It often seems that an agile development environment will always be at odds with the structure and constraints of the project management office (PMO). Yet it does not have to be this way. Creating an agile PMO that bridges the gap between these two very important groups can help organizations to prioritize projects and allocate resources much more effectively.
While it does require a bit of change management, it is not impossible. Here’s how to keep both project managers and agile developers happy while leveraging the strengths of each for successful project execution.
Who Needs a PMO, Anyway?
In a recent article, I addressed how PMOs can both maximize and demonstrate their worth to the organization at large. Though it may not always be recognized, the PMO brings significant advantages to the organization.
For one thing, its focus on metrics is often crucial to the health and success of a project portfolio. It can also facilitate communication between project team members, project managers and those higher up in the organization. Tamara Sulaiman, a project management consultant, explains it this way:
- “Let’s say you are a manager or leader in an agile organization. Your development teams have implemented Scrum and are now working toward release. You’ve got the Scrum of Scrums working so that teams can communicate with each other about cross-team dependencies and impediments on a daily basis. But there’s a gap, isn’t there? As a manager, how do you effectively and efficiently measure progress, manage risk and keep your eye on the big picture across these agile teams? Wouldn’t it be great to have an easy way to communicate budget and schedule information at the program level to the organization?”
While the agile worker is focused mainly on development at a fast pace, the PMO can help to keep the rest of the organization informed about what is going on. Scope changes, delays or quality issues can arise at any time, and when they do, they must be communicated to all of the stakeholders who can adjust expectations accordingly and take the appropriate course of action.
Agile Development Is Here to Stay
Agile development continues to gain popularity in the IT world for a number of reasons. One of its key principles is constant communication between developers and customers, which helps in maximizing customer satisfaction and managing scope creep intelligently. Recently, an executive at a well-known financial institution told me that agile is important because it allows developers to build and demo often, enabling customer advocates to note when something needs to be corrected.
Agile allows companies to keep their fingers on the pulse and adapt themselves to the needs of customer or the market very quickly. “Agile teams are cross-functional, self organizing and self managing,” Sulaima asserts. With principles such as these, it’s not difficult to see how agile development teams can be extremely effective.
Joint Business Value
Combining the strengths of the PMO and the development team is a smart move. With a PMO to keep an eye on things, project risk can be managed much more effectively. Problems along the way are recognized and often resolved in a timely manner. In addition, the agile group can help the PMO to become more flexible and customer-oriented. Recently, Evan Campbell, CTO and agile devotee, was quoted in a project management article as saying,
“A strategic PMO can be a great asset to agile teams,” notes CTO and agile devotee Evan Campbell in a recent article, “[… by] keeping an eye on performance of company assets in the portfolio and working with the product owner and scrum master to make sure the metrics of projects are assessed and value is delivered.”
Campbell also supports the increased transparency that agile can bring to the PMO:
- “[Transparency] can dramatically affect project initiation decision processes, project performance measurement, and best of all, ensuring that the project portfolio is maximizing business value and ROI delivery. It can simultaneously increase agility and market responsiveness, it can enable higher productivity, improve customer alignment, and dramatically lower the risk of your IT portfolio. “
How to Work Together
The best way to help your PMO to become more agile, and vice versa, is to get these groups together and focus on their similarities instead of their differences. For example, both groups are interested in prioritizing projects to ensure that the most important ones receive adequate resources and budget. They are also concerned with project execution, though their definitions of success might vary between staying within budget and time constraints and meeting customer expectations.
When it comes to a difference of opinion, compromise is necessary. Creating an agile PMO in your organization will take a bit of diplomacy and mediation. It will be necessary to find ways to get each team to give a little ground for the greater good. For example, the PMO can compromise by being flexible and open to altering plans and schedules as needed, while agile developers can compromise by tracking their time in order to keep everyone updated on their progress.
Organizations with both project management professionals and agile developers should not hesitate in getting these two talented groups to work together. With the right kind of management processes in place, managers can capitalize on the strengths of each group for successful project execution and increased return on investments.
Curt Finch is CEO of Journyx, a provider of Web-based time-tracking and project accounting software designed to guide customers to per-person, per-project profitability. An avid speaker and author, Finch recently published All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource. He authors a project management blog, and you can follow Curt Finch on Twitter.