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Are PMOs a Transformative Function? Part 3

The term Project Management Offices (PMOs) is often associated with overheads and governance, yet as key critics explain – this stereotype is not always reflective of the truth.

Gartner predicts that by 2030, smart machines, AI and the IoT will play distinct roles in
projects such as data collection, analysis and reporting. PPM leaders will require a new and specific project management skillset to oversee successful collaborations between smart machines and humans.

In this three-part series of blog articles, we will explore the transformation of PMOs and their adaptation to new technologies. What value do PMOs provide today? And what does the future look like?

This is part 3 of the blog series, part 1 is available here and part 2 is available here.

PART 3 OF 3 – PMOs, AGILITY AND INNOVATION

Inspired by the fabulous trainers of AxisAgile.

How do PMO frameworks interact with Agile Projects? Are they at odds with one another? What do they each try to achieve? The fact that I work in the PMO field, but fully credit Axis Agile for the content of this article, should hint at the answer to these questions.

The term ‘Agile’ in its worst context can be often associated with a cowboy-like, reactive way of working – one which does not intertwine with the organisation’s standard monitoring and controls. In those situations, it might be worth considering whether the word ‘agile’ is being used for the wrong reasons. In its truest form, it aims to minimise risk and increase transparency – The opposite, to what the myths imply.

WHAT MYTHS?

Have you ever heard someone preach that…

1. “Agile is the best methodology to run all projects!”
2. ‘’Organisations should only have Scrum Team Members and no middle management.”
3. ‘’Documentation levels should be zero.”
4. ”PM Frameworks should be made redundant.”

AxisAgile teaches that all of those are incorrect and, in fact, opposite to the true spirit of Agile.

BREAKING IT DOWN

1. Agile is the best methodology to run all projects

Firstly, ‘’Agile’’ is not so much a way to run projects as it is a set of principles; a framework. Agile principles are great, and when requirements are not known/ambiguous, Scrum, is actually the name of the delivery methodology. Nevertheless, there are also situations when waterfall delivery makes sense. It is all about being fit for purpose.

2. Organisations should only have Scrum Team Members and no middle management

Scrum Teams work in collaboration with traditional role titles such as line managers and Sponsors, who can act as enablers to potential roadblocks. (More on this in the Axis Agile Scrum Alliance Training.)

3. Documentation levels should be zero

Because Agility is about greater value for less risk and cost, documentation when needed (eg for compliance or knowledge continuity purposes) cannot be argued. There is no blanket rule to have or not have it. Being fit for purpose is what any good manager, regardless of delivery methodology, should be able to agree with.

4. PM Frameworks should be made redundant

Scrum is a delivery methodology, not an end-to-end Project Management Framework. Scrum does not define how ideas are incepted and approved, how business cases are defined and accepted, how risks are managed to ensure a project is successful, how resources are allocated to projects or how finances are managed monthly. It doesn’t include pipeline resource management, business casing, or reporting. To set up a good Scrum team, the start and tail ends of a Project Management Framework can act as enablers. Ie. A project can adhere to a Project Management Framework and use Scrum as the method of completing the ‘Delivery’ Phase.

STRATEGIC AGILITY

The most important point is that working with Agility means ultimately working with less risk across the life of a project, by identifying and delivering bite-sized business value sooner and with less cost per release. Humorously put, it avoids the disappointment of ‘the big reveal’ at the end of a project by encouraging feedback and validation regularly, throughout.

Why is this relevant to the topic of PMOs? A strategy is executed in chunks; in projects, programs and portfolios of work. The execution of a strategy is best viewed in the context of agility. To compliment this, the strategic function of a PMO is to enable the execution of a strategic portfolio. This includes supporting and enabling the inception, definition, and iterating of new ideas, products and services (in the form of projects).

In that sense, PMOs provide a process for executing innovation. PMOs support internal innovation through defining and supporting the idea generation process and, therefore, make organisational innovation part of an operational routine. It also assists in managing the ongoing business problem of balancing new ideas / opportunities with resources. In other words, PMOs enable the structure, process and resources for new outputs and outcomes.

Gartner predicts that organisations that commit dedicated resources to ensuring strategy is successfully executed are 80% more likely to be industry leaders. Interestingly, Gartner also predicts that if organisations have multiple PMOs they are likely to amalgamate into one function concerned with change, strategy, product evolution and organisational governance. No doubt, the traditional stereotype of PMOs are likely to dissolve and be viewed as not competing with, but complimenting an Agile mindset.

This is part 3 of the blog series, part 1 is available here and part 2 is available here.

By Helena Chen, Portfolio and Change Lead at Sensei

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