The rise of quantified work at scale

In the past week I came upon a few data points in what I think will be a significant trend in work technology, which I am calling quantified work at scale.

Quantified work is not wholly new. It is the basic premise of tracking and measuring what is important in the business. In a sense this could include traditional project management, task management, and even CRM solutions. But there are significant differences in what we are seeing today, as a result of the shift of focus away from top-down, managerial visibility into work activities and status, and toward a persons-eye view at the level of people getting things done.

This is the same shift of focus that I talked about recently with regard to Google’s transition from Google for Enterprise to Google for Work (see Google Enterprise is now Google for Work: The rise of the personal):

Enterprises do business, but people do work.

So part of the shift in these new tools is that shift to the personal, to the social. Another part is that these new tools are geared toward being central to work — an aspect of accomplishing work — not an externalized, analytics tool used on a quarterly or monthly basis to ascertain progress relative to goals. These are tools that people doing the work return to on a daily basis as a means to remain engaged with each other, and to augment the layers of understanding and insight about work.

I wrote this week about Betterworks coming out of stealth and raising a $15 million round for a new quantified work at scale platform (see Betterworks raises $15.5M for quantified work platform). The company was founded by Kris Duggan, formerly CEO of Badgeville, and who has adopted the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) approach pioneered at Intel and other tech firms, and which now has been reformulated as Goal Science.

Betterworks is an example of a goals-first approach, and where the entire platform has been designed around the premise of a company operating from top to bottom around OKR’s that are tied directly down to each company, team, and individual goal, and where the contributions and impacts are interrelated. In a sense, this creates a model of the company as a network of obligations and purpose, and by making it explicit, a greater level of transparency and clarity emerges.

Also this week Asana moved into the same market sector by announcing Asana Dashboards (see Asana adds Dashboards), although in this case the company is working from a lower-level team task management starting point. The addition of their dashboards allows a project-level means of providing OKR-equivalents at the project level. I certainly expect that Asana will relatively quickly realize — if they haven’t already — that they need a means of tying together the project level goals to higher level ones. That’s inevitable.

These companies are now competing with each other and traditional vendors with substitutes for these quantified work offerings, like SAP and Workday. We will have to see how that all shakes out, and what other vendors are going to either emerge from stealth or add functionality to existing platforms to track the connection between the work each person is doing at the task level and the strategic aims of their team, and the company as a whole.

Obviously, this also starts to overlap with what I think of as culture management, the interrogative/survey-based tools that allow a periodic — quarterly, monthly, weekly — way to take the pulse and temperature of the business and each individual in it.

We are going to see a great deal of activity in this sector in 2014 and beyond, I believe.