In the context of permanent change, 2020 has been a paradoxical year. We have spent much of 2020 adapting to many challenges posed by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The PMO community is an area deeply affected by those challenges, and find ourselves connected to a new way of working. Technology and virtual communications methods have grown exponentially and are here to stay, whilst our ability to maintain human connection continues to prove difficult at the best of times. At Agile Management Office we have taken the opportunity to reflect on our journey throughout 2020 and repositioning ourselves to reap the opportunities, which await PMO’s in the dawn of a new era centered around ‘change’ as a constant.

As we transition into 2021, we highly recommend you take time out to reflect and embrace change because PMO’s are not immune to the challenges at hand. We all have a choice of either ‘throwing in the towel’ or seizing the opportunity to grow and thrive. It is equally important to tread carefully and strike a balance between prioritising strategy measures, redirecting focus on the complexities of a new PMO environment, and ensuring the build of a resilient workforce that is adaptable and comfortable with many degrees of uncertainty.

How do we reflect on 2020 and redirect our focus towards 2021? What has been achieved and what can PMO’s expect more of in 2021? Here is our list of top 4 trends for PMO’s in 2021:

  1. Rise of Agile Governance
  2. Rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  3. Digital Transformation Skills  
  4. Remote Working & Resilience

It is inevitable that emphasis has been on digital transformation and alternative ways of working split across traditional (work from the office), remote (work from home), and hybrid (split between office and home) models, just like much of 2019 was the year of digitalisation for PMO’s. In an ever-changing environment, PMO’s continue to face many challenges, one of which is adapting to changes as it strives to support agile transformations in their own unique ways. So, let us delve a little deeper into each of these trends and learn what they may hold for us in 2021.

#1 – Rise of Agile Governance

Agile, has rapidly crept out from the world of software development into almost all product and service industries. Combined with the increased uptake of Agile, as a “self-governing” approach to Project Management, PMO’s are trying to find ways in which they can retain oversight and control of how projects are managed. Agile (capital A) functions as a delivery framework whilst agile (lowercase a) refers to the organisational culture framework and mindset. Whether or not (A)agile is a prerequisite for PMO’s, good behavior in process and mindset will enable positive continual change.

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Many Agile transitioning or transitioned organisations would argue that this is already the case for PMO’s, whereby visibility, transparency, governance, and oversight are often left behind. To ensure good governance, many aspects of the business must be considered. This means being built to adapt and embracing frequent change. It means having simple yet valuable software for delivery oversight with motivated teams that are self-organizing with high levels of communication and collaboration.

Despite Agile being around for more than 20 years – we have been saying for the last 5 years that despite Agile delivery becoming the preferred delivery approach, that foresight and oversight is still necessary, interestingly in the last 12-18 months, we have seen even one of the world’s leading Agile delivery methodologies introduce Agile governance into their model, not too dissimilar to what we have been saying around integrated governance. There is increased activity by PMO’s, who are trying to align old ways of governing with new ways of working.

“Agile makes you nimble but to be agile you have to be fit. Agile is two letters away from ‘fragile’. So, get fit before you get nimble. Let us embrace agility and all that it offers us. Let us not fear failure, let’s disrupt and drive value. And remember Use Agile Responsibly.” – Fatimah Abbouchi

With the increase in the usage of Agile tools and techniques, it is evident that governance needs to remodel itself to support new ways of governing. Governance needs to be treated depending on the organisation and the delivery methods or models that exist and their understanding, within agreed tolerances. It is about putting the Agile in governance, not the governance in Agile. Good Agile governance is more about enhancing and improving processes with decision-making and less about the decision itself.

Here we have highlighted some of the key traits between Traditional and Agile governance for you to consider.

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 #2 – Rise of Artificial Intelligence

The rise of Artificial Intelligence has been said to represent our time’s industrial revolution. This means revolutionary changes to how we think, design, work and produce. AI is already prevalent and getting a stronger foothold by the day as we witness the rapid rise and impact it has on many industries globally. Just look at your phone – it recognises your face to unlock your screen, search and detection algorithms help you to navigate online and something as simple as autocorrect enables you to type emails faster than ever.

When it comes to Project Management, the increase of AI reporting can simplify the delivery of performance indicators to empower decision-making processes. We have also seen the use of AI provide more targeted insights on how Project Managers are feeling through feedback provided in their status reports as an example.

When considering what to do in terms of implementing AI in your business, it is important to learn as much as you can, by researching, watching, and experiencing AI in practice. Investigate how others utilise different AI solutions in their organisation and collate information on cost, features, value-adds. Many new and existing Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solutions will likely have artificial intelligence built-in.

Artificial intelligence has proven to be a valuable tool to not only support Project Management but also in so many other interesting ways. For example, using AI has already played such an integral part in the Financial Risk Management space for the Financial Services industry, which is largely centered around Payment Services.  However, talking about the benefits of artificial intelligence and its valuable place within the PMO is at a promising stage and yet to be fully realised.

There are risks to implementing or building systems that are smarter than we are. Will AI replace the human element in PMO and project delivery? Although we do not believe it will, we do think that AI can help expedite the automation within PMOs and allow for focus to be placed in areas of higher importance.

 #3 – Digital Transformation Skills

Digital transformation is nothing new. The classical assumption is that people tend to assume digital transformation is an IT transformation initiative only. Whether that be an organisational transformation from non-digital driven to digital-driven or perhaps the incentive to transform your digital experience with better and more efficient solutions. One of the most important things to understand is that it is essentially business transformation, supported by investments in new technology—not a new technology in search of opportunities.

