The Game of Thrones for Work Management

Vying for dominance or consolidating efforts? Management is secured by the victors...

Chintan Jain

Work management is how you handle everything that needs to get done when you start working.


Prioritizing and completing regular tasks, communicating, collaborating on projects, assigning responsibilities, giving approvals, solving customer problems–it all goes into work management.

While what is included in work management hasn’t changed a lot in the last 100 years, the tools we use to do those things have changed dramatically. And the last 10 years have presented a dramatic power struggle that might be ready for a very important plot twist. But first…

What Does Work Management Include?

BPM experts know that processes make up a significant part of work. Processes are the predictable, codifiable, and repetitive parts of what goes on in a company. Some people spend the majority of their day in processes, either completing tasks, giving approvals, or sending items to the next step in line.

But there are a lot of people who spend only a fraction of their time in these kinds of predictable processes. Projects are a very different kind of work. In projects, tasks and timelines are usually still predictable (or at least planned), but they aren’t repetitive, and spending a lot of time coding in a workflow is a waste of time for something that’s only going to be handled once.

Cases are another type of work. Cases often include handling support tickets or processing insurance claims. Cases are repetitive, but each one is handled in a unique way that can’t be predicted when the case starts. The pathways for cases need to be very flexible, but you can still provide some structure around it to help close items.

Finally, there is task management which includes managing and prioritizing tasks across all the other types, as well as handling ad-hoc tasks that are unrelated to other work.

To get each of these types of work done, you also need an efficient way to communicate, collaborate, and share information and data.

The Not-So-Dark Ages of Work Management

In the ages before every employee had a computer, how was all this work handled? Processes might be documented in a paper manual or checklist. Projects were coordinated with in-person meetings where someone typed up the notes. Communication was done by walking into someone’s office, making a phone call, or with those classic manila interoffice envelopes. Knowledge and data were stored in big filing cabinets or in someone’s brain.

Despite how archaic some of it sounds, work was managed in a pretty efficient way, especially if the entire office was in one location. In fact, some might say that for tight, co-located, small teams, many of our technological advances don’t improve things that much.

However, as companies continued to grow larger and teams become more distributed, the time was ripe for a takeover from technology to give the same feel of a well-coordinated office to large teams that sit across continents.

The First Autocrat of Work Management

Early adopters of business technology started using email in the 1980s and early 90s. It started out as a way to quickly connect across long distances and provided a great solution for the communication part of work management.

But as email functionality grew, it began to annex other parts of work as well. Once you could attach files, emails became the status quo of collaboration software for cases and projects. Emails could also be used as a stand-in for project management software to coordinate approvals. You could also use emails for managing tasks by setting up folders to handle at a later time as items came in.

Within just a decade or two, email had become the undisputed ruler of nearly all of work management. So much so, that the first thing workers did upon reaching the office was open their inbox, and it stayed open all day. Someone was ‘working’ if they had email up and running and were handling incoming communication.

Email became the solution to everything for work. 'Email that to me' was the way work got done, ushering in a Pax Emalia era.



The Fragmentation of Email’s Kingdoms

But email’s empire hasn’t lasted long.

As email has taken over every part of the work spectrum, it has been proven to be an incompetent ruler in many cases. Its inability to validate incoming data and track the current status of items makes it a poor fit for processes. Projects are mishandled because files shared over email are often not current, and it’s hard to separate out mail threads for different tasks. Cases require great documentation, which is arduous to pull out of emails.

And when you mix in handling external spam and legitimate communication with vendors and customers and trying to prioritize tasks rather than being a slave to the urgent, email has again and again shown itself lacking as a capable monarch.

Many companies are still stuck with email as a clumsy yet omnipresent ruler. However, in the last ten years, email’s kingdom has splintered as new technologies have come to take over.  

Dedicated task management tools help you collect, share, and prioritize your work. Project management tools give you integrated kanban boards and Gantt charts to stay coordinated. Case management platforms help you address customer concerns or product bugs with complete documentation. Messaging services promise more instant chat communication for dispersed teams. And of course, process management software helps to streamline your core processes.

Email’s dominion keeps reducing as companies find better solutions to handle specific use cases. When looked at as a whole, the work management spectrum has gone from a single autocrat to perhaps dozens of regional protectorates, each trying to clarify and defend its borders while staving off competition and further disruption from new features or pricing models.

The Pains of Too Many Kings

Any IT manager will tell you that one of their biggest headaches is dealing with too much software. Not only does each type of work now require a different solution, but each department within a company is not satisfied using the same option as the others. It feels like the wild west where each department is a law unto itself, using multiple software applications to manage their work and resorting to shadow IT when necessary.

While the most patient and advanced teams can use APIs and other tools to allow communication between software, the landscape is highly divided and requires an intense amount of manual work to move data from one system to another.

Due to the fragmentation, companies spend millions of dollars on multiple software solutions that often have a lot of feature overlap and some that are downright copies of each other.

In a very short time span, work management has gone from a single ruler to dozens if not hundreds of smaller tools who each want some land to claim as their own. While no one is eager to go back to letting email have all the power, organizations are growing weary of appointing yet another regional protectorate that promises to handle it’s small acreage of work better.



Process Management’s Golden Opportunity for Consolidation

BPM has followed the same path as other disciplines. It works hard to define its borders (i.e. demonstrating what you can and can’t use BPM for) and doubles down on how to make processes more efficient.

While BPM tools should continue to improve on functionality, they can also grow wise to what is going on across the universe of work management. When you look at all the large types of work (process, project, case, collaboration, etc.), process management requires the most complicated and sophisticated technology.

If there is a chance for some consolidation of the kingdoms, process management providers may be in the best position to make a strategic move and claim other regional kingdoms. After all, IT managers’ greatest burden now is not necessarily better process management, but reducing the number of overlords they serve.

As CIOs deal with the splintering of email’s kingdom, they need not only great replacements but tools that are willing to take up large areas of work management rather than just small silos. Because of their advanced technology, BPM tools can take the leap in providing multiple solutions and claiming more of the work management spectrum.