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Interview with Lori Bush Shepard, VP of Corporate Marketing at Clarizen

Megan Headley
Megan Headley
August 10, 2015

Interview with Lori Bush Shepard, VP of Corporate Marketing at Clarizen

TrustRadius talked with Clarizen’s VP of Marketing about collaborative work management, a new software category that combines traditional project management with tools for collaboration and execution.

What is your take on the current state of project management?

As Gartner stated at a recent conference, gone are the days of a very linear planning process, where businesses could spend most of their time building a plan and 10% on execution. It should be 40% on the plan, 20% on the execution, and 40% on learning from what happened and adjusting all throughout your process.

It’s less about the plan, and more about how your team can adapt and deliver amidst constant change. Teams change, projects change, corporate initiatives change, priorities change—and with collaboration around the world, it’s changing 24/7. This is a foundational issue that businesses need to be equipped to handle.

We think the way most companies work today is broken. You have discussions in hallways, in thousands of emails, and in interminable meetings. And then you have discussions in social collaboration tools going on, which may or may not be connected to the work content, the things that need to get done, like tasks, tickets, documents and the like. These may or may not be connected with bigger processes, projects and corporate initiatives.

Professional project managers need to be able to manage the resources and the timelines and compare them to corporate initiatives and project portfolios and then roll all of that reporting up to the executives and to stakeholders. The problem is that these “islands of activity” typically live in different, disconnected systems.  You need all three pieces to deliver results, and you need to be able to wrap them all with the workflow that makes things move faster.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by “workflow”?

Workflow refers to the steps you need to take to get something done, with a goal of streamlining and automating the steps as much as possible. For example, if someone has a new project request, the people on the hook for approving it might live on three different continents. Whereas in the past the requester might send an email out and then wait to find out what happened – with no visibility into the lifecycle of the request, in Clarizen they can send a project request with all of the supporting materials attached to the review committee, the reviewers can compare it to their portfolios and objectives and send approval, or not, back to the person who sent the request.

Everyone has full visibility into what’s happening with the request; reviewers can ask questions right in the application or via email, and it streamlines the process. You’re not digging through emails trying to figure out who said what, what attachments were in which email, and what the risks are to related/impacted projects. It’s all in one place. This applies to much more than just project requests; anything else, like document approvals, status changes and or any business rule such a KPI crossing a threshold, can trigger a workflow as well – all defined to meet your specific business’ needs.

How does Clarizen fit into the project management software landscape?

We see Clarizen as the next generation of project management, called collaborative work management. Both Gartner and Forrester have started using the term. Collaborative work management is about helping companies adapt to change, work efficiently, and set up visibility across everything, at any level of the organization. It’s about uniting teams both inside and outside a company and reducing communication overload. The market has evolved. Project management is still the foundation, but collaborative work management is the next step.

Do your buyers think in terms of collaborative work management when they go out for product selection or are they still thinking in terms of project management?

It’s a mix. We’ve definitely come from a space entrenched in the terms “project and portfolio management,” so a good number of buyers are approaching it this way. We see the “collaborative work management” coming more top-down. The people who are approaching this in terms of project and portfolio management are at the mid-level management of a company.

Collaborative work management is tied to C-level initiatives and objectives, such as a transformation and innovation agenda. Particularly with the analysts lauding this right now, it’s attracting the high-level players. However, people at all levels of the organization benefit from collaborative work management.

What are some of the features that differentiate collaborative work management from project management?

Collaboration is a big one. If you think about traditional project management tools, they were focused on and designed for professional managers to keep track of things and roll that reporting up to leadership in the company. But we’ve found that project managers desperately need a solution that helps the people doing the project get their jobs done. We focus on the user experience and the collaboration aspect, to make projects easier for everyone. Of course, Clarizen has all the bells and whistles that are required for professional project managers, but we also help with execution side.

We helped forge the category, and as far as we know, we’re the only solution able to tie together all three “islands of activity” together: discussions, work content, and processes. Configurable workflows help with this, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist with an army of consultants in order to make them work. Management by exception is really handy, and it’s very visual. If something is red, it means there’s a problem.

You can drill in further to see the discussion that’s happened around the issue, and the progress that’s been made on related documents. This goes beyond reporting—people are actually getting work done within the tool, and the collaboration within the tool is what empowers people to get work done faster, with information at their fingertips.

What’s your perspective on the rise of pure-play collaboration tools?

There are a lot of great collaboration tools out there today, for sure. We have a very robust set of API’s, so we can connect to those other tools. But collaborative work management actually allows people to get work done, not just chat about it. Having the conversations is great, but it’s better to have those conversations connected to the work that you’re getting done—in a single solution rather than hopping back and forth.

In the case of my own team, we benefit a lot from collaborating with people inside and outside the organization. We can connect our PR agencies in the US and the UK in a single discussion group, and they can see what each other is doing, so I’m not bogged down with mediating their communications.

Visibility and transparency are critical. Yet, because it’s enterprise-grade, you can limit the level of visibility that people get based on their roles and user IDs. Enterprise-class security is built-in while providing extensive visibility. Discussions can be freestanding, but you can create projects or tasks from within the discussion, and you can pull in documents and other people.

