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Chuck Cobb on the Role of an Agile PMO

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Enterprise level agile transformation may require a change in the way of working in various departments of any organization which includes a PMO (Project Management Office), if one is in place. The role of a traditional PMO probably needs to be modified to support agile teams. Charles G. “Chuck” Cobb, Expert-level Agile Project Manager, Consultant, and Book Author, recently shared his views on the role of the Agile PMO.

InfoQ did an interview with Charles about the role of the PMO in an agile organization.

InfoQ: What are the key responsibilities of the PMO in an agile organization?

This question implies that there is a clearly-defined model of what an “Agile” organization is and I don’t believe that to be the case. There is a broad range of different kinds of organizations with many different characteristics and I don’t think that there is a standard definition of what an “Agile” organization is.

There is a very popular misconception that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and the result of that is that some companies try to force-fit their business and projects in one of those extremes. The right solution is to fit the approach to the business; and, many times, that will require a blend of those two approaches. For that reason, there isn’t a standard model of what an “agile organization” is and what the role a PMO would play (if any) in an “agile organization”.

In general, a PMO in any organization has the responsibility to maximize the return on investment from a portfolio of projects. They do this by:

  • Facilitating a project portfolio management process to select a portfolio of projects that is most likely to provide the highest level of return to the business. The role of a PMO in this is a facilitation role – the business sponsors are the real decision-makers in this process.
  • Serving as a focal point for managing and reporting project progress to verify that projects are on track to achieve their goals. The emphasis on this role is often on tracking progress against cost and schedule goals.
  • Standardizing and enforcing project management processes to ensure that projects are well- managed and are well-aligned with the company’s business objectives
  • In general, as an organization moves towards a more agile orientation, the roles of a PMO (if a PMO exists at all) would change as follows:
    • The portfolio management process would become more dynamic and the business organization, rather than the PMO, would probably play a more direct role in managing the process
    • The PMO might continue to play a consolidation role in reporting on project data, but that role could be eliminated altogether with the appropriate project management tools and enabling the project teams to track and report on their own progress. The emphasis would probably also shift away from managing costs and schedules towards delivering tangible business value
    • The PMO becomes less of a “process enforcer” with an emphasis on control of project processes to more of a consultative supporting role to maximize the performance of process teams.

InfoQ: You mentioned about more adaptive version of a PMO organization. Please put some light on this. How this is different from traditional PMO?

There is not a black-and-white distinction between an “Agile” organization, an adaptive organization, and a traditional organization. There is more of a continuous spectrum of organizations from heavily plan-driven at one extreme to heavily adaptive at the other extreme.

InfoQ: How do you see the importance of living agile values by the PMO?

Ideally, the entire organization should have a consistent set of values and the PMO is no different. Since a PMO represents the management of the organization, you could argue that it is particularly important for a PMO to model the values of the organization.

InfoQ: How should PMO work closely with Product Owners?

The Product Owners represent the business sponsors and take direction from the business. In general, the PMO doesn’t play a direct role in that linkage. A PMO might play a supporting role to provide training, coaching, and mentoring to agile teams, including the Product Owner to help them maximize their performance.

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