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The Uncertain Role of the PMO in Agile Environments

state-pmo-2015Last week the Global State of the PMO 2015 was launched by ESI. The report follows on from the analysis conducted in the previous report from 2013. One of the areas first investigated back in 2013 was Agile and the PMO. With all the attention Agile had been receiving it made sense to see what was happening on the ground – in the organisations that run programmes and projects and ask the question, ‘was Agile being used as an approach?

In 2013, 42% of organisations claimed to be using Agile in some form, digging deeper into those 42%, 9% of them used Agile as an approach on over half their projects. The majority of these projects were of an IT focus. Two years later and in the new report, the numbers are remarkably similar. 40% of organisations are using the Agile approach yet 9% are stating that Agile is used on all their programmes and projects. Again the focus is predominantly IT focused programmes and projects.

Could we deduce that the same organisations two years ago are now maturing in their Agile approach and using it for all their projects, or are we seeing new organisations? It’s hard to tell of course but one thing we can learn from this report is insights from the role the PMO has played in organisations where Agile is being adopted.

Over the last few years, the PMO community has started to think and act on their role within this kind of environment.

Where could the PMO fit? What could it do in its capacity to support and help the smooth running of programmes and projects? Do we even need a PMO in an Agile environment? These are the kind of questions that the PMO community has started to ask and in this year’s report some of these questions were starting to be explored.

The Uncertain PMO Role in Agile Implementation

The report asked the PMO community various questions to get an understanding of their current state and to also find out what lessons or insights had been learnt along the way.

The PMO gave their thoughts from the beginning of the Agile adoption journey. Every organisation has to start somewhere when it comes to adopting an Agile approach and two figures taken from the report give a great insight into the challenges they face when doing so. The first chart below shows the difficulties face when implementing Agile as an approach. The change aspect – changing culture (52%) and changing methods (44%) and the direction needed from the top (43%) were highlighted by respondents.




The table below shows the compounding factors that make the changes difficult – the lack of trained people, the lack of understanding by the PMO and what role they can perform to aid success.


The PMO’s role is uncertain when so much uncertainty exists in how an organisation will adopt an Agile approach. It is a case of ‘how can we help embed Agile or increase good practice when we’re unsure about the philosophy or frameworks our organisation wants to adopt’.

Or should the more proactive PMO be thinking, ‘how can we play a role in helping to develop that philosophy’? The role of the PMO here is to start supporting the process of organisational readiness for Agile rather than just thinking about its role in supporting Agile programmes and projects.

If the main remit of a PMO is to provide support and guidance to programmes and projects within an organisation keen to press on with the Agile way, the PMO should be there at the beginning of the journey.

The PMO Role in Developing Capability

The survey asked respondents, “What changes has the PMO had to make to support Agile projects?“.

PMOs which have started to support the Agile approach within their organisations have focused on an area which makes sense when faced with uncertainty and change – knowledge.

Providing training and coaching/mentoring (both at 43%) for their organisation is the right thing to do. Key workers need to understand what an Agile approach really means for the business in both a commercial and practical sense, how it will change the way programmes and projects are delivered and how it could fundamentally change the way they manage full stop.

This is a practical role the PMO can play in the organisational readiness needed for Agile adoption rather than just thinking about its role in supporting Agile programmes and projects.

Sure there are still PMO mainstays like the methodology to adopt or the reporting processes to create, but without Agile knowledge and capability within the organisation the method and processes become much tougher to adopt and embed.



The Ongoing PMO Role in Agile Environments

As the organisation’s Agile journey continues with programmes and projects starting to adopt the new approach to delivery, the PMO can turn its attention to the hands on support of Agile projects. The PMO role here is supporting the Agile framework or approach adopted. SCRUM is the most common framework (79%) followed by Kanban/Lean (37%)


The next level of details in relation to the PMO role in supporting Agile programmes and projects is a future post here on the blog. There was a session at the recent PMO Conference from Steve Messenger, Chairman of DSDM where he shared insights from the publication The Agile PMO, which begins to explore the hands on role of the PMO. There is a lot to look at and we will explore how PMOs can provide hands on support.

In summary, the role of the PMO is not just about supporting the delivery of Agile programmes and projects. There is a role for the PMO to play in helping to create and embed the philosophy and approach the organisation wants to take in terms of becoming an Agile business. This role requires knowledge and education first. It also requires an understanding of organisational change. It requires that PMOs consider the holistic projects environment they inhabit, thinking about the foundations that are required in the organisation before Agile programmes and projects can be laid upon it. This is an opportunity for the PMO to help uncertainty become much more certain.






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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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