices in real time. 

If, based on the previous look into your current processes, you decide that a software solution is the best choice for your organization, you will again need to engage in a lengthy decision-making process when choosing a specific product. Look at the specific functionality each program has to offer, and choose the program that best fits your needs. Remember, bells and whistles won’t translate into business success unless they address the specific needs and gaps in your current workflow processes. 

Some functions to consider include the following:

  • Task assignment
  • Scheduling software
  • Mobile version
  • Dashboards/reporting
  • Geolocation
  • Gantt charts (and dependencies)
  • Document sharing
  • Integration (with other software programs

A Powerful Work Management System with Smartsheet

Empower your people to go above and beyond with a flexible platform designed to match the needs of your team — and adapt as those needs change. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.




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