Agile? The PMO? What’s going on right now? Is it just me or is there a real disconnect between organisations who are looking to introduce agile ways of working and what they are doing with their PMOs? Shouldn’t you look at leveraging them to drive the change? Wouldn’t it be better to engage the PMO rather than to ignore them?

Agile is nothing new, in fact, it’s been around for decades. Though the interest in Agile has been increasing year on year for the last 5-6 years. Here in Australia, it may have something to do with the large-scale enterprise transformations that have made headlines when organisations like ANZ Bank (a big 4 bank) began their Agile journey. Heck, they even had a series of podcast episodes about it. They weren’t the first, and they won’t be the last, but it seems the Agile train has truly arrived and is in more demand than ever.

Though as the rise of Agile continues, so to the challenges particularly of notice the situation around the PMO, yes, the Project / Program / Portfolio Management Offices.

At the very basic level, many PMOs are still unclear what Agile even is. Despite Agile ways of working being rolled out across many organisations, the lack of understanding is still glaringly obvious. This is not a unique problem but an easy one to solve. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know if you ever arrived?

What’s happening today?


PMOs are being downsized, dissolved, or ignored

 It’s true. Even the enterprise PMO is not safe, many PMOs are already being downsized, dissolved, or ignored altogether. Often the decision is made primarily based on cost rather than value since a lot of times the PMO is an OPEX cost and isn’t capitalizable. So, the easiest decision is to cut the team or the size of the team. This is shortsighted because often there is little to no consideration given to how governance and assurance will play out when the PMO is reduced/removed.

You may assume that governance and assurance activities are not required, this simply isn’t the case. For example, some of the bigger well-known methodologies used in Agile delivery originally excluded governance but now several years later, they have introduced the concept albeit with different names for it. Likewise, large organisations that chose to eliminate their PMOs have realized that there is more difficult than ever to get a view of how their portfolios are performing.

There is a lot of Agile activity happening across organizations from value streams to implementing methodologies at scale such as SAFe to pockets of project teams that are starting to learn and bring in different frameworks like DSDM or Scrum, etc. With too many variations happening across the organisations it is becoming a bit of a chaotic mess. With Agile you still need some structures, just don’t over-engineer it. Unfortunately, some organizations are going completely the other way.

PMOs are being tested

 In some organisations, the PMOs are being tested. You may have heard your organisation say that they are not eliminating the role of the PMO. This is a sign (trust me I’ve seen this half a dozen times recently) where you are being told to be part of the change, get on the bus, or risk being left behind. This is your opportunity to focus on proactive collaborative change that brings value sooner and demonstrates the practices, behaviors, and mindset that underpins good agile (yes small a agile!).


PMOs are driving the change

Some PMOs are taking the bull by the horns and helping to drive the transformational change, from developing the center of excellence, being the custodian of ways of working and tools to driving lean governance. They are helping to introduce new Agile concepts such as value streams, bridging gaps in knowledge, and helping teams to embrace whilst still delivering executive insights in a timely manner.

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What challenges are PMOs facing?

 The list of problems is not small, though, that is normal when you think about the learning curve that comes with change. It’s nothing new. Yet the problems appear to be big because there is an underlying pressure to keep up with the Agile delivery teams around us. This too is nothing new for PMOs. So what are the major themes when it comes to challenges faced today?


Behavior and people

This includes stakeholder management and the team resistance towards Agile. It’s about adopting an agile mindset and getting traction with the right people, at the right time in the right way. In fact, a lot of people talk about agile ways of working, but then don’t practice them. People are picking and choosing what suits them. People need better guidance on what is expected of them and need frameworks/guardrails to work within.

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 When it comes to process, there is still too much, and it’s over-burdening teams. Some PMOs are trying to layer new processes on existing ones, without considering what could be eliminated instead. Excessive documentation is not a good sign of an Agile team. Questions are also being asked around aligning traditional waterfall processes to more Agile processes. Trying to bring an agile flavor to a team that is so used to delivering using methodologies like PMBOK or Prince2.


