note: PMO stands for Project Management Office.

To PMO or not to PMO? That is the question. Or, put another way, in our Agile test this week, please answer the following question:

Are PMOs Obsolete in Agile?

(a) YES!

(b) NO!

(c) Uh, maybe?

(d) All of the above :- )

What’s your answer?
Before you tell me, here is some food for thought:

Archeological Dig for Extinct Life Form

Archeological Dig for Extinct Life Form

(a) YES!

Yes, if your PMO maintains a  rigid conformance posture informed by Waterfall approaches to managing and tracking project risk and success, it is obsolete. Lose it. Here’s why:

  • Agile has no place for rigidity.
  • Agile rewards flexibility, responsible change, and continuous growth. This is true in processes, in practices, and in people.
  • Agile doesn’t seek conformance. Agile seeks emergence of the most useful, sustainable practices that deliver value, team by team, item by item, timebox by timebox.
  • A PMO that determines standards and then enforces these standards through status updates runs counter to the core of Agile.
  • Agile seeks more than status updates. There is no punishment or reward system other than finding impediments and removing them.

A conformance-based PMO, in contrast, will tend to hold onto old habits: create standards; enforce their standards; collect detailed status information about how projects are conforming to their standards; create pressure to bring non-conforming projects into line. Such a PMO can inadvertently (or purposefully?) create a culture of blame and hence engender skewed reporting by projects in order to avoid associated “punishments” or public flogging. This PMO with its incumbent culture will absolutely kill an Agile initiative before it has started.

So, if you find yourself in this environment, lose the PMO or you will never win with Agile.

(b) NO!

If your PMO is prepared to be a liaison and evangelist of the Agile rollout across the organization, don’t lose them! They can be a pivotal force that ensures the true essence of Agile; they seek to find out what delivers value in a regular rhythm and to keep improving on it.

The PMO has an incredible vantage point in an organization: they can look around and “see the whole”. Heads-down Agile project teams concentrate on what works in their singular context. An Agile  PMO, on the other hand, with a broader view, has the golden opportunity to continuously survey project teams to learn from them what is working well and then spread that good news to other teams and to the management.

An Agile PMO applying Lean Principles such as eliminating waste and amplifying learning can serve as the servants to the Product Owners and ScrumMasters. They can support the Agile project teams by facilitating cross-fertilization of best practices. They become the guardians and carriers of the Agile emergence. You might say they are act as the Agile pollinators.

Note: see my post “8 Ways To Re-Tool a PMO in an Agile Environment” for further information about how to create an Agile PMO.

(c) Uh, Maybe?

Ultimately, it comes down to this: What transitional fortitude does your organization have to move to a new way of doing things: the learning, the facilitation, and the Servant Leadership required of an Agile PMO?

That is the big MAYBE that will be sitting like an elephant in the room with you as you consider an Agile rollout with your PMO.

My Rally colleague Mark Kilby has a great way of testing this: Is your PMO prepared to sign an Agile PMO Manifesto?

We, as an Agile PMO, value:

  • Kaizen (retrospections for continuous improvement) over Conformance and Consistency
  • Org-team mutual Service Level Agreements over Top-down Policies and Processes
  • Communities of Practice over Central Authority

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(d) All of the above :- )

So, where are you, where do you want to be, and how do you hope to get there? You may, at any time, be any one of the above, or all at the same time. Fear not! There is a way.

Just remember, answer (a) YES! reminds us that a traditional PMO has no place in a  truly Agile organization and is hence obsolete.

To get to answer (b) NO! your PMO must be prepared  for jolting change in its principles and practices. It may seem daunting. But Agile and Lean have great guidance to protect you along your path.

And, at any time during your Agile Adoption, you may find yourself in the ambiguity of (c) Uh, Maybe? or (d) All of the above :- )

If you are prepared to embrace the 10-step Agile PMO guidance and Mark Kilby’s Agile PMO Manifesto, you will be on the righteous Agile PMO path.

So, now tell me your answer to the question: Are PMOs Obsolete in Agile?

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