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InfoQ Homepage News The Role of the PMO in an Agile Organization

The Role of the PMO in an Agile Organization

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Currently, most  IT organizations are agile. Agile changes the way of working of not only the development team but other departments like HR, Finance, and PMO, etc. Nick Oostvogels, Project Manager and Agile Coach at SkyCoach, recently posted about the new role of PMO (Project Management Office) in agile organizations.

Nick says that there are some consequences of agility in organizations such as business units being misaligned, portfolio planning not fitting the agile pace and the project management office not knowing how to support agile teams. In most of the organizations the PMO is a controlling body. It instructs the project teams with guidelines, templates and processes.

A classic PMO which suddenly has to deal with an agile project will behave the same way. They will explain the product owner or scrum that they should prepare for a monthly project board. In order to do that, they should enter their project plan in the corporate tool, so that a baseline is present and the project can be managed in detail. When the PO or SM explains that they have no project plan, but a prioritized product backlog, the PMO gently but firm asks them to convert it into a Gantt chart anyway. In the next project board, the product owner will show the Gantt chart and slowly but surely change his behavior.

Charles G. “Chuck” Cobb, Expert-level Agile Project Manager, Consultant, and Book Author, recently shared his views on the role of the Agile PMO. He says that there are many people in the agile community who might say that there is no role of a PMO in an agile and lean environment and that the whole concept of a PMO is inconsistent with agile. That opinion is based on a stereotype that the role of the PMO is heavily associated with controlling and enforcing rigid waterfall-style policies for selecting and managing the execution of projects and programs. He mentions that in Agile environment the role of the PMO becomes more of an advisory role and a consultative role rather than a controlling role.

The primary responsibility for providing direction to the project shifts more to the business side represented by the product owner in the projects and there is a much more of a closer coupling with the business side to put more emphasis on providing business value rather than simply managing project costs and schedules.

Nick suggests that following actions should be taken by the PMO in agile organizations:

  • Ask the PO for the main project driver - What is most crucial to this project? Do we have a minimum scope we want to deliver?
  • Ask the PO for the product backlog – Is the product backlog healthy, estimated and prioritized.
  • Provide the PO with agile release planning tools - PO should be able to plot a release burn-up chart from his product backlog. This gives him (and the project board) a good overview of the evolution of the project, sprint after sprint and stimulates the agile way of thinking to deliver product increments until enough business value is realized.

Peter Schmidt, Vice President Client Services at ESI International, shares the role of the PMO in agile planning, in his InfoQ article. He says that the PMO can play an important role in agile planning sessions.

In terms of planning, the PMO is heavily involved with the top three levels of agile project planning (strategic, portfolio and project planning), while the project team itself provides the basis for the release, iteration, and daily planning cycles. The illustration above depicts the top-down and the bottom-up interplay of these planning activities.

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