Does Agile Make the PMO Obsolete?
At the recent Agile Australia conference Agile Coach Renee Troughton spoke about her experiences helping organisations change their governance models to support the adoption of Agile approaches.
IT News summarised her talk in an article titled "The fall of the Project Management Office". She described how the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development had disbanded a 60 person PMO by radically changing the approach to project initiation and approval. She said:
By getting rid of the PMO and creating a standardised project flow that was adaptable to size, we were able to keep ownership with the people on the floor who were using it day to day.
Other Australian organisations that spoke at the conference about how they have changed their governance processes to empower teams and focus on removing bureaucratic barriers include Telstra and Suncorp - both have simplified the project startup process and implemented regular reviews and simple checkpoints which help keep project items focused on delivering the maximum business value while adapting to the dynamic environment.
In a similar vein Mark Thiele encourages the adoption of Fluid IT - utilising cloud services and agile approaches to bring IT into the business and deliver solutions irrespective of an IT group's ability to deliver and their governance processes. He says
The business should be able to forget IT, they should be able to look at the business opportunity and determine its viability solely on its merits, not on whether IT can keep up. However, I’m not trying to say IT should become invisible. On the contrary, the need to have IT working “in” the business has never been more important. Who better to translate a business process or work effort into a potential IT solution than someone who understands how IT can be applied?
In the article he discusses the aspects of IT service delivery that need to be fluid to enable his vision.
Another commentator who discusses the changes that are needed in a PMO when their organisation adopts Agile is Kevin Thompson of cPrime. He posted a paper titled The Agile PMO in which he discusses the role and activities of the PMO and how they are impacted. He concludes by saying:
The changes to a PMO, PgMO, or PPMO which is adopting an Agile process are experienced primarily in two ways:
1. The Agile process defines or affects tactical practices of PMOs and PgMOs, and changes the type and timeliness of information required for PPMOs to manage their portfolios.
2. When internalized, the Agile emphasis on collaboration, communication, and responding gracefully to change tends improve the ability of these organizations to function, especially in environments subject to rapid change.
It is an interesting irony that the Agile approach of frequent re-assessment, which often seems odd to classically-trained project managers, fits naturally with the perspective of Portfolio Management. The irony is strengthened when we consider that the practices specified by Agile processes focus on the conduct of work at the project level, not at the portfolio level. For this reason, we will conclude with the following observation:
One of the benefits of the development of Agile processes is to provide a unifying theme for how to view and plan for the future, one which goes all the way from the portfolio level down to the project level.
How has Agile adoption impacted the governance processes in your organisation?
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Transformation not Death of the PMO
PMI is a framework that can work well with Agile, but like any framework or process, if something is rigid, it will break if applied to every situation/problem space. The key is to be pragmatic, adaptive, and embrace change. Those are all mind-set shifts for traditional process-heavy PMOs.
I think those that call for the death of PMOs have never seen the benefits of an Agile PMO and how it fosters agile development as opposed to hindering or restricting it. All business models have some sort of constraints and in larger organizations, the PMO should function as a servant leader to the teams and shield them from the unnecessary impacts.
It is important to understand that many things that work well in small niches, do not scale. If you are going to scale agile to an Enterprise level, especially in a publicly traded company, you cannot ignore the different constraints and must have an adaptive framework that enables teams to pick how they do the work, but in the end is able to also provide the business with the information they need to make decisions.