The Agile PMO versus the Clumsy PMO

Introduction

Clumsiness refers to a lack of ability or insufficient capacity to carry out certain tasks or actions. We can consider a project management office (PMO) to be clumsy when, far from facilitating the development of projects, it hinders the flow of the portfolio and fails to constantly adjust its approaches and processes so that the organization can thrive in The Project Economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to make continuous adjustments to the way they run their operations and projects, and requires that PMOs provide significant benefits to justify their value to the organization. Today, more than ever, the PMO’s challenge is in configuring processes, tools, and techniques that eliminate redundant efforts and guarantee project success. We are increasingly required to be an agile PMO, not a clumsy one.

In the lines that follow, I am going to focus on the transition from clumsy performance to becoming an agile PMO based on the analysis of three foundations:

  1. The team that makes up the PMO should be capable of figuring out the needs of the organization and translating them into a clear mission.
  2. Proper processes can allow The Project Economy to come to life through execution.
  3. Appropriate methodologies and tools can allow the PMO to execute processes quickly and easily with the least amount of effort possible.

PMO Team

The PMO team requires very particular skills and competencies to be able to act as a liason with various units within the organization, connecting with diverse stakeholders to create value in various ways.

Leadership

Many times, project manager’s perception is that PMOs are bureaucratic, impose many complicated guidelines, and establish restrictions and enforce procedures that do not generate any type of value for the organization.

When a PMO is agile it must listen to all its stakeholders, generate empathy, remove organizational impediments, and identify ways to help support project teams, without dictating or imposing solutions on these self-organizing teams. The PMO needs a leadership style that strengthens the team and encourages self-leadership. The PMO is expected to have an enthusiastic, responsive, and service-oriented leadership style. Good coexistence with the PMO depends upon servile leadership, and being diligent, respectful, and caring.

Culture and Mindset

Culture reflects and responds to a reality of “this is how things get done here,” and that culture influences every process, service, and interaction of the PMO within the organization.

This means that a bureaucratic organization is very formal and will ensure that the PMO follows a rigorous process in all cases. A flexible and adaptive organization will allow the PMO to do things in the best possible way as projects progress, within some limits in the standardized way of working. The PMO needs an agile mindset, requires a change of mind, and re-educates itself and the project team on how to work faster and more efficiently. 

Competencies and Skills

To move the PMO from clumsiness to agility it is essential to have a team that has the right competencies, knowledge, and skills to be able to fulfill its mission. One of the most important skills for PMOs today is being able to keep learning new skills—and not necessarily skills for managing projects, programs, and portfolios. The PMO team needs a lot of business acumen or cleverness, process expertise, critical thinking, and a focus on problem solving.

If we refer specifically to the development of abilities around project management, this is an ongoing activity and the PMO plays a fundamental role. We cannot fall into erroneously thinking that the PMO and the rest of the organization can practice agility without proper training, specifically when adopting an agile framework in the organization. This lack of coaching and training can result in teams adopting only a few techniques, while claiming to be agile.

Structure

The main reason PMOs have different structures is that they are designed to do different things. There is no single definition of what PMOs do, and there is no single pattern of how they are configured. PMOs do different things in different organizations. Some PMOs exist to monitor projects and report on progress. Other PMOs support process development and provide training. In other cases, PMOs carry out large and complex projects. In all cases, the PMO must have a simple structure that allows for the execution of the services provided, both in terms of ability and competencies.

Processes

Far from advocating for PMOs to bypass processes, I believe that an agile PMO must review the processes and documentation from a value perspective, and must make decisions about the simplification or elimination of everything that does not generate value. The processes will allow us to establish clarity on the management and execution of the projects, with the required transparency, governance, and supervision.

