Digital Workplace Leader Bryson Duncan of Workfront

Over the last 15 years, marketing professional Bryson Duncan has watched with interest how organizations adapt to digital change. And in the process of this observation, he's noted that technology has not always fully supported that evolution.

Duncan is currently senior solutions marketing manager at cloud-based work management solution provider Workfront, where his responsibilities include leading the vendor’s content management strategy.

"Traditional challenges of productivity, resource management, manual data analysis, motivation and collaboration still exist, but they’ve ironically been multiplied by the very thing we’ve implemented to help us: technology," Duncan said. "While the new digital workflow has had markedly positive impacts on cost savings and a more mobile and agile workforce, implementing disparate digital technologies in the workplace has wreaked havoc on the overall productivity and integration of workers."

Silos ‘Remain the Rule, Not the Exception’

To support his argument, Duncan quoted a Deloitte Insights’ Tech Trends 2018 article: "Traditional project-based, siloed integration methods remain the rule, not the exception." Since disconnected work processes lie at the heart of these challenges, "the solution lies in tying together the various applications we need to get work done," he said.

A decade ago, Duncan shifted his focus away from news media, where he was then working, to the B2B technology sector after observing some worrying trends.

"It seemed to me that the consumer marketing investments at the time were more focused on short-term returns and keeping the lights on," he said. "In B2B companies, I saw that marketing investments were being made for more long-term outcomes and I wanted to be a part of that strategy."

One takeaway from the 10 years he’s since spent in B2B marketing roles across a variety of industries is the importance of long-term branding consistency, which is "a hallmark of successful companies."

Duncan will be speaking at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 18 to 20 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will present a session at the conference titled “Why the Modern Workplace is Ditching Traditional Project Management” on June 20. On the same day, he will also co-present a case study with Greg Stine, director of strategic initiatives at Equifax, titled “Centralizing the Digital Workplace.”

We spoke with Duncan to hear his take on the fresh collaboration challenges organizations encounter as part of their digital transformation initiatives and how they might start to rethink how they approach project management. He also shared what he and his peers at Workfront have identified as the key attributes of successful projects gleaned from their work with customers.

Commit to ‘Consistent Collaboration’

CMSWire: What are some of the new challenges organizations face as they embark on digital transformation? How can they resolve these issues?

Duncan: While technology is often the focal point of digital transformation projects, the effect of how teams work together because of the new technology is often overlooked. Boiled down, successful digital transformation initiatives have people at the center of the strategy — how they work, where they spend their time, what they create, and the decisions they make.

Most executives report that the lack of visibility, communication and collaboration gets in the way of completing projects and achieving digital transformation goals. This means that focus should be placed on the digital nature of work between people — how they interact, where they connect, when they work best, and how they are supported.

If the way cross-organizational and cross-team work gets done isn’t addressed, our digital transformation initiatives will always be at risk.

CMSWire: What are your thoughts on the future of project management – will humans be collaborating more and more with robots?

Duncan: Until we see a better transformation of collaboration between humans and the digital tools we all use, I don’t believe we have to worry about robots taking over any time soon.

What we will see is more automation around the mindless tasks we all do today — activities like sorting and searching email, scheduling, data entry and duplication, etc. Automation will increase the value of our people by giving them more time to be strategic, creative and imaginative.

CMSWire: How should organizations rethink traditional project management and what silos do they need to break down?

Duncan: Most organizations are siloed in orientation, with functional areas, business units and global teams working inside the silo, but struggling to effectively coordinate and collaborate on their work efforts. In addition, digital natives — people brought up during the age of digital technology — will account for 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, representing a significant shift in the makeup of the modern workplace and transforming how technology is being used in business.

This changing workforce must work together effectively across projects, workflows and initiatives, using tools and processes in project-based work. Combine these factors with the stifled productivity from the many tools and processes we’ve implemented at work and you have some serious challenges that prevent real achievement in transformation initiatives.

Regardless of industry, organizations should rethink traditional project management in terms of how teams work across the natural seams created by different functions and departments.

CMSWire: Who are or who should be the main evangelists within an organization to promote a new approach to project management?

Duncan: In my experience, individuals that can enable strategic alignment across multiple departments and support the success of the entire organization are in the best position to be evangelists for modern approaches to project management.

The enterprise project management office (PMO) is in a really good position to be that main evangelist, but they are too often seen as merely a facilitator. Executive sponsorship of their involvement in strategic decisions will be crucial to driving modern work management practices within an organization.

CMSWire: What best practices would you share with organizations in terms of recognizing, measuring and replicating successful projects?

Duncan: In working with thousands of companies on complex projects — from the largest global enterprises to small teams at startup companies — we’ve identified the most important attributes of successful projects:

  1. Build a roadmap: Focusing on the outcomes of a project and not just on the outputs allows teams to have a clear vision of priorities and requirements needed to ensure project success. A roadmap of clearly defined priorities and best practices ensures project teams begin with the end in mind.
  2. Visibility and accountability for all project stakeholders. The best way to gain visibility into any set of tasks or work is to centralize the plan, data, communication and outputs of the work. A centralized and standardized project management practice allows you and your team to gain better visibility at even the most granular level. Other stakeholders, team members and managers can feel secure knowing there is a single location that holds all the details needed to get from point A to completion.
  3. Projects that are aligned with business goals. Successful projects are the ones that are supported by the organization from the top down. Team members should be able to understand the organizational goal driving the project and then determine the desired outcomes of the project and how those outcomes map back to the goals. The ability to deliver project reports to stakeholders based on the agreed-upon goals becomes critical for alignment.
  4. Effective communication and collaboration. Even if a project is delayed or over budget, teams that consistently communicate project health up and down the hierarchy of sponsors, stakeholders and team members will ultimately succeed. 
  5. Scalable and reproducible. Organizations that are able to handle growing amounts of work without a decrease in performance have tight processes implemented, the right people involved, and are using the right technology to manage it all. As they develop successful workflows for their projects, they create templates or standardized practices from those workflows so that they can replicate success with future projects. 

CMSWire: As a Utah sports fan, what have been your high and low points as a supporter so far and why? What similarities do you see between how a sports team works towards winning games and how an organization collaborates to successfully to deliver projects?

Duncan: I don’t take big wins for granted! "Small-market" sports teams can usually count on just a handful of high points and a much longer list of low points.

For the first 20 years of my life, I saw the Utah Jazz make the playoffs every single year. This was pretty impressive for a small-market team without a lot of cash to burn on big stars. In 1997 and 1998, the Jazz went to the NBA Finals only to lose to the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls both years. The fact that the Jazz even made it to that level can probably be attributed to one thing: consistency.

The consistency of keeping great owners, coaches and players in the organization has given them the sixth-best winning percentage in NBA history and a consistently enthusiastic fan base.

Similarly, organizations that commit to consistent collaboration win together more often.

Organizations must be able to excel at working together, day after day, while giving their employees the tools to foster better communication and access to information. A consistent dedication to this mindset keeps leaders and employees accountable, provides a predictable stream of information for you and for customers, and ultimately cultivates a culture of trust and transparency.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here.