Rick Paster has responsibility at Peloton for a team that doesn’t exist in every large organization: the program management office. In that role, he helps to coordinate projects as teams work to build new things; smooths the path for progress; and ensures alignment with the company’s high-level goals. Based in New York, Peloton is a $1.8 billion maker of connected exercise equipment like bikes, rowing machines, and treadmills — and provides connected fitness for its users through a subscription-based model.
Paster serves as Peloton’s VP of M&A Operations & Head of the PMO at Peloton, where he reports to the Chief Emerging Business Officer. In that role, Paster oversees several teams: the program management office (PMO), sales operations team, and the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team.
We spoke with Paster as part of our upcoming research report, Building a Productive Portfolio. He shared insights on working in an organization that has a five-year-old PMO; what that office is focused on; and the biggest challenges PMOs face.
Working in a PMO. The common thread throughout all of my team is operational. We are a true support function for the organization. A lot of what we’re doing is to help drive decisions, it’s to help connect the dots between the organization and work with our business sponsors or business owners to achieve their goals. … We are not going to create all of the projects; we are not going to create the whole strategy. We are going to work with the business owners to ensure that everything is fleshed out the way that it should be so that we understand the strategy and we understand how it couples with the objectives for the company. Then, [we consider] the process to be able to have a successful execution phase … and making sure that it actually meets the value prop that you’ve put out.
There’s a lot of projects where you could lose the value when you start to descope requirements and features and functions. We always want to have that eye on that lens of how we ensure that there’s still the value that we are expecting at the beginning.
Developing success metrics. I think it starts with, what are the objectives for the company? We know we have several objectives that we want to achieve, so every project, every initiative needs to get toward us accomplishing that goal and that objective. It starts with that, where we have this overarching objective as a company to say, “In this fiscal year, we want to achieve X — we want to grow subscribers, we want to get to cash flow breakeven, we want to increase our talent density within the organization, and we want to increase our member satisfaction and experience.” We [then] know that those are the metrics and the KPIs that we are always looking at. We always set up our strategy to say, “What is this accomplishing? What are the metrics and KPIs to be able to do that?”
With every project, we’re attached at the hip with the business sponsor, because at the end of the day, if they’re successful, then we’re going to be successful. That’s all we really care about is how do we ensure that we keep with the ideals that have been set forth with the project that we’re trying to launch. We’re only going to be successful if we actually keep that value in place.
With every project, we’re attached at the hip with the business sponsor, because at the end of the day, if they’re successful, then we’re going to be successful.
Best practices for a PMO. I think one thing is staying objective. Making it very clear that our role is not to make decisions, it’s not to drive and build, it’s not to build strategy, it’s not to take over what’s outside of our swim lane or outside of our purview. I think it’s staying exactly true to what we are. One of the biggest things is understanding the strategy, but not building the strategy or creating the strategy… We serve our business partners. That is always our role. You have incredibly talented people who blow me away whenever I see some of their incredible ideas that emanate from our teams. Our job is to help bring an idea to life by keeping everything on track to be able to get into operationalization. That’s the common thread between my whole team — across all three different pillars, we want to help get stuff done.
A PMO’s biggest challenges. I think the fact is, we don’t actually do anything. Not that we don’t do work, but we’re not the ones who are creating the strategy. We’re not the ones who are making final decisions. It’s owning something without the ability to or the autonomy to be in control and make decisions. That’s always a challenge that you have to have a certain mentality to be okay with — to know, “I’m adding a tremendous amount of value, by ensuring that we get the best out of our people and the best out of our teams and creating these threads between what would be a disparate set of resources.”
Secondly, it’s always hard because you have very different leaders and some of them are going to feel like a centralized PMO is not needed. It should be the responsibility of the teams who are creating the ideas to project manage that through.
It’s also understanding when we should actually get involved and how we should be involved. It’s making sure we stick to our principles that, from a centralized program management office, what are those heavy cross-functional efforts that require a lot of coordination?
Tools for success. There’s a ton of tools out there. We really use Smartsheet, which is kind of like a glorified online Excel. We’ve focused a little bit more on Smartsheet at this point, because it’s something that you can collaborate on together, but it’s not so intensive where it takes up a ton of time. You can also import or export into Excel or out of Excel. It’s something that’s worked pretty well for us.