Governance Model

The purpose of establishing a governance framework in the project management environment is to ensure clarity about what decisions are made, by whom, and when and what criteria are used. The PMO plays a critical role in establishing and adhering to a light governance model of the company. The PMO must have clear responsibilities in terms of governance and support to publicize a shared vision of success, ensure adherence to simple supervision processes, establish mechanisms for escalation and monitoring, and ensure there is a clear understanding of the structure and processes in the organization.

Creation of Value

The PMO must have a clear value proposition with an offer of expected benefits and positive impacts for the business, in terms of minimizing risks and maximizing the opportunity to obtain real and constant benefits aligned with the strategy that are focused on the business objectives.

Support and Communication

The PMO must be in a position to assist senior management as well as project teams. For example, a PMO can, on the one hand, provide supervision of the organizational transformation progress, and at the same time provide methodological support to projects. The PMO addresses the support and communication of the different stakeholder groups. My recommendation is to serve each level according to your expectations.

Executive level: Focus on delivering results and fulfill your promise as a PMO.

Tactical level: Focus on providing transparency, certainty, information, and resolving concerns.

Operational level: Focus on providing help and support.

  Tools and the PMO’s Work Methodology


Agile Framework 

In my opinion, different methodologies and frameworks are a means to achieve goals. The agile PMO does not mean only configuring and supporting agile frameworks. On the contrary, the PMO’s agility relies on being able to structure methodologies and frameworks according to the needs of the project portfolio. However, it is also true that the PMO must have the ability to assist the teams in adopting agility. As agile practice normalizes throughout the organization, fewer impediments will require the PMO’s attention, and external supervision will be not only become less necessary, but also less desirable. In my experience, adopting Scrum as an internal framework to monitor the PMO’s progress has allowed the PMO to be aligned with agile values and principles in both its operations and innovation with excellent results.

Operation versus Innovation

The PMO shouldn’t just assert agility; it should practice it. Statistics reveal that pressing day-to-day organizational needs can wipe out all strategic efforts—and the PMO does not escape that threat.

The less time the PMO spends creating reports and performing administrative tasks, the more time it can spend pondering the organization’s management practices and evolving the PMO. A practice that has given me great results is creating operational epics and innovation epics for the PMO, which can allow the team to dedicate a fraction of the effort, not only in operations, but in initiatives, and prioritized toward the evolution of the PMO, ensuring its sustainability over time with constant value generation.

The PMO must always create something new, constantly reinventing and recoding itself so that it reconnects the PMO’s mission with the rest of the organization. The PMO must create value in various ways on an ongoing basis.

Tools

Technology helps us increase the PMO’s productivity. We must analyze the business needs very well, understand how the processes that the PMO executes can be facilitated, and then improve them with technology. Today, it is essential that the PMO offers an integrated information system for project management that is fully aligned with the organization’s project management methodologies. The PMO needs to make use of automated and visual tools for management that allow the collection, monitoring, and use of information while being visible to the entire team. This provides a real-time outlook of the project portfolio’s status. In addition to having data science, this allows the PMO to provide answers to many of the questions that exist around the project portfolio. Static reports are on the decline; it is no longer how companies work. In fact, applying analytics to real-time data is how the PMO delivers value to stakeholders.

For me, there is no substitute for the real-time data that the PMO can provide. That is why I always strive to automate information systems and offer real-time dashboards and automatic reports that allow project stakeholders to focus on the correct things.

Conclusion 


The new generation of PMOs must adapt to the new reality of a world where uncertainty rules. PMOs must become lighter and more agile, while expanding digital capabilities in their processes.

PMOs must also configure their work team, processes, and tools in a way that allows the constant generation of value at all levels. Additionally, PMOs require a different mindset. They should give us the ability to challenge the way we have done things so far and invite us to look at our relationships and organizational collaboration differently.

The biggest impediment to a PMO’s success is adherence to bureaucracy and a heavy-handed leadership style, which can make it clumsy and hinder agility. The PMO must influence an organizational transformation so that the company is flexible, transparent, and willing to quickly respond to changing environmental conditions.


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