Planning & Strategy Made Easy: Your Operational System of Record in Action
By Jennifer Moore, Sr. Director, Product Business Operations, Workfront
What does it mean to have an operational system of record in the world of modern work?
Large organizations today typically rely on a number of specialized “systems of record” that serve as the single source of truth for that aspect of the business. There’s usually a financial system of record, like SAP. There’s a customer system of record, like Salesforce. For human resources, there’s Workday. However, each of these solutions can create silos of their own. Enter the operational system of record, which connects and unites systems and people across the organization, making it possible for everyone to do their best work, no matter their department or role.
The purpose of the operational system of record can be summed up in seven key attributes:
· Offers one place for all work to be captured
· Makes it possible to measure anything
· Makes all work visible in a single place
· Keeps critical data safe, secure and accessible by the right people
· Enables teams to move at a faster pace
· Connects with the tools you’re currently using
· Built as a familiar, intuitive workspace for people
An operational system of record is a system that enables people to deliver predictable results throughout the five stages of work: strategy and intake, budget and plan, work execution, review and approval, and final delivery. In this article, I will outline how an operational system of record can transform those first two stages, helping you build smarter, more successful projects from the beginning. The strategic planning and budgeting phase of any project can be broken down into six distinct steps; we’ll tackle them one by one.
1. Demand Management
I cannot overstate the benefits of initiating all work through central request queues. Not only does this enable you to gather clearer direction and better details from stakeholders upfront, you can also save loads of time and remove unnecessary steps from your process. In addition, you can set up your system to automatically route work to the correct person, and you can use request queues to collect business case scorecard details that tie into your business case. I would recommend you to start simple with your work intake process and build on it over time.
When I first arrived at Workfront, one of the first and most important request queues I encountered was for the executive admin who supports the product department. She gets hundreds of requests every month and manages them all through Workfront. In her request queue, you can get something as simple as travel booked or food ordered for a meeting—or you can initiate major projects and initiatives. But it all starts in the same place.
2. New Project Initiation
Now, some of those requests (like ordering food for a meeting) are simple and standalone, while others are more complex requests that will be converted into multi-faceted projects. But it’s important that they all enter your workflow through the same portal in order to eliminate “shadow work.” Many companies I’ve worked with over the years have adopted a mantra: “If it isn’t in Workfront, it doesn’t exist.” When you get your organization to this point, it’s a powerful place to be. You know you have greater strategic alignment, the ability to measure progress across the organization, and unprecedented visibility with any project that’s contained within your operational system of record. And anything that’s happening outside the system becomes much easier to kill or delay, so you can focus on your true, measurable priorities.
3. Business Case Builder
On each project, you can use your operational system of record to build a business case in a simple and streamlined fashion. This allows you to determine what the cost-benefit analysis is going to be for that effort. The business case features in your work management solution of choice should allow you to:
· Easily identify project goals
· Budget for resources by role
· Determine other expenses and risks
· Set up custom scorecards for measuring strategic alignment, cost elimination, and compliance
· Export your finished business case for easy sharing/routing for approvals
· Determine high level expenses and resources for a project, so you can set goals and quantify risks to calculate ROI
4. Resource Planning
Having an operational system of record enables you to identify resource needs against availability, compare budgets to plans as project details come together, and determine whether you have the people necessary to act on initiatives.
One of the capabilities I find most useful in Workfront is the ability to filter resources in multiple ways, thus answering the essential question, “Do I have the right skillsets right now to do this work?” There are a few different ways to do this.
First, when you filter by pool, you can pull together individuals from different teams and departments and see how your project would fit in amongst their existing priorities. You can play around and adjust budgets and dates to identify the best timeline for your project, based on resource availability. Alternatively, you can filter by capacity, which allows you to view who is available (based on one FTE, three-quarters FTE, half FTE, or even hour by hour) and also by cost. Yet another way to filter is by role, which is a quick way to discover the roles that are most scarce for your project, across the organization. This way, you’ll know upfront if you need to bring on contractors or even additional FTEs in order to avoid roadblocks. And finally, you can filter by individual user, enabling you to see how engaged everyone is at any given moment. When you can clearly see who is being under-utilized and who is over-burdened, you can assign work more effectively while also preventing burnout that eventually contributes to missed deadlines, if not employee turnover.
5. People Scheduling
Once you have your resources planned, it’s time to fill in the details around the actual tasks and the day-to-day work. An operational system of record makes it possible to drag-and-drop tasks onto different people and different dates. This helps you save time and shift resources more strategically—and the system can even do much of the heavy lifting for you through auto assignments.
Depending on your particular role, you’ll approach and access the people scheduling functions in different areas of your operational system of record. To use Workfront as an example, those who manage centralized or global resources can go straight into the People area. Team leaders can start from within their own Team area. And project managers can use the Project Staffing tool. But no matter where they’re coming from, everyone has access to “auto mode” functionality, which will soft book resources for you, then allow you to move things around, Tetris-like, before you officially assign people. The system then sends out bulk assignments, and you can move on to the next pressing item on your list.
6. Measuring & Optimizing
An operational system of record makes it easier to measure and optimize your work throughout the entire project lifecycle. Using automated features and built-in reports, you can:
· Report up to your executives
· Compare your plans to your progress
· Compare costs vs. revenue
· Keep an eye on your burndown rate
· Visualize trends
· Ensure that time tracking is happening regularly
· Always answer the question: are we on track?
Optimizing Your Operational System of Record
Although I’ve focused only on the first two stages of work—which include strategy, intake, budgets, and plans—and the six steps that comprise them, the advantages of using an operational system of record are crystal clear. Not only can such a solution eliminate busy work and shadow work, it also unifies people and projects across the company, busts through operational and software-based silos, and enables everyone to do their best work, at every level of the organization.