Collaboration in the workplace has been on the rise in recent years, and in some cases technology can become a hindrance rather than an enabler.
To tackle the problems often caused by trying to work as a group over email, software systems group Emerson has deployed Workfront in its InterMetro Industries arm, also referred to as Metro, to increase visibility and improve the flow of work.
Metro began as a shelving and storage company but has branched out into providing healthcare technology systems. As a result of these changes, the company went through several mergers and acquisitions, which led to a mix of workflows and project management methodologies.
“Different projects were run in different ways,” says Emerson director of software engineering Bob Moore. "There was not only a lack of consistency, but also a lack of visibility to where a particular project was in its lifecycle at any given point."
Moore says this made it difficult to assess the planned schedule and budget for projects, and ensure planning procedures for projects met corporate policies and procedures.
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“We needed to enforce corporate standards for managing projects and workflows, but to do it in a way that was supportive of, rather than disruptive to, the various projects we had in flight,” he says.
Emerson deployed Workfront across this sector of its business to replace its previous combination of Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Project, Microsoft's Team Foundation Server and in-house software.
The aim was to make it clearer what projects are in the pipeline and give accountability to the employee doing the work or making changes to the project.
“We also use Workfront to manage a range of recurring workflows in the business, such as production change requests, project scope change requests, capital funding requests, product requirements backlogs and even some of our corporate training management,” says Moore.
“About 60% of our salaried staff have accounts and that percentage has grown each of the three years we’ve used the platform.”
Creating a system the teams needed
When trying to make change in any organisation, one of the biggest challenges is resistance from the workforce. Emerson chose Workfront for its Metro business to avoid creating such resistance.
“We interviewed key sponsors and stakeholders throughout the business to find out what information was most important to them when it came to projects,” Moore says.
“We wanted a system that people would actually use and felt that the likelihood of adoption would be high because of the familiar social-media feel and the ability to integrate with email.”
Workfront gave us data transparency and also a common yardstick that could be used to objectively measure projects
Bob Moore, Emerson
Also important to the business was the use of application programming interfaces to ensure other back-office systems already in use were able to interface with the new workflow and collaboration tools.
The firm favoured a push into the cloud space to reduce the amount of maintenance it would have to handle, with training available as and when required.
Transparency leading to praise
But as with any change, how users respond is the most important consideration to make.
“When surveying the people who would use the system and the information it produced, Workfront scored highest by far in terms of perceived usability,” says Moore.
With greater transparency it became clearer which employees were contributing to projects and made it clear how much work went in to the project process. As well as this, project workflow has become more efficient, meaning projects do not take as long and problems can be more easily identified and rectified.
“Workfront gave us data transparency and also a common yardstick that could be used to objectively measure projects, project phases and even individual activities against similar projects and activities in a way that didn’t require an inordinate amount of reporting on the part of project leaders and their teams,” says Moore.
“The planning phase of projects has been shortened dramatically because the project templates and workflows walk teams right through what needs to be done and initiates the sort of momentum that’s necessary to get a project off the ground in a positive way.”