You don’t even need to have a license with Clarizen to participate in the collaboration. We have a patented email engine that connects email to discussions and activities in Clarizen, and when participants reply via email, it gets attached to the discussion within Clarizen. You can also export reports, roadmaps and other objects as widgets that can be shared, so that people have real-time visibility, for example. They won’t interact with it in the same way as they would with a license in the system, but they’ll get real-time updates without having to go to you for information.

What does your customer base look like?

We have over 2,000 customers in 79 countries. This is pretty distinct from our competition. We are working with three primary use cases: PMOs, professional services organizations, and marketing organizations – both corporate departments and third-party agencies.

Do all three scenarios use the same underlying technology?

Yes. It’s the same underlying platform, but with specific templates, workflows and additional applications (most of them free, that can be downloaded from our Apps Marketplace) that serve those different use cases. For example, if an IT team is using Agile Development, we have a Team Board app that can be attached to Clarizen. If it’s a Professional services team, we have a Salesforce integration app that can automate the feeding of opportunities to projects in Clarizen. There is a whole host of settings and apps that can be used to easily tailor the platform.

What features are most important in each use case?

For PMOs we have robust project management tools, resource management, portfolio management, case management, internal and external collaboration, task management, and budget management. Our latest reports and dashboards module is  also a big hit. We announced some new dynamic modules at our user conference that are multifaceted so you can include/exclude data.

On the professional services side, resource management, time reporting, budget tracking, mobile (because folks are often out in the field), implementation planning, resource management, and change request management are all important.

To give you an example of how the professional services use case works: Say you’re a sales organization with a software deal that hits a 70% chance of closure in Salesforce. It can trigger a project plan in Clarizen so that the professional services team has insight into the project pipeline,  they can plan resource schedules, and hire or contract third-parties if needed to cover the demand.  We have a bi-directional sync between Salesforce and Clarizen. Salespeople can keep track of how the project is going within Salesforce while the status is being updated within Clarizen, and you can communicate between Chatter and Clarizen discussions—everyone can stay in their own preferred tools if they want.

On the marketing side, which features are more important depends if you’re an agency or an internal department. Either way, it’s great to be able to determine what kind of resource availability you have. Project planning is a big deal for marketers, and document management is huge. Request management, task management, reporting, and collaboration between individuals are also helpful.

Panels are a cool feature for everybody. Panels allow you to pull in data from any third party online source. There are apps in our marketplace that allow you to pull in Google Maps, for example, in case you want to track visually where your projects are taking place. Plus earlier this year we released our entirely reimagined iPhone app that practically mirrors the full functionality of Clarizen’s web application, creating a seamless, consistent user experience between devices.

Where are you new customers coming from?

It’s amazing to me how many large companies are using Excel and PowerPoint and Microsoft Project. They’re stitching together a bunch of different systems and it’s really challenging for them to get work done. We had a company rolling up projects for 29 different business units, using Excel and PowerPoint, on a weekly basis. By switching to Clarizen, they decreased the amount of time they spent on tactical activities by 67%. They were able to spend their time doing more strategic things – and wound up getting promoted in the process.

We also get companies that have been working with very linear project management systems, on-premise tools that are not flexible enough to deal with day-to-day changes. Setting up workflows so that they are malleable is important, and those older tools just can’t cut it for them. So we see customers coming from both directions: from tools that are too simplistic, or tools that are too difficult and not flexible enough.

We have a successful land-and-expand strategy. Once one department sees the impact Clarizen can have on their effectiveness, we often spread to other departments, and we can become the system of record for an entire organization.

At what point is a company ready for Clarizen?

It’s not a product you need to be of a certain size to use—anyone can benefit from Clarizen. It’s designed to be intuitive and rolled out pretty quickly. We have organizations with many thousands of users, but we also have much smaller organizations as well. So it’s not a complexity or size threshold. It’s more a matter of how much value you see in streamlining your workflow.

We don’t want to overwhelm people with all of the features available within the solution; we meet them where they are. We recently came out with a feature called Profiles, which allows admins to control which modules are active for which users. They can tailor individual users’ instances by department, by role, or by any criteria a company requests. They can trim the visibility to any level of responsibility. The home page can be as simple as a pretty picture with three buttons if that’s what you prefer.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We’re really pleased with the growth of the company. We’ve just moved to a new office in San Mateo, CA as our Sales and Customer Success organization more than doubled over the last year. We have also expanded our international presence tremendously. We recently quadrupled the size of our UK team and we have a new Australia office. We also opened 2 new data centers in Europe, as we see tremendous growth in our customer base in the EMEA and APAC region.  The biggest area of focus is our customer success organization and a “white-glove” customer experience.  They work hard to make sure our new customers are up and running quickly, and that all of our customers have the services and support they need to make their initiatives successful.

About the Author

Megan Headley
Megan Headley
Megan leads Research at TrustRadius, whose mission is to ensure TrustRadius delivers high quality, useful and, above all, trustworthy user feedback to help prospective software buyers make more informed decisions. Before joining TrustRadius, Megan was Director of Sales and Marketing at Stratfor, where she was in charge of growing the company’s B2C revenue stream through email marketing and other channels. She enjoys traveling, reading, and hiking.

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