PMO Principle - Single Source of Truth

How the Single Source of Truth PMO Principle Supports Better Decision-making

When we our readers to the Principles that make a PMO and PMO regardless of style, maturity level, and strategy. We reached out to the PMO Community to bring to life each principle through experience and thought-provoking articles that will help organisations to develop their PMO to the next level.

This week we have the third instalment in that series and introduce Milvio DiBartolomeo from Queensland Health where he played an instrumental part to bring AXELOS Global Best Practice from the UK to Australia to deliver pilot training in their new Agile SHIFT product. Milvio chose PMO Principle #2: Single Source of Truth.

This principle focused on the fact that PMOs are trusted sources of truth. By acting as an independent, objective and unbiased entity, PMOs provide visibility and transparency to leadership teams, enabling confidence in delivery and informed decision-making.

Milvio brings to life this principle with insights into some of the key things that PMOs can do to truly live this principle.

As a principle or a function, a Portfolio, Programme and Project Office (referred to herein as PMO) is a trusted source of truth or at least should endeavour to be. By acting as an independent, objective and unbiased entity, PMOs add value by providing visibility and transparency to leadership teams, and enable confidence in delivery with informed investment decision-making.

But what does this mean?

In a PMO context, a single source of truth is a concept that an organisation can apply as part of its knowledge management process to ensure that everyone in the organisation uses the same data when protecting value and making informed investment decisions.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) guidance states that “the purpose of the knowledge management process is to share perspectives, ideas, experience and information; to ensure that these are available in the right place at the right time to enable informed decisions; and to improve efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge”.

When things go wrong

As data repositories become more complex, and often fragmented, accountable decision makers endeavour to ascertain the one piece of data that should be relied upon for accurately and transparently reporting programme and project status and progress against agreed plans.

When information is siloed, it becomes nearly impossible to serve a single point of evidence based truth to all members of the organisation responsible for changing the business. Finance may rely on a different platform than project portfolio management, which may rely on a different software solution than resource management that enables effective demand management at a portfolio level. Acting on data residing between functional business support areas can cause confusion, loss of productivity and costly rework. This will also inevitably impact the Portfolio, Programme, and Project Management Maturity Model (P3M3) P3 practices. Rather than a universally adopted common approach in place, work arounds will emerge as the appropriate data and information is sought by individuals.

How PMOs can help

By acting as an independent, objective and unbiased entity, PMOs provide visibility and transparency by using the Data-to-Information-to-Wisdom-to-Knowledge (DIWK) hierarchy to help create value to accountable decision makers. That is, data is a set of discrete project, portfolio management (PPM) facts. Data represents singular facts or numbers but by themselves, data items have little meaning. Information comes from providing context to data. Knowledge is composed of the experiences, ideas, insights, value and judgements of PPM specialists. Wisdom makes use of knowledge to create value through correct and well informed decisions.

The Praxis Framework guidance advises that PMOs typically have a function that has responsibility for both knowledge management and development of capability maturity. Since information management is closely linked to both these areas, the PMO must take a long term view to ensure that good practice is embedded in the organisation. Without consistency, it is impossible to aggregate information automatically to create an overall health of the portfolio.

Everyone has a role to play!

At the lowest level, a single source of truth can only exist if the project or programme manager takes responsibility to collect accurate progress data and prepares reports, highlighting areas of concern that need attention before they become major issues. A single source of truth supports transparency, collaboration and timely decision making, where required to support the management by exception technique.

The way progress data is collected and reported will also depend on the planning techniques used to develop the baseline. The more sophisticated the method of recording and analysing progress, the more accurate the predictions of future performance. It forms part of project management control approach that is integrated with the organisation’s controls and uses measurement and analysis of performance to verify and refine project and programme effectiveness across the organisation.

What needs to be avoided at all costs is the reporting of “watermelon” programmes and projects that are seemingly green on the outside but red on the inside. The programme/project manager role should have a clear understanding of the agreed objectives and the ability to identify and report potential risk threats before they become reality. This is so that corrective action can be taken by the project manager within agreed tolerances or to seek direction from the senior responsible owner or project executive role before the risk turns into an issue that triggers a change control process.

At the other end of the spectrum, the main investment board with the help of an effective portfolio management function relies on a single source of truth to ensure the portfolio (the totality of its investment, or segment thereof, in the changes required to achieve its strategic objectives) is continually balanced or optimised. It is enabled by effective portfolio management practices that creates a transparent, evidence based environment that will provide objective and timely information to inform senior management decision making. This only exists where the data and information can be relied upon for accuracy and transparency and where senior management are willing to listen and to take heed.

In summation, to enable effective portfolio, programme and project management a single source of truth must exist where everyone involved in changing the business can objectively rely upon to inform continued investment decision making.

It requires everyone involved, starting with the project, then the programme and finally portfolio level roles, to accurately capture data and report transparently. It assumes a mature open environment with a culture of collaboration, communication and safety is actively pursued rather than the allocation of blame for any perceived failures or inaction.
When used appropriately, data and information through knowledge and wisdom can help to identify and report potential risk threats before they become reality so that corrective action can be taken or to seek direction from accountable decision maker roles prior to risks turning into major issues.

The truth is out there to be found where there is top down, bottom up and sideways commitment from across the entire organisation. A single source of truth that supports visibility, transparency and collaboration is not a destination but a continuous improvement journey as organisations make better use of data and information in pursuit of portfolio, programme and project knowledge and wisdom.

  • References
    Office of Government Commerce Global Best Practice Management of Portfolios, 31 Jan 2011(now Axelos)
  • Stationery Office Global Best Practice ITIL foundation handbook, 31 Jan 2012 (now Axelos)
  • Praxis Framework : An Integrated Guide to the Management of Projects, Programmes and Portfolios, 01 Apr 2015, Adrian Dooley
  • Axelos Global Best Practice Portfolio, programme and project offices, 01 Oct 2013

The PMO principles are covered in depth in the APM Accredited PMO Practitioner 2-day Course.