14 min read
Mar 26, 2020

What Is Work Management Software?

Your whole business is working toward the same goals. So why doesn’t your software work this way, too? Find out how work management software is changing the way projects and tasks are managed across teams.

Olivia MontgomerySenior Content Analyst

Your marketing team needs to know what the sales team is promising to customers. Human resources needs to know operations’ plans for team expansion or reduction. Account representatives need to know when accounting has paid invoices. All of the units in your business are driving to achieve the same goal and their work is all interconnected and dependent on each other.

So why are all those teams tracking work in different systems? Why aren’t the tasks that are dependent on one another across the company not visible at each stage of the workflow?  

If you’re thinking, “yeah, why the heck not,” then a work management software system may be what you need. This is especially true in this unprecedented era of a novel virus epidemic when there's an expanded work-from-home culture—a trend that surely will prove beneficial and live on past the coronavirus. 

In this article we’ll not only define work management software but also give you the information you need to determine if it’s a good fit for your business. We included a checklist of questions for you to help make this decision at the end. We’ll also cover three common scenarios in which project management software would definitely be better. So let’s jump right in!

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What is work management software?

Work management software is a collection of software features within a system that provide a workflow structure to tasks, collaboration, and information across all departments in a business. Gartner adds that work management manages and drives business processes and employee processes that generate the information. 

The information and task flows needed in your business are much more interconnected than just following the end-to-end flow of work. 

For example, it’s more than sales hands off a new customer to an account representative, operations sends out the purchased product, and then accounting handles the billing. Operations and accounting need to know the planned marketing campaigns so they can adjust accordingly. IT, HR, and accounting all need to know operations' plan for team reductions or increases in order to plan and partner effectively. 

A work management system supports this holistic approach to task and project management so all team members are working together across all departments.

Note: This is a new trend in the task and project management software market, and some vendors are calling their systems collaborative work management software or work operating systems.

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Who can benefit from work management software?

If your daily work consists of both project and non-project work, you will benefit. From tracking action items after team meetings to handing off deadline-driven, project-specific tasks, all your work can be tracked within a work management system. 

If you want your teams collaborating, autonomously solving bottlenecks, and doing a better job of managing priorities across all their responsibilities, all this can be performed in a work management system, too.

And, if you’re tired of having to update multiple systems after completing a task and/or notifying a teammate four different ways that you’re now handing off that task to them, then a work management system could benefit you.

Pro tip

Every person in your company should have access to the work management system in order to reap the full benefits. When you leave a team or department out, handoffs are missed, transparency is lost, and your leadership team descends into madness.

Your work impacts and is dependent on every department across the organization. You need to hand off tasks to the next person when they’re ready, manage your project and non-project tasks, and give leadership insight into the bottlenecks and opportunities. And the whiteboard above your desk isn’t going to cut it.

Now let’s dive into the features of the software.

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Common features of work management software

Blending key functions of project management and task management, a work management system offers a robust suite of tools designed to manage your entire company’s work. Here’s a list of common features along with screenshots from software vendors.

Resource scheduling

The availability of each employee and how their time is being split up across project and non-project work can be managed in a work management system.

Kanban boards 

Project and Scrum teams will appreciate the layout of a Kanban board to track and manage team tasks. Tasks can be assigned to individuals while the entire team has visibility into the status.

Time tracking

While a work management system can't replace your payroll system, each employee can track their time associated with projects and administrative tasks. The timecards will roll up into the corresponding projects to make reporting much easier.

Collaboration workspace

Message boards, tagging other team members, and sharing files are all key tasks every employee does every day. With a work management tool, you can keep all collaboration in one system.

Business process flows

Design and assign business process flows for projects so that each team member and each task follows the appropriate process. This will ensure that handoffs and approvals aren’t skipped.

Document management

From vendor statements of work for specific projects to training materials and any other document your team uses, work management software can be the single depository for tracking, updating, and approval documents. 

Integrations for expanded capabilities

It’s inevitable that your team will use other tools outside of the work management system and that’s OK. Many work management systems have options to integrate with other programs, such as LinkedIn, Outlook, and Twitter, to leverage their capabilities and still manage the workflow in the core work management tool.

Prioritized task lists

Each employee can manage their personal tasks and project-based tasks in one place. This helps to provide an accurate view of workload and availability for themselves and managers.

