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The founders of this workplace goal-tracking tool met on Atlassian's basketball court — now they count Atlassian and Woolworths as their customers

Aleks Vickovich
  • Australian Sten Pittet and his American business partner Bryan Schuldt quietly launched workplace goal-tracking tool Tability in January with a goal of becoming a world-renowned "accountability platform for teams".
  • Pittet and Schuldt are both former Atlassian employees and met on a basketball court next door to the Australian-born software company's former offices on Harrison Street in San Francisco, California.
  • Tability has signed up 500 teams since launch, including Atlassian itself and Australian grocery giant Woolworth's on a pilot basis and social media management tool Buffer and global peer-to-peer marketplace OLX as paying customers.

As a senior product manager at Atlassian for five years, Sten Pittet's job was to talk to workplace teams about their productivity — and his experience convinced him there's a very obvious reason why many don't stay on track of their goals and objectives.

"The problem ... is not to come up with a plan, the problem is to remember it," Pittet told Business Insider Australia.

While there is no shortage of workplace project management tools on the market — including, notably, those offered by Atlassian itself — many businesses are still struggling with the basic problem of keeping focused on those goals and remembering them, the Sydney-based entrepreneur said.

Frustrated with the way "OKRs" (management consulting jargon meaning 'objectives and key results') were being defined by existing software companies, Pittet launched Tability with the expicit goal of helping "every organisation become more outcome-driven".

He convinced fellow Atlassian employee Brian Schuldt, then a designer in the San Francisco office, to join him as his partner in creating the "first accountability platform for teams".

The two met on a basketball court just near Atlassian's former office on Harrison Street in San Francisco where twice a week the software company's staff and visiting guests network, sweat it out and plan to take over the world, according to Pittet.

Since launching with no fanfare in January 2019, Pittet and Schuldt's company has attracted 500 users across five continents including small businesses and big name corporates.

One of those in the latter group is Atlassian itself, which is using Tability as a pilot. Australian supermarket giant Woolworths is also experimenting with the tool for its digital team, WooliesX.

US-based social media management tool Buffer and global peer-to-peer marketplace OLX are two reasonably established brands already using Tability on a more permanent customer basis.

Tability focuses on accountability, not Atlassian-style alignment

Overall, Pittet speaks very highly of his former employer. But when asked directly why Atlassian's suite of products don't already solve the problem he has identified, the former product manager makes clear he has a different approach.

"Atlassian has a great set of project management tools that help with planning and execution," he said.

"But they're still very much task-oriented. You can see that you're shipping a lot of features, or that you're releasing a lot of code, but it doesn't tell you if that's delivering the right impact."

He also indicated that some mild frustrations with the process at Atlassian helped spark his Tability dream in the first place.

"I was seeing with my own team that it was hard to stay engaged and keep a good sense of urgency on long projects," Pittet said.

"We would lose track of the top priorities and start working on the wrong things ... You could be working very hard, but it doesn't matter if you're working on the wrong thing. Atlassian introduced OKRs while I was there, which helped a lot to bring more alignment, but accountability would still be hard."

To ensure that accountability, Tability takes a hardline approach. Once you enter your goals into the system it will demand that you share progress every week and sends you reminder notifications via email, Slack or both that you can't turn off.

"If you put something in Tability we assume that it is important and you should keep track of it. The purpose of Tability is to create fast feedback loops on outcomes," Pittet said, adding hastily that "of course, it's easy to close goals if you don't care about them anymore".

For its part, Atlassian doesn't seem at all fazed by the way their products have been characterised as task-oriented and ill-equipped to enforce accountability.

Asked to respond to Pittet's comments, the company's 'work futurist' Dom Price, had nothing but praise for the breakaway entrepreneur.

"Our mission to unleash the potential of teams isn’t limited to Atlassian," Price told Business Insider Australia. "It’s great to see examples like Sten and Tability tackling the age-old problem of goal alignment across leaders and teams, making it more intuitive."

He also took some partial credit for Tability's process, saying Pittet's approach to "open sourcing" is right out of the Atlassian playbook.

Pittet readily admits Tability is inspired by his and his partner's time at Atlassian.

He also admits Tability's small team is just as prone to forgetting its goals as any other, practising what it preaches.

"Our focus for this quarter is on our customers," he said. "I get a weekly email on Mondays that reminds me of that."