Consistency: A Better Way to Approach Your PMO

by Jim O'Farrell

In this post, I’d like to talk about scale and how you can think about scaling your PMO environment.

Sometimes people scratch their heads and say, "What do you mean by scale?" Scale can manifest itself in three different forms: user scale, administrative scale, and functional scale.

  • User scale is driven by a high volume of app users completing a range of varied tasks
  • Administrative scale is derived from the need to manage distributed teams of both users and data.

But in this blog post we’ll focus on functional scale.

Functional scale addresses specialized, repeatable processes that require operational controls. Solving for functional scale enables you to consistently roll out a business process or a particular unit of work from a central location.

The only means for PMOs to truly scale functionally is by enforcing consistency across all elements of the project lifecycle.

Without consistency, you are facing extreme challenges - whether those challenges manifest themselves when setting up organizational strategy and vision, implementing a standardized and consistent project initiation and execution methodology, or with team collaboration. During a recent series of interviews that I conducted with leaders of PMOs, I gathered a number of insights into challenges associated with implementing consistency across their project life cycles.

For example, I asked the director of a busy IT-PMO what her number-one challenge was, and she indicated that she struggled with project intake and prioritization. In her words, she said, "Everyone's own project is the number one project." With hundreds of internal stakeholders clamoring for attention, each claiming “top priority”, it’s easy to empathize with her difficulties cutting through the noise to correctly prioritize projects.

In another conversation, an EVP of IT and PMO mentioned that his biggest concern was lack of user adoption. At its core, this highlights a need for team collaboration - something that EVP identified as essential to the success of his company’s overall project lifecycle.

A third example that really struck a nerve with me related to project portfolio tracking. Last week, a director of PMO at another company shared that, "Reporting, Jim, keeps me awake at night. For example, 'How are the financials, are we going to meet the growth profit estimates for these projects?'"

These challenges are symptomatic of a lack of consistency across the project life cycle. Let's take a closer look at common PMO challenges and why functional scale is so hard to achieve.

Challenge 1 - Changing Business Environments:  It all starts with the constantly changing business environment. I recently spoke with a director of PMO for a company that does a high volume of IT infrastructure work, running about 170 million in annual revenues. They recently were acquired by a 1.7 billion dollar operation. The ripple effects of this acquisition have (predictably) had a major impact on that director of PMO's operations and reporting.

Challenge 2 - Evolving Processes: That acquisition, of course, also means that established processes are under heavy revision - and even without fundamental changes like that, in the modern business environment processes shift and evolve on a weekly basis! Another PMO I spoke to just joined an organization with no standards in place for managing projects. Now, he is tackling the daunting task of instituting new systems while controlling change management and PM training.

Challenge 3 - Rigid Tools: That company is literally in the midst of evolving processes. With constant change to both business structures as well as processes, rigid tools quickly become cumbersome blockers to progress rather than helpful resources, and users struggle to translate new workflows into inflexible tools. Compounding the issue, these adaptations often occur in a siloed environment - and your company is left without clear processes and reporting and communication tends to suffer.

Challenge 4 - Multiple Project and Portfolio Management Tools: In contrast to companies that choose singular, rigid tools, some organizations allow individual teams to adopt the tools that make sense for them. But with different teams working from different tools it becomes impossible to track projects across teams. Ultimately, the result of many decentralized tools is that the PMO doesn’t have the means to report on results and can’t deliver true strategic value.

Challenge 5 - Poor Visibility Into Program Status: The bottom line is that these factors all contribute to a dire lack of visibility into program status, leading to poor decisions and thus business performance. Ultimately, PMO leaders struggle to answer the question, "Are we going to make it?"

So, approach is typically taken – and why has it failed?

The usual approach is to standardize everything - all processes, methods and tools.

However, tools that drive this standardization are usually expensive and rigid - necessitating complex training. Further, these tools are often unable to keep up with the aforementioned pace of organizational and process change. In the end, users push back as standardization does not seem to be all that it is cracked up to be. When users feel caged in to rigid or complex systems, teams stage quiet rebellions - adopting shadow processes and tools.

The Solution: Consistency - Where It Matters!

Our method takes a slightly different approach to overcoming these challenges. That approach is based on consistency across key components of your project life cycle - applying consistency only where it matters!

So what does that mean? Well, here are some examples… Consistency is about:

  • Creating a standard budget template with controlled data entry for project codes and accounting codes - applying standards where they matter. However, we combine that consistency with user flexibility which allows project managers to update descriptions with free-form text or add more columns to track different variables.
  • Setting up a facilities construction template with standard tasks and subtasks while providing the flexibility to update and change dates associated with those tasks, change task descriptions, or even add in new tasks or subtasks.
  • Automatically creating two client on-boarding dashboards, one for internal use and the other as a view for the client, providing flexibility to manage what is communicated to both your internal and external audiences.

These examples highlight the difference between full, rigid standardization and consistency where it matters. Consistency means placing guardrails on project lifecycle components while offering user flexibility so your teams can work the way they want and adapt processes to your evolving business.

The Perfect Balance: Flexibility & Control

This combination is the balance that Smartsheet’s Control Center provides - offering controls and standards where they matter without compromising on flexibility or ease of use. That ease of use and flexibility is why 80% of our users log in to Smartsheet at least once every 30 days. That is an industry leading benchmark that we’re proud of - and shows that users won’t rebel against this flexible tool.

Bottom line: Smartsheet’s Control Center solution for PMO provides that perfect balance of flexibility and ease of use with with standards and control at scale.  

The Results?

  • Better informed project teams
  • Enhanced internal and external customer experience
  • Auditable system for your projects, programs and portfolios
  • Faster project and program execution resulting in improved business results

To learn more about PMO collaborative work management and related solutions, contact