Consumer requirements are constantly evolving, and companies are keeping up with varying degrees of success. Delivery methods are adapting and being customised to keep pace with accelerated development across many industries. Shareholders and Board members maintain more traditional requirements within these disruptive landscapes. ROI and sensible decision making around strategic synergy, risk exposure, and asset utilisation still need to be demonstrated. Internal/external audit and governing body requirements continue. We need to plan to support this creativity in our own unique way. As PMO professionals how do we bring this together?

The key focus should be how you support organisations on their digital transformation journey and leveraging technology to improve existing business processes, uplift culture, and the overall user experience. All with the purpose to meet changing market and business requirements. When it comes to undertaking new digital initiatives, critical thinking should be a part of driving that transformation.

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Many think that PMO’s along with other more traditional support functions will vanish as Digital Transformation takes hold. However, I feel the opposite. PMO’s will become leaner as they flourish and benefit from the opportunities presented by Digital Transformation. It means things are getting interesting and our roles have the potential to become a far more obvious value add. Because PMO’s are not only the recipient but also the promoter of change. Whether that PMO is placed at the practitioners’ level or all the way at the CEO level.

The PMO’s are uniquely positioned within an organisation and can not only function as a catalyst for digital transformation throughout the business – it is also a transformation of current practices within the PMO itself benefitting from digitalisation. PMO could be the custodians of the change as many of our digital tools, platforms, and processes passing from Projects into the customer’s hands. PMOs are there.

Also, when we think Digital and the PMO, there can sometimes be an assumption that this means the PMO having a complete understanding of programming and development, digital business analysis, digital (product) management to name a few. Though instead, it is about having digital literacy and soft skills which are fundamentally more important than technical skills, especially when it comes to the PMO. PMOs are not expected to be IT experts, but rather should engage with heightened levels of understanding and curiosity.

Digital PMOs need to utilise new technologies to improve the way we deliver and facilitate greater collaboration and information sharing inside and outside of the project team. From a strategic point of view, the digital PMO aims to enable business and project people with project data – and enable project teams to measure and monitor non-physical project elements alongside human resources, in real-time.

With Digital Transformation, processes simplify, and resource capacity is released, more people want to do more things in new and exciting ways. New governance models need to be developed that monitor the increasingly alternative methods of achieving the end game. So, is your PMO embracing digital transformation?

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#4 – Remote Working & Resilience

With the recent pandemic, we have seen the entire workforce’s sent home to remote work. We cannot pretend this is not having a material impact on team collaboration and productivity. There are no guidelines for how to do this well, in true Agile fashion we are learning as we go.

As remote working has quickly started to reshape the future of the workforce, integrating changes and employee management is a balance, that requires transparent communication and engagement initiatives, even if employees are back in the office, remote working, or in an office-home hybrid. Managing employee transitions is often difficult as organisational changes are often un-planned and beyond the line manager’s control. Many new employees have struggled to integrate effectively.

However, there are several areas in which increased focus can show a positive difference in employee transitions including central communication, decision-making processes, and human resource processes. Creating a transition/return to work program can be quite helpful i.e.,

  • setting up a task force tracking the workforce through the change and regular conversations provide stability
  • enabling a well-targeted re-training program and using Project professionals to support HR in managing the employee transition and change management
  • providing a big opportunity for PMOs to spread their ‘Project Wings’ and extend their office management experience further

While keeping up with professional procedures, we have also learned new ways to socially engage with co-workers in a more intimate setting as you are virtually invited to someone’s private sphere with cats casually walking on keyboards and noisy children grasping for attention in the background. This remote working practice also comes with higher levels of responsibility placed on employees.

Integrating these changes with already stressful Project Management & governance activities is a balance, that requires transparent communication and new engagement initiatives with constant feedback loops to ensure responsiveness. Some of the ways we have seen changes emerging with our clients:

  • Showcases have had to go online after accessibility was impacted
  • Video facilities for some clients are limited so relying on voice only
  • Stand-ups became sit-downs and became very long
  • Introduction of collaboration ideas such as Ted Talks Tuesdays
  • Giving access to systems and tools for access in place of onsite demonstrations
  • Creating smaller teams, for greater collaboration
  • Being aware that response times increased compared to normal response times

As PMOs we can track and measure how our teams are feeling, by developing out the playbook that will guide us into the ‘new normal’, to focus on helping, not hindering, and being open to change Our focus should be on building to adapt, not building to last. If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us, is that life is unpredictable, and we just need to keep going by learning and adapting to new norms.

In Summary

These are tasters of what we think the key focus areas will be targeted in 2021. At Agile Management Office we focus on uplifting PMO and Project capabilities and not assuming existing PMOs have the necessary skills, tools, or capacity to take on tasks in organisations. Assessing and reviewing PMO’s frequently is essential for an up-to-date and resilient PMO.

In the light of a testing year, embracing change means redefining the PMO value proposition and strategy, so we can still justify our existence and be a partner of choice for delivery teams. PMO’s either face the challenge of surviving or seize the opportunity to thrive if they can achieve the right balance of prioritising and redirect focus to ‘new ways of working’ to facilitate and provide transformation direction in organisations and within the PMO itself, it would bring value to all fields in business.

Being resilient to change is key to staying relevant and becoming determined to thrive. 2020 has been the year of rethinking internal processes to keep up with the rapid pace expected for 2021. It is more important than ever that PMO’s focus on how to drive value for their organisations and learn to adapt to processes that will motivate internal progress from within the PMO itself.

As we close out in 2020, we implore you to ask yourself these 5 questions upon reflection:


What are your thoughts? Do you agree? What are some of the other trends you think will be coming for PMO’s in 2021?