But agile works at the organizational level too. It goes beyond sprint-based planning and other techniques, and is something that can be embedded in the very fabric of an organization. And that includes the Project Management Office.
What is an Agile PMO?
A PMO for Agile teams? How does that work then?
You’d be forgiven for thinking this: Agile teams are traditionally self-organizing with the skills required to manage their own workload, deal direct with customers and prioritize requirements. They have their own processes, and as a team will tweak those processes to get the best efficiency over the project. Many agile practitioners haven’t worked in an environment with an effective PMO that supports them through the agile practices.
PMOs can definitely work in an Agile environment, especially one which is transitioning to Agile. Not all projects will need an Agile approach. And a good PMO can support agile teams by translating what they are doing for managers who have no clue about what goes on in a standup meeting. They can be a useful ally for reporting, communication and dealing with organizational politics.
However, you don’t need to be a full-on Agile workplace to bring some of the positive principles of agile into the PMO. You can take on an agile mindset to bring more business value, while still operating in a mainly a predictive or iterative environment.
Here are 5 benefits of being an Agile PMO.
1. Respond Faster
One of the often-cited benefits of agile methods is the ability to respond faster to change. As business requirements evolve, so too can what the PMO delivers.
As your business evolves, you need a team with the ability to evolve the PMO as well. This could be in response to an external business challenge like the launch of a competitor product. Or it could simply be in response to a directive from the CEO to get a project moved up the list of priorities to deliver it more quickly!
Faster doesn’t mean ‘more haphazard’. Agile gives you a structure to work within that lets you control the pace of delivery. This is important because at an organizational level you still need operations to happen in a repeatable and reliable way. There needs to be some level of overarching structure to ensure that everything still hangs together and that governance considerations are taken into account. The PMO has a huge role to play here.
2. Deliver More Value
PMOs, like other areas of the business, are under increasing pressure to deliver more value, more often and more reliably.
Working within an agile framework or with an agile mindset can help this because the ultimate focus in the agile ways of working is on the end goal. You aren’t thinking about the journey particularly, because the team are constantly looking out for ways to get value into the business, faster. Ultimately, the faster you deliver, the more time you have to deliver more value. It’s a cycle that repeats.
Delivering with a focus on value normally involves being able to use situation-specific approaches. Agile lets you do this in a way that traditional, predictive project life cycles (such as waterfall) can’t.
3. More Effective Communications
One of the major functions of a PMO is communication. You communicate out to project managers and up to executive managers. There is a constant flow of communication about status, risk, budget, deliverables and benefits. This is how information flows through the organization and decisions get made.
Communications can be more effective with an agile mindset because you are able to tailor them to the audience. The messages themselves can be more easily tied to business value and outcomes because this is always front of mind.
The more effective the communication, the more you can avoid surprises during the life cycle. We’ve never met a sponsor yet who likes surprises!
4. Improve Lessons Learned
Lessons learned can be a bit of touchy subject for project managers. It’s common to listen to project teams talk about the value of lessons learned and yet be utterly let down by the organizational structures in place to support learning the lessons. In our experience, lessons learned often turn out to be simply lessons captured.
An agile mindset helps change this, because you are open to making small changes in a pragmatic and timely way.
5. Recognize Where Change Is Needed
Finally, an agile mindset leaves you open to seeing situations where change is required. You are approaching business challenges from the perspective of looking at how to make them better. This doesn’t always need to translate into whole scale transformation or process redesign. Sometimes the business context simply needs a small change in order to evolve a process. Think about what you can do in small steps, rather than in radical leaps.
How to Build an Agile PMO
So much of being agile is a state of mind. If you build a team that has knowledge of the business, priorities and strategic objectives, they can take decisions in a way that best supports agile ways of working.
A team with confidence in their abilities, supported by effective tools, will be able to adapt when circumstances change. Think of it as another way to deal with project risk, except on a larger scale!
Whether you are in a traditional industry or a fast paced start up, adopting agile approaches and an agile way of thinking within the PMO will enable you to react appropriately, challenge intelligently and deliver more business value.