The Agile PMO

2016-09-15-17-34-31Edinburgh in September, blue skies and a lovely autumn day and we headed to Standard Life on the Lothian Road, with a pretty amazing view!

We had about 40 PMO practitioners join us to listen to Jude Paterson talking about the Agile PMO. She shared some great insights into what forms an Agile PMO Centre of Excellence, the new roles that an Agile PMO should consider, the steps to transitioning the PMO into an entity that can support Agile projects as well as thinking about agility in the PMO.

The video presentation and the slideset are both available over in the Mini-Masterclasses section of the website.

In this article, PMO Flashmobber, Melissa Corkhill, based in Edinburgh shares her thoughts and insights from the night.

The Agile PMO

Agile is a popular ethos, with many companies adopting, or attempting to adopt agile approaches to solution development.  It’s not new, in fact I recall attending some of IBM’s early RAD (Rapid Application Development) and DSDM (Dynamic System Development Method) courses in the late 90s. Since then Agile has evolved and it’s been embraced by organisations across different sectors, with various flavours, most notably the DSDM Consortium’s Agile Project Framework (AgilePF), Scrum, Kanban, SAFe and LeSS.

2016-09-15-19-08-50I’m interested in the implications for PMOs (portfolio, programme and project offices) so I welcomed the opportunity to attend the latest PMO Flashmob organised by Lindsay Scott. After a thought-provoking session led by Agile trainer/coach Jude Paterson, we continued discussions in the pub.

Here are my thoughts on areas to consider if you want to transform an existing PMO into an Agile PMO:

What is driving this change? You might be experiencing some of these problems:

    • Communication issues: Is your PMO talking a different language from your solution development teams causing frustration on both sides?
    • Increased requests for support: Are your Project Managers are clamouring for more support on techniques such as timeboxing, MoSCoW prioritisation, Planning Poker? [NB: Project Manager is still a role in AgilePF].
    • It’s the ‘in’ thing: Your senior management team may be keen to embrace Agile but nervous about losing control and visibility
    • Clash of methods: Is your PMO is asking for information that is incompatible with the way your solution development teams are operating? E.g. Gantt charts may be pretty meaningless in a timeboxed environment. Who needs the information anyway, and why?

agile-pmo-edinburghLeading us to…

What is the purpose of your PMO? This is an opportunity to go back to basics and review the PMO’s future state blueprint, charter or terms of reference (or develop one if it doesn’t exist!). Who are your stakeholders and how can you best support them? What do you mean by Agile PMOs in the context of your organisation and its programme/project management maturity? And how will that benefit the business?

How will your PMO operate? What functions and services does the updated PMO need to provide? E.g. detailed resource management and day-to-day progress tracking are managed by the Agile development team itself.  How might you need to adjust your project and programme performance metrics? E.g. introducing a measure of cycle time from customer request to delivered product.  What wider business processes may need to change?  E.g. existing stage gate processes and portfolio funding cycles.  A portfolio office will continue to facilitate selection and prioritisation of projects (feasibility, viability, desirability) but as described in the AgilePMO Pocketbook, this will be throughout the year not an annual event.  Can your organisation support this? What type of assurance and oversight is expected?

[See ‘The Agile PMO’ by Kevin Thompson of cPrime for a review of PMI knowledge areas and process groups against Agile processes such as Scrum – he concludes that Portfolio Management is more naturally aligned with Agile principles than programme and project management.]

2016-09-15-19-35-59Do you have the right resources? Can they adapt their style and re-skill as required? This may be a big challenge. If your PMO has focussed on mechanistic adherence to processes, monitoring and escalating non-compliances and acting as a ‘police officer’, then it’s likely that you have recruited people with that mind-set and who operate best in that environment.   An Agile PMO will need more emphasis on facilitation skills, ability to work collaboratively, sufficient credibility to provide delivery assurance, as well as the ability to coach in specific Agile methods. Instead of the PMO seeking to control change it needs to be able to oversee it with flexibility.

How will you manage the transition? I would ensure the team leading the transition isn’t limited to Agile evangelists, and instead includes those with traditional perspectives.  It makes sense to treat the PMO transition as an Agile project, to ensure the incremental changes are prioritised according to the business need, and developed collaboratively with the stakeholders. I recommend using the Project Approach Questionnaire to help identify the risks that will need to be addressed.

Transforming an existing PMO into one which continues to add value in an increasingly Agile-oriented organisation will be challenging. But without adapting, the traditional PMO will find itself viewed as an anachronism and a blocker to progress.  Particularly at the enterprise level, there is the opportunity for the PMO to provide increased value as a Centre of Excellence, critically evaluating different methods and tools (e.g. to support the collaboration that is essential to Agile working) and determining the best framework for different styles of project for, as the AgilePMO Pocketbook recognises, not all projects are suited to an Agile approach.  I believe experienced PMO practitioners are well-placed to help organisations get the best out of Agile practices.


Thanks for reading.  I’m interested in your thoughts, what have I missed?  Please let me know if you’ve enjoyed this article and if you have suggestions for any other topics.

melissaMelissa is an independent consultant based in Edinburgh, providing portfolio, programme and project management services. My experience spans various industry sectors and sizes of organisation to deliver business change. I hold an MBA from Henley Management College and my final dissertation evaluated the role of PMOs in UK Non-Departmental Public Bodies.  My professional qualifications include: AgilePM™ Practitioner; P3O® Practitioner; MSP® Practitioner; MoP®Practitioner. Contact with her on Linkedin


About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob and a Director at PMO Learning - the sister company to PMO Flashmob and the best training company for PMO people in the world! She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast. Loves dogs and gin.

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