10 Reasons You Need an Operational System of Record

by Heather Hurst
, 8 min read
Operational System Of Record

Managing work and the processes that make it happen can be a challenge for any size organization. With a variety of systems in place—from purchasing to project management to proofing to accounting, not to mention home-grown processes for every procedure—the hodgepodge of platforms can be overwhelming, even in small organizations.

Even with the best tool for every purpose, you still may not have the visibility, control, and resources your team needs to operate at peak performance. Why? Because you have a tool for every purpose.


See "How to Choose the Right Work Solutions and Get Them to Work for You: 32 Tips" for help finding the right tools for your team.


The use of multiple platforms and various systems for managing projects, tracking status, communication, and collaboration creates an entire farm of silos, which drags down productivity, creates confusion and frustration among team members, and prevents your organization from achieving its strategic goals.

Instead, what you need is a single source of truth, a system to rule all systems: an operational system of record (OSR).

What is an Operational System of Record (OSR)?

Defined by Forrester as the “central nervous system” that acts “as the strategic execution system of record,” an operational system of record is a platform through which work gets done.

Unlike traditional project management solutions that are designed around structured project management processes, an OSR is an all-purpose workflow platform that provides relevant processes for both planned and unplanned work, accommodating both structured and unstructured elements.

It works the way you work, for both planned and ad hoc tasks and projects, collecting data along the way to help you improve processes and efficiency.

It’s a communication and collaboration hub. It’s an assignment and task-tracking system. It’s a real-time window into resource/capacity that provides insight into staff/resource utilization and productivity.

And, it’s the platform your organization needs to operate at peak performance. Still not convinced? Here are 10 undeniable advantages to deploying an OSR:

1. Tame Incoming Work Requests

An OSR provides a standardized system for submitting work requests, complete with templates that require requesters to provide pertinent details, objective, and desired timeline for the project.

Not only does this eliminate the need to track down this information before getting started, but it also consolidates all incoming requests onto one system, so that nothing gets lost in the shuffle between emails, phone calls, or in-person conversations.

Tasks can be assigned and prioritized based on strategic goals, deadlines set, and review/approval procedures established in just a few clicks. This also kicks off record-keeping and tracking for each project—with this step, each request is “born” into the workflow with all related tasks tracked back to this initial request.

2. Real-Time Visibility into Capacity

With an OSR guiding the workflow, it’s easy to see instantly who’s working on what. This “single source of truth” gives supervisors clear visibility into staff capacity to:

  1. determine whether they can accommodate new requests,
  2. provide justification if not, and
  3. assign new tasks according to available resources.

This helps to avoid over-promising and missing deadlines, instead maintaining a realistic workload so that everyone can turn out their best stuff.

For one global energy company, this approach has created exactly the system they needed to get a handle on work. "When others saw the visibility that our creative team had into all our projects and associated tasks, they wanted that transparency for their teams," recounts the global marketing manager.

"Having a single source of truth helps everyone better align their tasks to our company strategy and work more efficiently. It also helps to justify work and costs."

3. Faster Time-to-Launch for Every Project

Using an OSR allows organizations to set up templates for repeatable processes and recurring tasks, which eliminates the need to reinvent the wheel for every new project.

By automating the process of mapping out tasks, teams can accelerate project start-up time and planning, while improving the quality of deliverables with standardized methodology and expectations established up front.

The streamlined startup process can have dramatic results: business services firm Xchanging’s Group Technology and Change team saw its project set-up time drop from 24 hours to just seconds.

“Each template includes so much detail that project planning is 70–80% complete from the beginning,” said Stuart Fiszzon, head of the office of the CIO at Xchanging. “Workfront definitely makes our project managers’ lives easier.”

4. Accurate Time Tracking for a Reality-Check and Better Forecasting

Forecasting how long a project might take is a complex and inexact science in many organizations. And, did you know there are actually different perceptions of time? Neither did we!

With an OSR in place, the time to complete each task is tracked automatically, from the moment someone says, “I’m working on it,” to the second they say, “I’m done!”

This eliminates the guesswork often involved with manual time tracking, and provides an accurate record of just how long each task actually takes, not how long each person thinks it will take. Now, you have accurate data to use in forecasting capacity and completion dates for new, incoming projects.

