Agile PMO – How Much is Enough?

In October it was the annual Agile Business Conference in London and we asked PMO Flashmob regular Brenda Nombro to go along to the conference to find out more about what the PMO community could learn from the conference. Brenda will be creating a few articles on different presentations she attended.

Here’s Brenda to tell you more

The conference agenda was jammed packed and for every breakout session I could attend, you missed another three, however the first session that I attended on Day 1 was a bit of a no-brainer – How Much is Enough Governance when it Comes to an Agile PMO? from Jonathan Stout from AXA.

It was clearly a topic close to many hearts as the room quickly filled with many standing or sitting around the edges. The presentation wasn’t particularly well delivered and felt very clunky at times. I had hoped for some real practical examples of how the theory becomes practice, but this was lacking and I didn’t get any idea of specific context despite some anecdotal examples. Having said this, there were some points on which I can reflect.

‘Value’ is the new ‘Benefits’

I think it is going to take a while for some of the bigger (particularly Financial Services) organisations to get to grips with it, but investment needs to drive value and just focusing on financial payback isn’t cutting it any more.

Here it is the role of the PMO to understand what value means to the organisation as we have the unique advantage to understand the overall portfolio, the wider business and the external and regulatory environment. We should be key to driving prioritsation. But this is also where we find ourselves reverting to type (and perhaps quite rightly so) – how do we document, track and measure against this value? And how do we do it without just recreating another overhead?

What I did like about this part of the presentation is that the list of projects seems to be a ‘moving feast’ – the prioritised list of projects is under constant review and challenge, so the projects which will deliver the most value to the business are done first (when possible).

The PMO, as ever, needs to keep one step ahead in understanding the resource profile and capacity of flex in both quantity and capability and also using this to inform decisions on how to proceed. This also means that we have to draw on our key skill to communicate – tell the story, explain the options and ensure understanding at all levels in the organisation.

So does this mean that we have to worry about tracking and evidencing delivered value after the project is implemented? Yes probably – if only to know that it delivered what it set out to do, but surely we can be more creative about how we do this? And how it feeds into the ongoing strategy and prioritisation.


Control through Transparency

I love this – but it is the biggest cultural shift. This all comes down to empowerment, which in turn comes down to trust.  I believe PMO are at the heart of enabling this through appropriate communication, governance and assurance. I do believe we have to earn trust in our abilities and capabilities as PMO professionals.

Our senior stakeholders sometimes struggle without control and constant communications and updates – we have to get them to trust that we are ‘all over it’ and no news is good news. On the flip side, our Project Managers must trust that we will escalate and push forward with senior stakeholders who are remarkably distant from the project and any concerns.  However, I don’t know if I deem this as ‘agile’ or really how we should be delivering in any organisation or methodology?

Jonathan talked a lot about balance and the role of the PMO in finding the right level that drives the projects forward and keeps everyone on board. PMO have to manage the ‘noise’, be it audit, the regulators, our HR/ Finance/ Risk colleagues . So to that end, we do have to keep it real – but the key here is ‘appropriate’ – using our intelligence and expertise to understand what level of intervention and reporting is necessary to provide evidence and comfort that we are not just getting it right, but doing it right.

We still need to work on our PR…


Are we actually still seen like this? Agile or not, have we not learnt that collaboration and communication  gets better results?

This perception frustrates me – that PMO are seen to have no ‘intelligence’ in how they approach their responsibilities and that they are mechanical (rather than methodical) in what they do.

Does the confusion come from the important fact that PMO should be objective and should provide assurance by way of challenge? This is why we are here, I fully believe that, but surely we can only do this by fully understanding the business and the projects? The desired outcomes and potential pitfalls? It is also our role to interpret and report on the activities and deliverables within the projects and programmes to allow key stakeholders to make key decisions – we have to work with the project managers and SMEs to really understand the issues!

I really struggle with the ‘us’ and ‘them’ that came out from this presentation – while the ‘one team’ ethos can seem twee, it really is true at the end of the day. We all want the projects to deliver the value to the customer and the business – and we should all want it delivered safely and legally.

But we do have to bear in mind the odd stakeholder who may feel it is fine to have a PMO when they are doing things for them in the way they want them, but to whom, all of a sudden, we become blockers and hurdles when we challenge and ask them to do things differently.  I suppose, this is just human nature.

“Don’t actually know what they are there for”

Jonathan pointed out in his presentation that PMOs can be traced as far back as 1800 and in its current form the PMO appeared in the 1950s – so how is this still the case? That’s easy – the PMO has been, in the past, a catch all for everything the Project Managers won’t/can’t do.

There has often been a lot of admin that dilutes our actual skill set. The knowledge of the time and methodologies that were current, dictated a lot of ‘comprehensive’ and inflexible policies to be ‘policed’. All in all, there was limited opportunity to show real value add. This is where ‘Agile’ becomes our friend and we can step away from being the bureaucracy police, and start really using our insight and oversight to bring people, ideas and solutions together and keep them on the right governance and assurance path.

Ultimately everyday should be a PR mission for the PMO.


brenda-picBrenda Nombro has 13 years  experience across a variety of PMO roles, predominantly in Financial Services. She is passionate about the significant value PMO should add through demonstrating a real impact on the success of reaching business and organisational goals and objectives. Brenda is based in Scotland, however loves to travel and work in a variety of locations. She enjoys running, hillwalking and all aspects of fitness, traveling and meeting new people. She really enjoyed attending the PMO and Agile Business Conferences this year.

\\ Connect with her via Linkedin


Agile Business Consortium Annual Conference 2016

Agile Business Consortium Annual Conference 2016

agileFor more information about Agile – take a look at the Agile Business Consortium (which was DSDM Consortium) who run this annual conference.

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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