What comes to mind when you think of Agile? It’s certainly a word with many different meanings, arousing many different emotions. Is it an approach to project management, developing software, team working, an iterative approach to managing products, or a completely different way of thinking about how to manage projects and ways of working? …or perhaps it’s all of these?

What is Agile?

Agile Manifesto - 12 Principles

Over 68% of organisations state faster product delivery is a key driver for agility (KPMG, 2019). Agile is much more than one single methodology – instead, it’s a term for a type of approach which Axelos (the best practice guidance organisation and authors of PRINCE2TM and PRINCE2 AgileTM) defines as a “family of behaviours, concepts, frameworks and techniques.”

Originally defined in the Agile Manifesto circa twenty years ago, Agile follows 12 principles such as customer satisfaction through early delivery, welcoming changing requirements, cross-team collaboration, autonomy, and technical excellence.

It also spells out the value proposition of teams working in an Agile way, detailing that although processes and tools, documentation and planning are important, higher value is placed on more collaborative approaches to getting things done.

It is, however, important to note that this does not remove the need for contracts, governance, and planning best practices!

As part of the manifesto, Agile also does not remove the need for targets and objectives (although many believe so!), handful being:

  • Be on time and hit deadlines
  • Protect the level of quality
  • Embrace change
  • Keep teams stable
  • Accept that the customer doesn’t need everything

Why this is important for the PMO

Waterfall vs Agile - Iterative and Incremental

Project management practice should be a core competence championed by the PMO and Learning & Development (L&D) teams; this is a well-known fact. However, as a discipline project management (and its associated roles) as a whole appears to be in an ever-constant state of flux, with the latest addition to the PPM Professionals toolkit being Agile ways of working.

As organisations continue to believe that Agile working practices are the key to successful Strategy Delivery,  the momentum of Agile continues to grow to leave those in PPM roles needing to adapt to their new job description (which in many cases has yet to be defined).

A more difficult conversation still needs to take place due to the fact that many Agile practices are not perceived as valuable for some existing (and embedded) roles simply because of their connection to the “waterfall” method.

The PMO is not excluded in the need to change and adapt to address this growing need – with teams having to affect the changes needed and begin supporting those transitioning into new responsibilities, considering those who are resisting the change, whilst at the same time as being affected by that very change.

To look further into the PMO condition, we need to remind ourselves that Agile behaviours encourage (and indeed expect) transparency, collaboration, rich communication, self-organisation, and exploration. All things not often associated with PMO. So, if this is the PMO you are looking for, then read on…

The Agile PMO?

81% of organisations have started Agile transformation in the last 3 years (KPMG, 2019); so in a world increasingly considering Agile as the future, what is the role of the PMO?

“The PMO (…) supports the creation, maintenance and improvement of project management processes to ensure continued fit for purpose; be the custodian of project management methods and approaches to delivery; create and manage the project management centre of excellence to include skills development, training, and community of practice; and support the effective resource management approach to ensure capability and capacity of the delivery organisation is fit for purpose now and in the future.”

Association for Project Management

The first thing to say is that all PMOs are different, there is no “one size fits all” approach; it is crucial that a PMO’s approach and ways of working are tailored based on organisational context and the project management capabilities in the community. It is also important to note that every path towards (whatever form) of agility is unique in its route and destination. Therefore, there is no single definition for what an Agile PMO is.

The focus of an Agile PMO should be to provide an environment where Agile projects succeed.

However, we should consider that a name does not make an Agile PMO (or a PMO for that matter). Some PMOs are called something entirely different (and this will depend on the culture and history of the organisation), so instead the focus should be on what the organisation needs (and wants) the PMO to deliver.

To do this, an Agile PMO should endeavour to understand and embrace associated practices and methodologies to enable both Agile ways of working, and agility within their own teams and the wider project management community.

They should understand how new approaches can be managed, monitored and reported on alongside existing projects.

They should ensure appropriate tailored governance and assurance practices are in place, so wider business and Senior Management know exactly what is happening within their delivery teams.

They should flex their service catalogue based on the organisation and project community requirements to enable successful and meaningful delivery of change.

…And all this whilst embracing transparency, collaboration, rich communication, self-organisation, and exploration in a fail-fast environment that is in many cases, not 100% Agile in its nature, culture, or structure.

Complicated? Yes!

Some PMOs looking to be more Agile focus on becoming an Agile Centre of Excellence with the priorities focused on developing and implementing associated standards, enabling capability, multi-project management, facilitating organisational learning and supporting effective stakeholder management.

The Customer

One of the key considerations when trying to make the PMO more Agile is the Customer, especially because as a service provider, one of the PMO Principles is being Customer Focused.

Customer Focused PMOs ensure that the services they offer in their Service Catalogue will add value and make the life of their Customer easier through a servant-leader relationship.

Understanding the level of awareness of the Customer before beginning any Agile journey is key. During our Wellingtone Agile for PPM Practitioners course we discuss the common misunderstandings we see when organisations are trying to bring more Agile working instead of more agility, and the impact these misunderstandings can have on the PMO transformation. Some of these include:

  • What Agile is and is not
  • When to use Agile
  • Steps required to transition to Agile
  • Touchpoints with current approaches to delivery

Transitioning to Agile

When looking to begin a PMO Transformation (and in circumstances where Agile and agility are being confused), it is important for the PMO to consider if the Customer:

  • Has identified the correct WHY
  • Understands Agile concepts
  • Knows the implications and constraints of Agile ways of working
  • Has effective current risk management approaches
  • Knows the deficits in current methodologies, processes, and collaboration
  • Has uncovered the common challenges to implementing Agile in non-Agile environments

Once these points are understood, the PMO must define how to educate and coach its Customers, as well as identify the opportunities for Agile ways of working to be scoped into the current approaches.