From a value perspective, there’s a mismatch between expectations between PMOs and delivery teams. Questions are being raised around why is a PMO still necessary? If you are being asked this question then your PMO is not delivering value or the value is not visible to the people that matter, your customers. You need to make sure there’s alignment. If not your PMO will impact the Agile delivery teams, and then you will probably end up being dissolved or not moving forward in the way that’s necessary to help the organization.


 You either have it or you don’t. If you don’t, nothing you do will stick. Because obtaining top management support and understanding should be your number one priority. Then you can start thinking about how to measure their return on investment, how to drive efficiency and how to extend the value wider into the organization.

These challenge areas are broad, but they are common. Improvement is possible; the first step is to understand what your PMO is doing today.


What are some PMOs doing today?

 It’s time to get creative. From running knowledge sessions to owning the Agile Ways of Working onboarding approach to driving insights. We’ve got PMOs that now have embedded Scrum Masters in their teams. Other PMOs who are building Center of Excellence around agile. Some PMOs have decided to co-design and build something together with their delivery teams. Others have stopped doing project reporting and turned it into project showcases. There are PMOs that are leading continuous improvement, and some that are engaging with delivery teams and delivering PMO activities in an iterative way. Some PMOs have been able to help lead the change towards agile and now are seen as part of the leadership team for agile within their organization. There are a lot of things that PMOs are doing today, and it’s about thinking about what is best for your specific situation.


What opportunities exist?

 Firstly, we need to get clear on all the things we can stop doing before we add new things. This is where we elevate ourselves and we add significantly new activities based on the Agile team needs. You have to understand what the team needs are, in order to help them but at a very minimum, some of the things that we could recommend and some of the things I’ve seen, or some of the things that I would say, need to be introduced, is perhaps providing inductions for external teams coming into your organization, providing culture checks, stabilizing the office, bringing in Scrum Masters. Perhaps you can help to integrate multiple different teams, with the same vision and get them all on the same page when it comes to the practice’s mindsets and beliefs.

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There are so many ways to address what’s necessary. Ultimately, it’s about asking yourself and your team key questions, and thinking about what it is that you’re doing today. What is it that we need to do tomorrow and then how do we connect those dots?

Don’t do it in isolation. Agile is all about collaboration to do it collaboratively with the teams as well, and you might just find yourself in a position where you are looked upon for guidance and support, as opposed to being continuously chasing delivery and trying to keep up, which is a problem that currently exists within the Agile space, no matter where you look, unfortunate, but it’s real, and it happens, and it’s something I’m still continuing to see. So, let’s see start by defining what is valuable in our customer’s eyes, how we can do things better, and add that agile flavor to the things that we do.


Use Agile Responsibly

Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. The prerequisite of agility is general fitness. General fitness provides one with the strength and endurance to be able to move with agility. For those who are unfit, getting fit requires one to adhere to a disciplined, structured regime, one which is followed consistently to reach their desired goal.

Organisations that want to achieve agility or become agile, must start with the basics – inculcate discipline, apply it consistently, strengthen capabilities, and get fit. It is at this point that they are able to successfully execute their agility strategy.

Want help getting there?

Bringing all the puzzle pieces together that are Agile and PMO is not easy, but I have done some of the hard work behind the scenes to bring you our first workshop which is all about Agile/agile in the PMO. It’s specifically designed to bring about understanding through to practical ways of introducing agile concepts and applying them and then getting feedback from myself and my team. We’re going to help to bring together, and guide you on that pivot that is needed to ensure that you can keep up, help you learn the ability to adapt to the evolution of PMO delivery, help you to bring all of the sorts of practices and principles and some of the techniques that we’ve been honing in on over the last five or six years, and bring it all together in a really interactive and fun workshop series. If you would like to know more just go here to register for more details. You can reach out to me directly also.

In case you missed the recent MEET UP on this exact topic – check out our video here.