Rise of the Agile PMO
The PMI PMBOK defines Project Management Office (PMO) as “a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques”.
In practice PMOs are rolled out in any number of flavors across organizations and industries. There is no standardization, and the level of authority and autonomy varies across organizations and industries. The primary charter of a PMO should be to provide a framework that augments the organization’s ability to consistently deliver business value in alignment with strategic objectives. As organizations undergo agile transformation, there is a pertinent need to reflect on how PMO adapts itself to become agile and continue to stay relevant in the new way of working.
PMI’s 2021 Pulse of the Profession® survey reveals the emergence of gymnastic enterprise. These organizations and their project teams combine structure, form, and governance with the ability to flex and pivot—wherever and whenever needed. Their research indicates that gymnastic enterprises achieve greater success by developing a range of value delivery capabilities—and that unless traditional enterprises can emulate this approach, they risk becoming obsolete in an increasingly digitized and unpredictable world.
It is in this context the need for emergence of an agile PMO promoting organizational agility becomes obvious. By agile, we don’t mean usage of agile methodologies, rather a department that truly embraces an agile mindset.
Before looking at what it takes to have an agile PMO, let us quickly note some of the negative perceptions about PMOs:
- Heavily process oriented and considered burdensome by other parts of the organization
- Project prioritization not aligned with strategy
- Focusses just on meeting senior management expectations and lacks focus on delivering any real value to the project teams.
- Lacking visibility on Return on Investment (ROI) of project and program initiatives. Focus is primarily on getting the projects closed.
PMI Agile Practice guide proposes that an agile PMO should be a value driven, innovation driven and multi-disciplinary department. Let us look at the success factors for such an agile PMO.
- Alignment with organization strategy. Portfolios, Programs and Projects are vehicles through which organizations invest valuable resources like staff, infrastructure, finances etc to achieve tangible and intangible outcomes creating a certain value or benefit. As these resources are never available in plenty and the expectations on time to market are becoming more stringent, it is crucial that these resources are invested in initiatives that matter the most to the organization’s aspirations and ambitions.
A typical organization at any point of time has a need to execute a large number of projects and programs. Further different business units and departments have their own preferences on delivery priorities. It is in this context a PMO has a great role to play to ensure that by means of prioritization of portfolio, programs and projects, resources are invested in initiatives that lead to the maximum realization of the organization objectives.
The true value of agile PMO becomes evident when this prioritization exercise is not aimed at merely pushing the senior leadership’s vision on to the delivery teams but rather focuses to converge the organization’s aspirations and the current execution capability and bring in an alignment between the two that leads to the overall benefit of the organization.
An example here is that traditionally, resource managers are forced to assign their resources to multiple high priority initiatives. While on paper the sum of the hours a resource is allocated to different projects and programs adds up to 100%, in reality it is not so. Valuable time is lost in context switching. Also, having to do this for long periods of time ultimately impacts the quality of work and can lead to burn-out.
Another example could be when a new technology has to be introduced to achieve an organization goal. A pragmatic review of whether the necessary skills and knowledge are available in the organization and if not, what it takes to build those is important to be considered. It is in this context that by acting as a glue between the various departments and teams and aligning all teams to march towards well balanced goals that a PMO can prove its true value.
- Light weight processes and governance – Delivery and governance processes are essential to ensure a consistent approach for achieving outcomes. Equally important is to have clear escalation protocols for taking corrective actions when needed. In the current times where agile delivery practices are becoming the norm, it is important to realize and appreciate that one size fits all approach does not always work. Different delivery methodologies suit better for different kinds of projects and outcomes. It could be that traditional waterfall, or a hybrid combination of waterfall and agile practices suit certain projects and teams. An agile PMO should acknowledge this and be able to guide the project teams on the most suitable delivery methodology along with a light and effective set of processes and governance models. PMO should not be an enforcer but be a partner fully invested in the successful realization of the project outcomes.
- Contributing to delivery excellence – An agile PMO can deliver value to the rest of the organization by providing necessary tools, processes and metrics to monitor, track and report on how the teams are delivering the project and program outcomes. Tools and processes should include means to track and report progress of team deliveries, track and report inter team delivery dependencies, to roll up and map team priorities to the organization priorities. Teams should also have access to processes and tools to raise and monitor impediments and track risks. In addition, PMO should lay out a set of metrics that effectively measure business delivery excellence, operational and technical excellence of the teams and consequently that of the organization. These metrics should provide the necessary information needed for the organization to make better decisions.
- Multi-disciplinary team – Organizations across industries are going through transformation and radical changes. It is a given that rapid advancements in technology like proliferation of AI/ML across industries, newer ways of working like remote, hybrid, citizen development etc. have a profound impact on how organizations function. PMO is one unit that, by the nature of its charter, is in a unique position to truly act as a change agent and enable the project teams to perform to their best. To be able to do so, PMO staff should be experts not only in project and program management methodologies, but they also need acumen in business and technology.
In these exciting times where businesses across the spectrum are undergoing transformations, re-inventing and optimizing product offerings, the agility of PMO is an important contributor towards the organization’s business agility.
- Agile Practice Guide (2017).
- PMBOK® Guide (2021).
- Pulse of the Profession 2021 (2021).