Case study: Using work management software to snuff out shadow IT groups

Shadow IT teams can pop up for myriad reasons—but when your company is working in one work management system, they won’t get very far on their own. Let’s use a recruiting business as an example to see how this plays out. 

The recruiting team kicks off a LinkedIn campaign to connect with qualified candidates, reaching out to see if a person is interested in a new opening. A month into the campaign, one person on the team wants to run a feedback survey but isn’t sure how to do it with the current software they have. So, being the go-getter they are, they create a feedback form using their personal Google email address and Google Forms. They’ve used Google Forms before and know it’ll be the quickest way to follow up with the potential candidates. So they send out the form to all the leads they can find email addresses for.

Responses start coming in. But they’re going to this one person’s personal email account. This person is now a shadow IT operative, whether they know it or not.

There’s so much wrong here. What if there’s private information in the response? What if that person can’t follow up with each person within a reasonable amount of time? What if someone surveyed calls the call center asking questions? The call center representative isn’t going to have a clue what the caller is talking about.

What about the respondents who request to be unsubscribed and not contacted again? There’s no process in place to ensure another recruiter doesn’t reach out to them. 

I could keep listing issues here, but you get the point.

Work management software can manage this feedback campaign for you; some even integrate with LinkedIn so you could run the exact survey discussed above, but all within the company’s secure environment. Everyone would have visibility into the interaction with the potential candidate, improving the experience this person has with your company.

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3 scenarios when you need project management software instead

While this is not a complete list by any means, below are three of the most common scenarios in which a team or business would better benefit from having a project management system either in place of or in complement with a work management system.

System architecture constraints

  • Enterprises and large companies may have too great of technical debt or an architectural environment that's too dependent on legacy systems for it to make financial sense to move the entire organization to a work management system. But your project team needs something, so a project management tool may provide the functionality needed without requiring a heavy IT lift. We recommend meeting with your head of IT to determine if this is the case for you.

Project management methodology needs

  • If your team works the majority of their time within projects, work management systems typically aren’t designed to support the standardized project management methodologies or requirements. Specifically when the triple constraints of project management—budget, timeline, and scope—are driving factors. Project management software associates all tasks back to the approved thresholds of all three aspects, allowing the defined project to be managed proactively and with transparency. So when these three elements are the most important to your team’s workload, a project management tool is likely the best fit for you. 

Project management office requirements

  • For enterprises that run a project management office (PMO), formally or even informally, a full-suite program and portfolio management (PPM) system designed to specifically manage efforts accordingly is often preferred. One example for why a PPM tool is needed here is that when projects are grouped into programs and then programs are grouped into portfolios, the complexity of dependencies is exponentially more difficult for a work or task management tool to perform.  

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Questions to ask yourself before deciding which system to use

A GetApp survey* about understanding small-business challenges and approaches to technology investments found that “productivity improvements” is the top trigger for small businesses to invest in new technology. But half of respondents find identifying the right technology to be a top challenge.

If at this point in the article you’re still not sure which type of software system is best for your team, I’ll give you some homework:

  • First, write down all of the systems you use each day at work. Where do you upload and maintain documents? Where is the time-off calendar maintained? Where do you go to ping a colleague or your team? And, of course, where do you track tasks, both project and ongoing work? If you list more than three, it’s possible that a work management system will streamline your efforts. 

  • Next, list the key features you rely on and indicate which functions must remain in their existing systems. For example, is it mandatory to input time sheets in the human resources system? You’re trying to get a list of the features you want in a new system, so definitely keep in mind the functions that can’t be moved into the new program. 

  • Then, evaluate the maturity level of the projects your team runs. Are projects managed within larger groupings of programs and portfolios? And do they follow multiple, disciplined project management methodologies? If so, a full-suite PPM tool is likely going to support your efforts most comprehensively.

  • But, if your team balances ongoing tasks and non-project efforts in addition to project work, then a work management software system will likely improve the way they operate.

  • Finally, partner with your IT leadership before making any decision about new software. They’ll help you identify technical gaps or opportunities and will be a needed supporter throughout the implementation process and beyond.


Results presented are based on a GetApp study to understand small-business challenges and approaches to technology investments. The primary research was conducted online during July to September 2018 among 715 respondents in the U.S. Companies were screened for company size in terms of number of employees (2 to 249) and enterprise-wide annual revenue (less than $100 million). Respondents were required to be involved in purchasing technologies for the organization and hold a position of manager and above in the company.

Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.

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