5. Assess Resource Utilization and Staffing Needs

It’s not uncommon for some teams to play “favorites” when it comes to assigning work. Maybe James is so flexible and easy to work with that everyone wants him on their project. Or, perhaps Catherine is hands-down the best designer on the creative team, and since this project is super-important (aren’t they all?) she is an absolute must-have.

The problem with this approach is that it often results in some team members being overwhelmed, while others might be sitting relatively idle. But, with no way to formally track who’s doing what, how do you know?

An OSR eliminates this problem, allowing leaders to see where employees are over or under-utilized, and address those imbalances accordingly. It also provides data-driven insights into staffing needs to help optimize personnel investment.

“We recently used data from Workfront to justify a new position,” explains the energy company global marketing manager.

"Using capacity planner, we showed management the amount of work that we were doing, and that exercise revealed that we were down by two or three employees. We were then able to open a temporary position."

6. Streamlined Collaboration and Communication

Ineffective communication can kill even the most well-designed project. In fact, a study by the Project Management Institute found that ineffective communication contributes to one-third of project failures and has a negative effect on project success more than half the time.

An OSR like Workfront can eliminate communication barriers by consolidating all communication into the work hub, once again creating a “single source of truth.”

Better yet, communication here happens within the context of the work, so input, comments, and feedback aren’t scattered in the ethereal realm of email and teams can refer back to the evolution of each project to clarify discrepancies or shifts in strategy. This streamlined approach can save a tremendous amount of time.

At the energy company, 50 marketing team members have each regained at least 30 minutes a day, for a total of 25 more hours of productivity by reducing redundant communications, entering information into multiple planning tools, and following email threats.

“I would say that we had about 10% visibility before and now we’re closing in on 100% for most teams. That’s real progress,” says the global marketing manager.

7. Accelerated Time to Market

Whether it’s a new product launch, a content marketing piece on a hot industry trend, or a relatively humdrum corporate memo, time is always of the essence.

But, getting projects through the review and approval process can be an exercise in patience. Busy schedules, missed emails, vacations, miscommunication, business travel, and the occasional ego can get in the way of getting things through, holding up the entire project.

An OSR can help eliminate these roadblocks by automatically shepherding work through to the next level on the review/approval chain of command. Stakeholders can see exactly which projects need their input, which are held up in another reviewer’s queue, and can access their pending projects from anywhere.

8. More Time for "Real" Work

Wasteful meetings and excessive emails continue to dominate the workday for many workers, getting in the way of productive activities and leaving only 44% of each day for performing their actual job duties.

Transitioning to an OSR can help dramatically reduce this burden by consolidating all work-related communication, assets, and status in the work hub, so employees can spend less time slogging through emails, tracking down materials, and sitting in status meetings.

Not only does this reduce employee frustration, but it also allows your company to get more out of your staff investment and translates directly into cost savings. Bill Gattinger, senior manager, traffic, production, and direct marketing for ATB Financial said:

"Workfront has allowed us to take smart, creative people and remove the burden of trying to organize and find stuff, giving them more time to be creative. That’s priceless!"

By freeing up staff time, ATB’s team can now handle 20% more projects per month, while lowering the cost to manage a job by 60%.

9. Identify and Troubleshoot Project Roadblocks Immediately

By providing complete visibility into the real-time status of all work in the queue, an OSR makes it easy to see when projects have hit a snag before deadlines are missed.

Rather than cluelessly forging ahead and then trying to figure out what went wrong later, teams can triage issues along the way so they’re not blindsided by problems headed into the homestretch.

Instead, they can take corrective action immediately. For example, if vital information is missing, or a team member falls ill, requests for materials or to reassign tasks can all be made directly in the hub, so everyone knows exactly what’s going on and can step in to help.

10. Digital Audit Trails Make Foresight 20/20

From the initial work request, through every collaboration and feedback shared, to when the final approval is granted, an OSR like Workfront tracks everything about every task. This automatic digital record provides insightful retrospective on every project, allowing teams to see what went right and what went wrong at every step along the way.

This enables organizations to continually refine processes and procedures to continuously improve both their productivity AND results.

Implementing an OSR provides unprecedented visibility, control, and strategic agility for organizations that are driven to improve efficiency, output, and performance.

By automating repeatable processes, enabling collaboration within the context of work, and providing both a real-tim e and retrospective view on project status and success, an OSR like Workfront enables any size team to work smarter and achieve measurable results.


Watch our video "How to Tame Enterprise Work Chaos" to learn more about how you can more effectively manage your team with an operational system of record.

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