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PMOs Supporting Agile Projects

agile-pmoPMOs have a part to play in supporting an organisation’s move to incorporate Agile as a way to deliver projects. In the Uncertain Role of the PMO in Agile Environments we explored the role of the PMO in assisting activities in organisational readiness – getting the organisation ready to start delivering projects in an Agile way. In this article we take a look at the services a PMO can offer in supporting Agile projects.

DSDM Consortium released a small book – The Agile PMO back in 2012 and last year I arranged for the DSDM Consortium to talk to PMO practitioners in attendance at the PMO Flashmob to find out more about the hands on role the PMO could play with Agile projects.

In this article we draw on both those sources.

PMO Services to Support Agile Projects

It makes sense to think about the current services that a PMO most frequently provides and then take a look at what that might mean from a change of traditional project support to Agile project support.

We have taken the list of PMO services from the recent Global State of the PMO 2015 and highlighted the areas where the PMO can practically support Agile projects:

1. Methodology, Processes and Standards

The PMO will be involved in setting the standards, processes, tools and templates that will be needed for each project. Like any other project methods there will likely be some tailoring required to suit the organisation. The PMO needs to understand the most common Agile methods and frameworks that exist, understanding the new terminology and techniques required. The organisation may choose an established framework like Scrum or opt for a combination of good practice to suit the working styles and culture of the organisation.

2. Management Reporting

Management reporting, one of the biggest service areas for a PMO and perhaps one of the biggest changes the PMO will undergo. The simplest definition of Agile is that the budget and resources are fixed, whilst the scope remains flexible and has many iterations throughout fixed timeframes (timeboxes). A change from traditional project’s iron triangle (fixed time, cost and scope) which means what the PMO will report on will also change.

Typical areas for reporting of Agile projects includes:

  • Velocity – what gets delivered within a timebox
  • Cycle time – how long to deliver from initial request
  • Boomerangs – defects, the number and frequency
  • Customer involvement – time spent working together
  • Customer satisfaction

The PMO will have to understand what senior management want to see in terms of status from Agile projects. If the organisation has been a traditional project delivery business for a while, old habits may die hard when it comes to the new styles and details of Agile project reporting.

low-scrum-pictofigo-hi-0073. Project Management Tools

There is still a need for project management tools, although the typical Gantt based tool for planning and scheduling is unlikely to be used in Agile projects. There is still a requirement for solutions like Sharepoint for team sharing and documentation (although there is likely to be less documentation than in traditional projects). There is still a need to report progress, maintain risk registers, support benefits realisation and so on. Any tools that aid team communication and collaboration will also be needed like instant messenging and “Information Radiators” that can replicate the Agile style of using cards and charts on the wall to show ‘burn down’.

4. Portfolio Management

The PMO role in portfolio management does not change that much. The PMO is still supporting the identification and prioritisation of projects within the portfolio, maintaining the register, establishing a framework for assessment and so on. Chances are that most organisations are not entirely running projects in an Agile way, it is likely to be a blend of traditional (waterfall) and Agile therefore the PMO may have to adapt some of the processes relating to identification, assessment and prioritisation to take into account the differences between waterfall and Agile projects to allow easier comparisons in the selection process.

5. Planning

With less focus on Gantt charts and more on timeboxing and sprints, the PMO needs to understand how the team will stay on top of what will be likely to be delivered during the timebox and how the team will prioritise that work. From a PMO point of view, the main area of focus is understanding progress – where the team has delivered and what is left to be delivered. The Agile team should be using cards and charts on the walls (Information Radiators) which will give the PMO the visual progress they need to report. An assumption is made that Agile teams are following Agile techniques and require little support or guidance from the PMO. If this is not the case, the PMO may be called on to help create and embed the new Agile techniques.

6. Governance

Typically governance in traditional projects means a decision-making framework and normally manifests itself in the form of steering committees or project boards. Other interpretations are about “ensuring that projects are delivered well and successfully”. Project reviews, audits and gateways are ways to ensure the project is staying on track as intended at the outset. In Agile projects, gated review processes exist at certain stages (pre-project, end of feasibility stage, end of Foundations etc) and steering committees are used as a management by exception response. The PMO role therefore exists to support both these types of governance processes as they would in traditional projects.

7. Risk Management

Risk management in Agile projects is no different to traditional projects. The PMO would support risk management activities in exactly the same way.

8. Resource Management

The PMO role in resource management is split three ways; recruitment, training and resource optimisation. The Agile way is to assume that work is carried out in a Timebox and the resources required in that Timebox are fixed. Timeboxes, however, can have a short duration time wise which can mean resource commitment is also of a short duration. A role is required to ensure that resources are available when needed and reallocated when a particular timebox or sprint is completed. It is this role of resource optimisation that needs a dedicated focus within the organisation and this invariably needs an entity with an overarching view of resources, the PMO.

9. Administrative Support

Projects, regardless of their delivery methods, always generate adhoc work that needs to be carried out by someone. It’s the tasks like arranging meeting rooms, organising couriers, arranging travel, on boarding new team members and arranging events that will always be picked up by the people who are there to “support projects”. The PMO should either always have a role within it that can provide this administrative support (project administrator) or have a dedicated resource within the wider organisation (business administrator) that can perform these tasks.

10. Knowledge Management

The PMO could perform a role which is dedicated to increasing and spreading Agile knowledge throughout the organisation. Items such as increasing good practice, starting a project mobilisation service, creating a pool of Agile coaches, creating a community of practice and hosting learning sessions commonly known as Brown Bag lunches or lunch bite sessions.

11. Quality Management

The role of the PMO in supporting quality management can vary from supporting frequent reviews and audits, to facilitating requirements workshops, supporting the configuration management and testing process.

agile-team12. Communication Planning

The role of the PMO in communications is aimed more towards ensuring greater team collaboration. Agile relies heavily on face to face communications, not just within the team but also with stakeholders and customers. Space is needed to allow this; meetings and workshops need organising and facilitating. Tools and technologies that ease collaboration need to be available and everyone trained to use them at ease. Naturally these types of activities will fall to the PMO.

13. Benefits Management

In Agile projects the incremental delivery means incremental delivery of the benefits too. The PMO can support the adaption of the existing benefits management process and then support benefits realization and tracking throughout the lifecycle.

The role of the PMO is to support the delivery of successful projects. In recent years projects have been mainly waterfall in nature and PMO services have been created and matured in line with these types of projects. The Agile way of working has caught the imagination of many organisations and with that an increase in Agile projects.

This new philosophy or style of working has meant that more and more PMOs have to accommodate changes in their service offerings. The first step PMOs need to take is understanding what the Agile way of delivering projects really means, going beyond the buzzwords and acronyms of Agile to understand how the techniques work, who carries them out and what success should look like.

The second step is to take a look at existing service areas to understand what changes and adaption needs to take place to ensure that the PMO can support successful Agile project delivery as well as it does the traditional waterfall projects.

Take a look at the options available to increase your own Agile knowledge.

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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