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The Adaptive PMO

Adaptive PMO

In a recent webinar from Strategy Execution – Conquering the Challenge of Adopting Lean and Agile in Organisations – there were a number of insights which can help PMOs to start thinking about the role they can play in overcoming some of the challenges.

The PMO conversation today about Lean and Agile has been primarily focused at the delivery level. Questions such as – how do the PMO services and functions offered differ when the project is being delivered in an Agile way? What are the governance arrangements when taking into account dual (or bimodal) approaches? How does the PMO report on progress for each of these types of projects? Does anything change? Does it all change?

Those questions will still carry on being asked, and the ensuing debate, discussion and actions taken as a result will also continue and no doubt change. There are plenty of unknowns; lots of conflicting advice and guidance; much to work out that suits the organisation.Ā  The Agile PMO conversation at the project level has begun.

The flip side is organisational agility. Or the need for organisations to display business agility

Business agility is the ability of an organization to sense changes internally or externally and respond accordingly in order to deliver value to its customers. Business agility is not a specific methodology or even a general framework. Itā€™s a description of how an organization operates through embodying a specific type of growth mindset that is very similar to the agile mindset.Ā  Agile Alliance

The Agile Alliance definition goes on to say, “Business agility values individuals and their interactions, collaboration, driving toward outcome and constant learning, similar to agile software development.The principles that serve the foundation of business agility include iterate to learn and reflect on feedback and adapt both product and process.”

It is this aspect of the Agile conversation that the PMO also needs to consider – how can it help the organisation to response? What can it offer to support individuals; collaboration, constant learning?

The Adaptive PMO

The webinar gives some food for thought. Here are some of the things for the PMO to consider.


The business landscape is changing – you might have heard of VUCA – just one acronym that urges you to think about how much work and the world we’re living in today is changing. A PMO is a function that adapts and flexes as the business changes so:

Does your PMO understand how your business is changing? What’s happening in the wider industry? A PMO today should be scanning the landscape or at the very least understanding what the business strategies are going forward.

Adaptive Skills

Take a look at the image below. The one on the left is where most of us have worked and feel pretty comfortable operating, yet business agility is all about being able to respond to changes – both internally and externally. The language on the left is comfortable and staid, restraint almost. The new world where VUCA lurks requires more energetic and dynamic words – driving, faster, innovating, flexibility, accelerate, engaging…

Is your PMO ready and able (willing) to push forward with an adaptive approach? Can the PMO provide the environment for adaptive skills to thrive? What can the PMO contribute to the cultural change required? How can your PMO lead by example?

Challenge Areas to Respond To

Lean and Agile

Click to Enlarge

Lean, Agile, Lean-Agile, SCRUM, DSDM, AUP, XP, the list goes on. The differences between the terms Agile and Lean are in the image to the right. It’s not just you that has difficulties understanding what all of these are about.

The question about what kind Agile or Lean the organisation wants has to be the second question. The first is ‘why do you want Agile?. It is this answer that leads to the what. Why an organisation wants to adopt Agile approaches in project delivery may not necessarily be the same answer to why an organisation wants to improve their business agility.

What is clear though, is that there is no one source of the truth. There is no handy Body of Knowledge, a BoK guide to any of this. Business agility is not a set of processes or tools – it’s a philosophy. Philosophies are difficult to deal with when we’re so immersed in the harder technical approaches of traditional project management – or the management theories that stems from the Eighties.

The main challenge for business agility to become a new modus operandi, is just like all the projects that have ever been delivered, it’s about the people. The will to change has to be there.

With the challenges highlighted in the image below:

How will your PMO help to overcome some of these challenges? Will the PMO be involved in the conversations of ‘why Agile?’ and ‘what Agile?’. Is your PMO knowledgeable in the areas of different Agile approaches and philosophies? Can the PMO influence cultural changes in any areas?

Context is King

Click to Enlarge

Business agility in organisations today is a very contextual thing. There can’t be an off-the-shelf solution. By its very nature, agility, being flexible and adapting to what’s in front of you or coming down the line means we have to work in the way that suits the organisation; the leaders; the teams; the products; the projects. That may mean what’s mandated in project delivery today, get’s tossed out because it adds no value. It can mean that a whole delivery team chooses to use a free communication tool so the dispersed team can get on with the job without waiting for the IT department to provide a solution.

Look at the quote again from Agile Alliance, “”Business agility values individuals and their interactions, collaboration, driving toward outcome and constant learning, similar to agile software development.The principles that serve the foundation of business agility include iterate to learn and reflect on feedback and adapt both product and process.”

How will your project environment change? Is the PMO able to help create the right kind of environment for teams to collaborate? How will it help determine which areas of project delivery should be mandated – and which areas can be flexed? How will the PMO be able to keep a track of different projects being delivered differently because of the different context? Where will the PMO step up and where will it step back?

And is the PMO ready to work in a world where things are a little more fluid? Adaptable planning and execution may be necessary but how does this work in a world where the PMO has traditionally worked in a process-driven, controlled, checklisted way?

How can the PMO itself embody the adaptable capabilities approach? Does it move into a world of coaching, mentoring – all those individual focused activities that business agility seems to value? Can the PMO model today what the outcomes are of ‘adaptable execution’? What does it mean? What will the organisation lose and gain?

Lean Agile Challenges


The Adaptive PMO

The Adaptive PMO – a PMO that is able to adapt, flex and change to provide the services the business needs – is not a new-fangled, futuristic, aspirational model. An adaptive PMO is one that:

  • thinks;
  • is aware of the changing business needs;
  • is able to ask questions that influence others to challenge their modus operandi;
  • provide insights that help leaders make decisions about business agility driven changes;
  • that questions itself – are we leading by example;
  • has its own principles that align with the organisation’s philosophy
  • is ready to adapt itself.

An adaptive PMO is one that will be relishing the challenges that VUCA is going to throw our way.

Listen to the Conquering the Challenge of Adopting Lean and Agile in Organisations webinar yourself and see what ideas and thoughts it sparks for you:


Conquering the Challenge of Adopting Lean and Agile Into Your Business

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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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