Strategic Expansion: From a Single Team to an Enterprise Work Management Solution

work management expansion

A couple of years ago, we realized we needed a better system to manage work in the creative solutions department at Northwestern Mutual. We had 11 full-time employees and a half-dozen freelancers (plus creative agencies of various sizes) servicing 58 different organizations across the enterprise. The legacy software we were using to manage work had been around for 10 years before my arrival at Northwestern Mutual and it was woefully inadequate. It was clear that we needed to provide more transparency, a better proofing and review cycle, and more effective chargeback processes.

We considered many different work management solutions in our initial search, and we eventually landed on Workfront. It was the only solution with the financial capabilities we needed. We worked with a software implementation partner(LeapPoint) recommended by Workfront to orchestrate our implementation and the new solution did everything we wanted! Our creatives were thrilled to be set free from their email inboxes, now that they could find all of the details about every project (due dates, creative briefs, deliverables, stakeholders, budgets, etc.) in one centralized space. And digital proofing was a huge hit with our clients and creatives. They loved the ability to go into one place, see what other people had commented on, respond quickly, and drastically shorten our review cycles.

Just two months into the implementation, as we were talking to our business partners and teaching them how to work with us in our new system, it was clear we were generating some buzz. Thanks to our formal and ad hoc training sessions, user adoption soared and within three months we had about 300 business partners putting in requests.

Cue the Tidal Wave

And then people started asking questions. What can it do? What kind of work can it manage? Would it work for us too? How can we implement this for us?

I’m a big believer in making work more efficient, and after I saw what it did for my group, I took advantage of the opportunity to showcase it around.  As a result, I found myself doing a lot of tutorials. Inadvertently, I became the company’s work management evangelist and the default system admin for Workfront—all while managing my creative group and the work.

We had three teams who wanted to get on the system right away and as we looked into how to add them, we realized we had no plan for expansion and no roadmap. It became apparent that we needed to rethink some things to accommodate this expansion, including:

We wanted to make sure we did it right, and we knew we needed help. So we reached out again to Kevin Ellington, the director of transformational services at LeapPoint, who had facilitated our original implementation.

Building a Roadmap

Together we built a governance group in order to help us create rules, decide on a governance structure, designate a support team, and outline a strategic roadmap. With this framework in place, we’d now be able to figure out such critical questions as:

As Kevin says, “You need to be thinking about how to be strong where you are before you expand. It’s not advisable to put twelve teams on this thing at one point in time. You have to have the foundation set before you bringing in a lot of people.” This ended up being the right call for us. We made sure to be both intentional and gradual about our roll-out to other teams.

As part of this process, we also developed a CoE (also known as a “Center of Excellence”). Located within the Northwestern Mutual company intranet, this is a centralized space to share information, post FAQs, and distribute quick hits and learning sheets. We’d also post about new features and when they’re going live, system outages, and how-to videos. I don’t know how many demos I did until I realized I could just make a video and post it there. I actually created two videos: one is an overview of what Workfront can do, and the other is about the specific processes my creative services group uses, including how to request things and manage projects, etc.

Preparing The People

One thing that I totally underestimated was the impact of the change on people. I’m someone who adopts early and picks up things quickly, so it wasn’t in my head that this would be difficult for anyone. But I found out that simply saying, “It’s a great tool that works better than what we had!” doesn’t work for everyone. It’s important to think about how to prepare people for a successful system rollout—and how to get them to adopt the software with the least amount of resistance possible.

As anyone who has been through a software implementation realizes, it takes a very focused plan and purposeful effort to bring new teams along and keep excitement high. Given that 70% of complex change initiatives fail, this cannot be an afterthought.

According to the Managing Complex Change Model by Dr. Mary Lippitt, there are five essential elements of any successful change initiative. They include: vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan. If you’re missing even one of these ingredients, you open yourself up to specific challenges. Make sure your vision is clear, or you can cause confusion. Address any skills gaps to lessen anxiety about the change. Offer incentives to combat resistance. Plan for adequate resources to lessen frustration. And implement action plans to avoid false starts. Keep in mind that if you have more than one missing ingredient, the negative consequences will only compound.

Executing the Change

While understanding conceptual change models like the one I just outlined is important, that’s not all there is to it. It takes a coordinated effort, clear communication, and strong executive support—from start to finish—to ensure a successful software adoption. In other words, you have to translate concept to action. The next time you’re facing a software expansion or change initiative of any kind, here are five concrete steps to concentrate on:

  1. Identify Groups: Who are the individuals, personas and groups that will be impacted by the roll-out of the new process and solution? It’s not just the people using the tool. Consider executives too.
  2. Establish High Level Roll-Out: How should the solution be delivered to these groups—in waves, in a “big bang,” etc.?
  3. Develop Approach: What events, communications, training, support, and feedback mechanisms will be leveraged to facilitate change?
  4. Prepare Plan & Schedule: Develop a time phased plan and schedule to support the roll out and set expectations for each group of users.
  5. Create the Case for Change: Before you begin to execute, make sure it resonates with all identified groups and is continually reinforced.

What We Did Right—And What We Could Have Done Better

When we implemented a successful work management tool for my creative solutions team, I wasn’t expecting to step into an enterprise-wide change management initiative. I didn’t realize I’d be riding a tidal wave of expansion that extended to seven different business areas in our 6,000-employee company. But it has been rewarding to see the positive cascading effects.

Through it all, we did a lot of things right, but of course, there are also things we could have done better, and that we’re still tweaking. We’re in the midst of improving our metrics capture and reporting, our dynamic resourcing, and our strategic integrations with DAM, Peoplesoft, CMS and Microsoft. And we’re working on further expansions in the enterprise, because when something’s working, word tends to get around.