On the sidelines of his participation as a speaker at the PPM2017 international conference (www.PPMconferences.com), Henny Portman delivers his reflections on the positioning of PMOs in agile organisations. Henny Portman is the Author of “Prince2® in Practice (Van Haren Publishing)” and “Agile Project Management (Van Haren Publishing)”. Do not miss the presentation of Henny during PPM2017 international conference. If you are not able to attend the face to face sessions of this conference on the 26th October in Marrakech, you can register for recorded video streaming at only 125$ for dozens of premium speaking slots. More than 600 participants attended the 5 past editions of more than 100 companies in Africa and the Middle East.
To understand if we still need PMO’s in agile organizations we can compare a traditional project oriented organization with an organization that starts with one agile team and growths to many agile teams and see what will happen with the role of the project manager and the PMO?
In a traditional project the project manager put a lot of emphasis in selecting the right people. These people will be moved to the initiative to be executed and at closing a project they will be send back to their departments. Building and dismantling teams cost a lot of time and effort.
After delivery of the project output, changes and new requests will pop up. Normally you could start a new project. You could also keep the team with their knowledge and working relationships, that delivered the project, together. This will save a lot of time when you have to manage new changes.
I call this a permanent agile team in a business as usual environment. This team can deliver request by request, prioritized in a backlog by a product owner and coached by a scrum master. In this case, we bring the work to the people and you can argue that in this case of one agile team, there is no need for a project manager or temporary PMO anymore.
But what will happen if one team is not enough, we need two, three or more teams. How to handle dependencies, issues, impediments between the teams? Scrum talks about a scrum of scrums but is that enough? If we just have a few teams, dependencies can be handled via a scrum of scrum, but if we have too many teams you need someone to coordinate and manage dependencies. In these situations, you could use a project manager supported by a temporary PMO.
If the group of teams are always the same group of teams to support changes in a (part of the) value chain, you could institutionalize the activities, the coordination above these teams by using an integration manager, a roadmap manager a release train engineer (depending on the scaling agile framework you have selected). In this situation, there is no role for a traditional project manager or temporary PMO. If teams do their own planning, risk management, progress reporting via a Kanban board or burn-down chart and performing retrospectives to improve, temporary PMOs will not add any value.
Does this mean you don’t need project managers? How are you going to cope with initiatives that we can’t bring to permanent agile teams because these teams aren’t there? We still have to build one or more (agile) teams besides the permanent agile teams. Who will do this? A project manager supported by a PMO can perform this task. But the competences of the project manager need to change compared with their competences in a traditional project. He (she) can’t just give orders to permanent agile teams to deliver this or that. He has to talk to the product owners of the different teams and convince them what he needs by when using influence without power, convincing product owners by connecting the initiative with the organization’s strategic objectives et cetera. Therefore, we will have much less project managers in agile organizations.
Also, the role of the permanent PMO or portfolio office, if more and more initiatives will be handled by permanent agile teams, will change. Looking at their traditional tasks like portfolio management, center of excellence, managing a pool of project managers and performing quality assessments. There is not really a pool of project managers to be managed anymore, teams and team of teams will use retrospectives to improve their own way of working. The number of quality assessments can be down sized.
The role of portfolio managers will change too in this agile world. Collecting and aggregating of project data and generating portfolio reports with project progress information will become less important. Their focus will shift to delivering value, to increase the flow of delivered new or updated functionality, and they will become the advisor regarding change for the management instead of controlling project’s progress.
By Henny Portman
Author of “Prince2® in Practice (Van Haren Publishing)”
Author of “Agile Project Management (Van Haren Publishing)”