work management project management
November 5, 2018

Why Work Management Beats Project Management: Three Case Studies

By Heather Hurst | Senior Director of Corporate Communications at Workfront 


Picture it: an international product launch event at the Plaza Athenee in Paris, with media and key buyers in attendance. Reporters flown in from around Europe and the U.S. A perfect room block at the historic hotel, an exquisite space to host the event, and an invitation list to die for.

Now picture downgrading the event at the last minute, skipping the launch, and instead spending your time in Paris sitting in stakeholder meetings that could have happened over Skype.

Admittedly, I’d rather attend a stakeholder meeting in Paris than almost anywhere else, but when I experienced the above scenario at a previous job, I didn’t see the silver lining right away.

So, what happened? It was a classic illustration of the difference between project management and work management. You see, it’s not enough in the world of modern work to be excellent at project management alone.

With work moving at such a furious pace and siloed teams struggling to keep up with their work while staying connected to one another and the company’s strategic goals, a focus on project management at the expense of total work management means important things will fall through the cracks.

In the example above, my team was in charge of one project: the launch event in Paris. And we followed through on our promise. A separate team was in charge of another project: delivering the product we were there to launch. The two projects were moving along in parallel silos, but because the company had no overarching work management structure to enable cross-team visibility and collaboration, we were unaware of the fatal problems that were undermining our sister project until it was too late. We had already devoted untold hours and tens of thousands of precious budget dollars to an elaborate product launch that never took place.

The cross-team visibility and collaboration that would have prevented that disaster are not the only advantages the work management paradigm has over traditional project management. Here are three case studies that will illustrate a few more.

1. How Work Management Streamlined Processes for a Bathroom Fixture Company

GWA Group Limited manufactures and distributes building fixtures and fittings from three local factories and nine distribution centers across Australia. Before embracing modern work management tools, operations were siloed, teams were disconnected, and prioritization was a challenge.

“Our resources were being diluted because we had too many projects and not enough discipline around prioritizing projects based on rigorous business cases,” says national operations manager Craig Sutton. “We were also finding issues in the supply chain—well after products launched— that should have been addressed in the development process with better project management practices.”

The company had invested in advanced automation in its manufacturing processes, so work moved along seamlessly at the project level. But problems arose whenever production processes intersected with product development, marketing, or other functional areas. In fact, factory supervisors were still tracking issues manually in spreadsheets and reviewing those issues on white boards during issue resolution meetings — a surprisingly low-tech approach for a company that had embraced automation in other areas.

“There was no efficient way for us to easily share information across functions to meet both needs,” says Sutton. “That made it difficult for other people to collaborate and to contribute to fixing a problem. Approval cycles were also taking longer than necessary, which left employees waiting for decisions to be made.”

GWA was already well-versed in project management best practices, but they needed modern work management to unify their processes, improve project management discipline, facilitate decision making and greater collaboration, and ultimately achieve a faster time to market.

Why such a marked difference? Because work management solutions are designed to support the entire lifecycle of work. And that includes all work, not just the work that resides within the boundaries of an official “project.”

“We are committed to driving innovation in our business and our factories,” Sutton explains. “Workfront supports the GWA vision by providing us with a best practices portfolio, business case and project management solution that includes issue resolution management—that combination is nirvana for me.”

2. How Work Management Enabled an 80% Increase in Project Manager Productivity at GL Education

For more than 30 years, GL Education has provided diagnostic tools for children’s education, mental health, and well-being that are used by British, bilingual, and international schools in more than 100 countries worldwide.

The company grew through acquisition, resulting in a structure where internal teams managed various external teams who provided design, editorial, and digital development. The problem was that each external team used different processes and tools, from elaborate spreadsheets to Microsoft Project, making it nearly impossible to compile all of the disparate data into useful reports to track projects.

Adding to the complexity, many of GL Education projects are multi-year development efforts, which were difficult to capture in Microsoft Project. (Project teams had to print out reams of paper just to review status.)

It’s important to note that each team at each offsite location managed their individual projects effectively. Project management wasn’t the problem for GL Education. But the company was sorely lacking in comprehensive work management, until Workfront came along.

Now, project managers maintain complete visibility over the entire workflow, and the company has seen an 80% increase in their project managers’ productivity.

“With more information readily available, there is greater accountability. We also have the ability to forward plan,” says Natalie Egan, group program manager at GL Education. “We can see who is overloaded and assign tasks to others. Better yet, we can see what additional training we might need to provide so that certain tasks that are always delegated to the same person can be shared among more team members.”

With greater unity and visibility come greater trust and autonomy for each external team. Additionally, management has higher confidence that the project managers have everything under control. “They can see what is going on and only get involved in significant issues,” Egan says. “And because we are spending less time reporting, we have more capacity to run projects more smoothly through the system.”

3. How Work Management Created Stunning Efficiencies at Leapfrog

Leapfrog is a digital marketing platform that delivers clear views of client marketing performance. Yet internally, the agency was struggling to manage cross-functional client work. Project details were housed in disparate work systems, and time was tracked separately—making it difficult to map hours to specific projects for billing purposes.

“Our approach was open rather than hierarchical and consistent, and our systems needed to communicate at a higher level,” says Eric Cuevas, senior program manager at Leapfrog. “Instead of many tools and individual processes, we wanted standardization across client teams and a solution that would enable large-scale project planning.”

Leapfrog was consistently delivering for their clients at the project level, but without a comprehensive approach to work management—which captures the complete lifecycle of work—time and money were being wasted. Within a month of deploying Workfront, the agency eliminated separate time tracking and project management systems, saving $35,000 a year right off the bat. And that doesn’t account for the additional work efficiencies like better resource planning, enhanced visibility, simplified reporting, a 94% reduction in the time to create new projects, fewer status meetings, and a 50% decrease in project-related emails.

“Since deploying Workfront, we have fewer unexpected project issues and I personally have experienced huge time savings; 90 percent reductions sometimes in the amount of time I’m spending now compared to the time I previously spent on the same task,” explains Cuevas.

Why Work Management Beats Project Management

GWA Group, GL Education, and Leapfrog all recognized that no modern company can live by project management alone. They realized that without an overarching work management structure that encompasses the complete DNA of work, they’d never be able to overcome the disconnected processes, the lack of transparency and unity, and the time-wasting manual efforts that were holding them back. It’s unfortunate that my previous employer didn’t have a similar realization before the Paris product-launch disaster. Although…I wouldn’t mind another stay at the Plaza Athenee, even if it’s just for a stakeholder meeting.  

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