Project management offices are starting to consider different methods of strategic function to better benefit their companies. We discuss why Agile principles can help you transform your PMO.
Though they have origins that date back a century, project management offices (PMOs) as they are today have been around for decades. Early on, they were primarily administrative functions used within the United States military, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), but they’re evolving to incorporate a more strategic function and include a broad range of activities that benefit a company.
As many of us work to improve the value PMOs deliver, several questions come to mind to help foster dialog and ground our visions during our journey to reimagine PMOs.
- Is your organization practicing all three project management methodologies (waterfall, hybrid, Agile), or have you begun shifting from waterfall to Agile?
- Is your PMO project or product-based?
- How are you evolving the PMO function and leadership to meet future work demands?
- What emerging skills and competencies are you building to deliver value in the digital age?
Evaluating and understanding the answers to these questions can help lay the groundwork for success within your company’s PMO.
Product vs. Project: Highlighting the Differences
As we explore these questions, it’s helpful to establish a foundation of what we mean by project versus product. In this context, a project has an agreed-upon start and end date focused on delivery according to:
- Defined scope: This describes project needs and how you or the project team will meet goals.
- A set of milestones: This outlines specific, measurable deliverables and expected timelines.
- Resources: Includes internal and external resources allocated to your project.
- Budget: The financial resources allotted to the finished project.
In contrast, a product is a collection of features and functionality that delivers value to customers or users. It’s developed by multiple mechanisms where you can define and refine the scope throughout development.
With these definitions in mind, let’s reimagine a PMO by looking at the journeys currently underway at three different (fictitious) companies.
Company ABC: Shifting the Focus to Product Development
At Company ABC, a technology company, executives are driving toward an Agile PMO to shift from a project focus to one of product development. To aid them in this goal, they worked with their PMO team to understand what it would take to be more product-driven than project-focused.
Through these interactions, they realized they needed to reskill the PMO team on what they meant by product development and how to prioritize for value versus focusing on time, budget and scope. By using a collaborative approach, they identified similarities in function but realized they needed a change in the method used to achieve value.
One of the primary differences the team identified between a project focus and a product focus is the alignment to strategic direction and the need to adapt to applicable methods before carrying the strategic focus to downstream activities.
By using the PMO as the catalyst, the company led to a broader engagement of agile development by impacting a larger swath of individual behaviors and mindsets. The company was able to reskill its teams, progressing forward on the journey of moving from a project to a product-focused organization.
As the company continues transitioning to applying agile principles, leadership recognizes it is not a linear journey but a commitment to change mindsets across the enterprise.
Sometimes even as the best companies are working to redefine the PMO function, there’s resistance to change. Whether it’s at a leadership or employee level, it’s critical to get buy-in from all stakeholders to encourage and help them embrace changes.
Company XYZ: Overcoming Resistance and Empowering PMOs
A manufacturing company, Company XYZ, was experiencing resistance within their PMOs and became concerned that multiple internal PMOs would block a needed move toward becoming agile.
PMO team members were holding firm to their practices of controlling and owning projects versus the agile mindset of allowing teams to self-organize. Leadership recognized this as a catalyst for their PMOs to think and behave differently. They’ve viewed retaining project management skills as essential. Company leadership realized they needed to educate project managers on the difference between being a Project Manager (control) and a Scrum Master (facilitation).
Additionally, it was important to enable the PMO and the PMO stakeholders to move from a project to a product mindset. Having Project Managers embrace agile aspects like uncertainty, a flexible scope and moving dates can conflict with traditional project management. Thus conversations shifted to asking the PMO team how to enable the acceptance of a forecast versus a firm commitment.
Leadership enlisted external help to support the team’s shift to thinking and behaving differently. Leadership needed to support the journey by providing education and ample opportunities to change together. Gaining perspective from an outside organization, consultant or through assessments can be a valuable exercise as you work to create change from within your company.
Company LMN: Using an Assessment to Drive Transformation
The CIO for Company LMN, an electrical company, had a vision of the IT organization focusing on outcomes while working in a strategic and transformational manner. The leader of the PMO took this direction and started working toward this goal by conducting a PMO assessment. The results identified they needed to make significant changes to the company’s approach to executing projects and to using agile methods where appropriate.
Beginning with an assessment and current state picture helped the PMO understand the bigger picture, not only what a project is but equally important, what would constitute a product.
The PMO continues to drive their journey with questions that help advance applying agile principles:
- How do we take in, assess and route work appropriately? And if routed as a project, how do we size, prioritize and resource plan against it?
- How do we handle projects with “hot” priorities we need to fast-track without upsetting the current priorities?
- What projects could we use to pilot the product mindset? What individuals have the right skills and behaviors to be the pilot team members?
The PMO leader and CIO realized this is an iterative journey versus reaching some magical finish line, and they’re now able to plan on their journey taking multiple years, with reasonable expectations and timelines for reaching goals.
The Journey to Agile is Ongoing
Unless a PMO and organization are willing to change both delivery and operating models, along with team behaviors, progress toward Agile will be slow or nonexistent. The support and vision provided by C-suite leadership are important, as changes they expect employees to make are difficult to implement and sustain without that support.
A significant amount of education and learning goes into changing the behavioral paradigm needed to operate in a new way. Pilots are an effective way to put new skills to the test and allow organizations to learn and adjust quickly. A pilot program also generates success stories you can share to demonstrate value and increase employee buy-in.
Agile methods operate with people, process and technology, so it is essential to have the right balance to achieve optimal results.