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For the latest on this project, see the Collaborative Work Management page.

One of the research projects I set myself coming into this year was to explore the collaborative work management software category in more depth. There is now some urgency to understanding this space better so that companies can better respond to the aftermath of being "suddenly remote".

Let's start with what do we mean by collaborative work management?

Definitions vary, but mostly these are tools that allow people to coordinate work using platforms that enable them to collaborate on the coordinating process. In some cases, when these platforms also support automation and workflows, they also become productivity solutions. The level that this coordination happens at also varies, ranging from detailed task management to objectives and key results.

Collaborative work management solutions are different from traditional project portfolio management solutions or a shared task list, which are tools for coordination, as they lack the system of engagement features found in collaborative work management tools.

Regulars on my blog or people that know me might also remember that I was briefly involved with a start-up, called Pinipa. Unfortunately, Pinipa ultimately didn't succeed, but this post where I describe the problem it was trying to solve is for me the core of what collaborative work management is.

If you feel this all still sounds a little vague, then you have identified what is probably one of the critical challenges with collaborative work management as a product category. Looking over the vendors that have appeared in research and reports over the last few years, I've identified ten vendors that come up frequently:

When you look at the details, it's an odd collection of solutions - everything from kanban boards to project portfolio management solutions that happen to have some collaboration features baked in. Both Microsoft and Atlassian also offer a suite of different tools, so it is not entirely clear what collaborative work management means in those cases. Should we classify Microsoft Teams with an Excel spreadsheet embedded in a tab a collaborative work management solution?

It is a crowded market, and the more I explore this space, the more I feel that no one has quite got it right yet. I think the market is struggling to define it.

For example, I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jennifer Dennard and Braden Kowitz from Range (who don't appear on the list above). One of the things I like about Range is that their objective is to help people work better, but not necessarily by playing the role of a productivity solution., on the other hand, are trying to position themselves above the crowd by labelling themselves as a work operating system or "Work OS". They are making it clear that is a place, as they describe it themselves, for "managing projects, workflows, and everyday work".

In these two products alone we can see very different philosophies at work. I have a much longer list of more than 50 different solutions to consider that could arguably fit the collaborative work management category. I am working on understanding how they fit together and the use cases they serve.

If you are a vendor or already use a collaborative work management solution and would like to help me explore this further, please get in touch. The best way to do this is to complete this form:

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