Pearson: A Textbook Case of Scalable Success


Pearson: A Textbook Case of Scalable Success

With Smartsheet Control Center, Pearson has transformed the way their global team works.

Pearson, a leading provider of educational content in more than 70 worldwide markets, needed to vastly simplify the complex and time-consuming process of digitizing thousands of educational books per year. Siloed information and manual processes were crippling the team with productivity-killing tasks — resulting in slipping deadlines and students missing out on access to the most accurate, up-to-date materials. 

Kimberly Dunworth, workflow lead for Pearson’s North American higher education division, knew that her teams — and stakeholders in multiple time zones — needed a better way to get work done. The project management process that her team was using was anything but streamlined. “It was taking us up to six months to a year to digitize a title,” Dunworth says. “We thought it should be more like 12 weeks.” Content managers were using their own systems and tools, ranging from email and spreadsheets to pen and paper. Leadership had limited visibility into the projects they were ultimately responsible for overseeing; when senior managers asked for milestone updates, workflow managers had to spend time manually compiling status reports.

Manual tracking also led to delays and missed deadlines. Because process steps were not automatically linked, content owners and digital teams didn’t have a clear sense of how changes to their own part of the schedule would impact the overall project. Unplanned project delays sometimes resulted in resources that were unavailable or out-of-date when teachers and students are expecting to tackle the material during a course. That’s an unacceptable risk in today’s internet-connected educational marketplace — especially in North America, which accounts for 60 percent of the company’s sales.

Dunworth and her team started to adopt a widely available project management software solution, but users found it difficult to learn, and licenses for everyone who needed to access the system were prohibitively expensive. Under pressure to improve processes immediately, Dunworth created stand-alone spreadsheets to track projects and sent them to content managers. Manually linking the sheets for different process stages took hours, and users could edit the sheets and disrupt timeline tracking or drop crucial tasks without other team members realizing things had been changed. 

Looking for a Better Solution

Dunworth and her colleagues found Smartsheet Control Center, which supports large-scale project and process management — ideal for an organization with thousands of titles across dozens of subject areas. Now the workflow team can use their own templates to set up new projects, automatically define schedules and link process steps, and enable real-time visibility into project status through dashboards and automated updates.

For each new title to be digitized, Dunworth and her team set up a project entry using a template that outlines process steps, then share it with the content managers who are responsible for updating details and tracking the progress of the project.

“Once a title has been approved, we can push ownership of the project to the content producer or project manager for the title, which takes the pressure off my team,” Dunworth says. “They can kick off the process, enter in the specific metadata that they need, and update the dates. Anybody that’s associated with the title can have visibility into its progress.”

Dunworth can tailor user access privileges so that team members can make appropriate status updates without changing timelines, breaking the links between dependencies, or inadvertently deleting required steps. Project status updates are reflected in real time and give everyone a clear view into the status of every title in process.

A Process That’s “Second Nature”

After setting up a first wave of titles in Smartsheet, Dunworth showed senior managers how easily they could track the progress of the projects being digitized. She set up formulas in the sheets to automatically alert teams if specific process steps were behind schedule. With a color-coding system that marked satisfactory progress as green and projects at risk as red, managers could zero in on problem areas to identify and solve the problems that could result in late publication.

Leaders were so impressed that they clamored for more titles to be tracked this way. Dunworth can quickly add new projects by applying a standard process template with all required steps, and uses the company’s intranet to publish a dashboard so an ever-growing number of stakeholders can easily view the status information they need without asking her to compile reports. Customizable project templates help the workflow team ensure that all titles meet specific requirements, eliminating the risk that a project is delayed because key steps weren’t planned for at the outset. As the company’s processes evolve, Dunworth and her team can update templates or add steps for a specific subject area or content type. Updating existing content is faster as well.

“Because we have documented the process, it’s easier for content teams to do updates or re-releases,” Dunworth says. “The team knows they have to evaluate each of their milestones to see if the title needs to be updated in that area. The process is becoming second nature, because it’s been documented and they can use Smartsheet to track and Control Center to create and report.”

Dunworth says the new system enables her team to more accurately track how long it takes to bring a title to market — and the process is moving more smoothly. Not only is it easier for her to plan her team’s schedule and workload, she doesn’t have to interrupt her work when company managers need updates on the status of the company’s most important initiatives.

“Our process started out small, but when other teams saw the benefits, they wanted us to track and report for their groups as well, and it grew. The experience of setting it up was easy,” Dunworth says. “Control Center has been a blessing for me.”

In the future, Dunworth plans to use Global Updates to add and modify the project tracking structures for even better consistency across the product portfolio. She and her team are looking forward to being able to keep best practices for tracking up to date on all projects — existing and new.

Learn more about Smartsheet Control Center, or contact us for more information.