It is true that as organisations adopt more agile approaches, it is likely to result in fewer management layers, a focus on change management, and self-managed empowered teams, which can, in turn, lead to the view that the PMO is part of an existing hierarchy that needs to change.

To alleviate this perception, there needs to be a move towards strategy implementation and PMOs must become more adaptable and be able to drive portfolio prioritisation and implementation of large transformation programmes.

This will mean recommending different technologies, championing change management, and developing a culture of innovation. PMOs will need to tailor their support models and Service Catalogue for the project management community based upon the unique circumstances – customizing based on what each project or programme requires to deliver value as perceived by the Customer who is transitioning to the new Agile approaches.

Coaching and training in Agile methodologies and practices will certainly be required for both the PMO and project management community, so finding the right partner for this will be key.

What your PMO can do now

AgilometerUnderstanding what level of Agile (if any) is required, and the readiness of the organisation can be facilitated by the PMO. Tools such as the Agilometer from PRINCE2 AgileTM can help to draw a picture of whether the organisation (or team) is prepared for the transition.

PMO can support Agile adoption by developing a training programme with a trusted training partner like Wellingtone, establishing and supporting communities of practice, providing and maintaining appropriate tools, and modelling the use of Agile practices. Other suggestions from existing PMO Practitioners include providing coaching, mentoring, and the creation of an Agile guidance pack.

Processes such as benefits management, project inception, project reporting, and risk management will all need re-visiting to align with Agile principles. The agile PMO should look to measure progress in relation to delivering products early, as well as ensuring alignment to corporate standards so that risk exposure is managed, and control is evidenced.

PMOs can conduct Agile health checks; have teams self-evaluate their progress by adopting Agile tools and ceremonies. The PMO might supply a list of key Agile considerations to support new processes including important aspects of Agile such as ownership, teamwork, and tooling. Through an Agile health check teams can be furnished with a mechanism for escalating issues that may not be within their control. This is where the PMO takes brings to life the servant-leadership role, to support where Scrum Masters may lack the authority or connections to be effective.

Key agile principles can be easily embedded such as keeping things simple to minimise waste and holding Agile ceremonies for Agile and non-Agile projects.

However, building an Agile PMO is not about embedding methodologies and templates – it demands that participants are active and understand why change is happening; making it a change in hearts and minds. Strategically a decision needs to be made to bring true Agile practices to organisations including the concept of ring-fenced teams and empowerment of teams to make decisions (both being tricky to accept for some organisations).

These and other Agile behaviours are fundamental and Agile PMOs should look to adopt a customer-collaboration mindset; acknowledging that Stakeholder & Customer Management is the key to ensuring smooth project delivery and benefits realisation. Behaviours must be embedded within the PMO team who outwardly demonstrate them including but not limited to being open-minded, self-motivated, and collaborative.

Agile transformation

Agile transformation is a process to be managed and measured, especially at scale. Governance and oversight of this change process are essential. An Agile coach can advise, but ownership and accountability ultimately reside with the senior management team who are ready for the changes necessary at the highest level of the organisation; from structures to expectations, and even behaviours.

A successful Agile PMO can create the environment for success or failure of a transformation so having a senior Sponsor for the PMO such as the CEO is key. An Agile PMO should be seen as a strategic business partner who can help senior management by providing oversight of transformational progress, ongoing quality assurance, organisational control, alignment to strategic objectives, as well as a focus on organisational change management frameworks – understanding, embracing, and delivering/supporting these initiatives must become the new world of PMO.

What about Agility?

Organisations that demonstrate agility also show:

  • Little hierarchy within their structures
  • A common purpose and belief system
  • A focus on empowered people, their development, and their well-being
  • Simple, adaptable processes and governance models
  • A culture supportive of innovation and learning
  • Higher than average risk threshold

Agility enables an organisation to adapt to its environment, and many organisations looking for Agile practices to implement would benefit more from bringing agility into its DNA instead or as well.

Be more agile

PMOs must remain relevant in the digital age through agility; 62% of respondents to Wellingtone’s 2021 State of Project Management survey believe that project work will increase, with 71% answering that more project management skills will be needed.

So whether you need to talk about bringing Agile or agility to your PMO, we would love to help you discover your opportunities as well as how Wellingtone can help you and your PMO to make a step-change in your PPM maturity. You can spend 30 minutes with one of our Specialists (completely free and with no sales) through our DrPMO Clinic. Get in touch now we would love to hear from you!

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things” – Machiavelli, 1446-1507

Further Reading

Some useful articles and books I suggest as a starting point include;

On This Page

Monthly Newsletter

By: Emma Arnaz-Pemberton

Emma Arnaz-Pemberton
Consulting Director FAPM, MCMI, MPMI, MIoD PMO-CC, MoR, MSP, PRINCE2

Published: 20 September 2021

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