Project Management Institute

Restructured Role

PMO Leaders Shouldn't Fear Agile If They Stay In Tune With The Times

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By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, contributing editor

I have talked to dozens of project management office (PMO) staff members during the last two years, and many are getting nervous. The more prevalent agile approaches become, the more people begin to doubt a PMO's value. I've heard stories in which the PMO is among the first casualties after an organization adopts agile.

Changing the perception of substance can be just as important as evolving the substance itself.

How can PMO leaders reconcile the expertise their offices bring to the table with the agile way of the world? First off, it's worth remembering why project managers and PMOs are often demonized by agilistas. Here are three common reasons:

1. One size doesn't fit all:

PMOs enforce project standards across the organization. This can prevent teams from adjusting approaches in a way that fits their context.

2. The triple constraint isn't everything:

PMOs focus judgment on scope, schedule and cost. But sponsors care about projects’ outcomes.

3. Bottlenecks:

People think the PMO's gate reviews are the reason the project can't move forward.

Agile practitioners’ bias against PMOs is real and growing. Understanding that fact can energize PMO leaders to make some needed changes. Here are some tips to get you started, gleaned from PMOs that have been able to provide value in an agile environment.

Stay relevant. In September, PMI and Agile Alliance jointly launched the Agile Practice Guide. It offers pointed advice for PMOs wanting to remain relevant:

  • Be value-driven. It can be tempting to focus on formalizing roles, processes and tools for their own sake. Instead, craft plans around the outcomes a sponsor is funding.
  • Be invitation-oriented. No project team enjoys a process thrust upon them. So focus energy on solving problems projects face.
  • Be multi-disciplined. Be more than just a planning and compliance shop. Deploy wide-ranging services, from professional development to business strategy to organizational learning.

Rebrand. Advertising is what you say about yourself. Your brand is what others say about you. Do people say “That PMO is always in my way,” or do they say “That PMO can help us save the day”? Try to influence the conversation by, say, replacing paperwork nobody likes with a competition: This month's most creative project update earns free movie tickets! If people are rebelling against project managers, maybe they'd hurry to sign up for mentoring from the PMO's “executive project coaches.”

Changing the perception of substance can be just as important as evolving the substance itself. PMO leaders, take note: It could be dangerous to hold on to the status quo. PM

img Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, has served on the core team of the Agile Practice Guide and the Steering Committee for the PMI-ACP® certification. He can be reached at email@jessefewell.com.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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