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9 Ways PMOs Can Help Agile Projects

Agile PMOIt may not always be apparent but the goals of the Project Management Office (PMO) and agile teams are well aligned. Both groups want to get to the same destination: namely successful projects and happy stakeholders. However, things often come adrift as soon as the best direction to travel in to get there is discussed. The PMO might expect lots of planning and some documentation to confirm everyone understands the approach. An agile project team might want to build some proof-of-concept models to test feasibility and get confirmation of understanding. So, very quickly the two groups can disengage and have difficulty generating alignment again.

This is one reason agile teams don’t always see the Project Management Office (PMO) as a source of assistance. All too often a traditional PMO can Present Multiple Obstacles, but it does not have to be that way.

First let’s examine what PMO’s are supposed to do. The old roles of: “Rules”, “Tools” & “Schools” goes some way to describing their functions, but a more complete set of offerings was provided in the 2010 PMI Project Management Journal article “Identifying Forces Driving PMO Changes”. These are:

  1. Monitor and control project performance
  2. Develop and implement standard methodologies, processes, and tools
  3. Develop the competency of project personnel, with training and mentoring
  4. Multiproject management, including program and portfolio management, coordination and allocation of resources between projects
  5. Strategic management, including participation in strategic planning and benefits management
  6. Organizational learning, including the management of lessons learned, audits, and monitoring of PMO performance
  7. Management of customer interfaces
  8. Recruit, select, and evaluate project managers
  9. Execute specialized tasks for project managers (e.g. preparation of schedulers)
  For organizations using agile methods, these services can be delivered as follows:

1. Monitor and control project performance – Help teams track their velocity. Assist with tracking team and sponsor satisfaction ratings. Look out for and alert teams of dangerous velocity trends, check backlog size, and offer reviews of iteration and release plans.

2. Develop and implement standards – Provide templates for user stories, test cases, cumulative flow diagrams, etc. Provide agile PM tools, educate supporting groups on iterative development concepts.

3. Develop personnel with training and mentoring – Provide agile training courses, coaches, and mentors to help project mangers transition to agile projects and upgrade their skills. Send people to local agile events.

4. Multiproject management – Coordinate between agile teams, communicate between projects including items such as outlining progress, issues and retrospective findings. Help manage Release Trains at the program level and Investment Themes at the portfolio level using frameworks like the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

5. Strategic management – Identify projects with opportunities for early ROI or competitive advantage.

6. Facilitate organizational learning – Gather project velocity profiles, capture, store and index retrospective findings. Include perceived PMO cost vs. value in project metrics.

7. Manage Stakeholders – Provide Product Owner training, guidance on acceptance testing and how to evaluate and give feedback on systems. Champion the importance of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to projects.

8. Recruit, select, and evaluate project managers – Develop guidelines for interviewing agile project managers.

9. Execute specialized tasks for project managers – train and provide retrospective facilitators, create agreements with agile project trouble shooters, provide mentors and coaches.

Understanding the role of a PMO and translating the goals into an agile setting helps create alignment rather than conflict between the groups. These items may sound a tall order for your average old-school PMO. However PMO’s are under pressure to remain current and demonstrate their value in a climate of fast moving projects, cost cutting and increased scrutiny.

In the September 2009 PMI Community Post magazine Jack Duggal published an article called “Teaching PMOs to DANCE” that dealt with the issue that many of today’s projects are moving quicker than PMO’s can respond. Many PMO’s struggle assisting projects that DANCE:

Dynamic and changing

Ambiguous and uncertain

Non-linear and unpredictable


Emergent nature of projects that causes instability

The agile community calls projects like these “a good fit for agile” and this is the synergy. When we can explain agile approaches are not just non-conformist, ill-planned projects, but instead a proven approach for these tricky new project types then a win-win is possible for both camps.

Jack Duggal also gave a presentation at the 2011 PMI Global Congress entitled “Reinventing the PMO which was quite agile manifesto like. Jack outlined a need for PMO’s to shift:

1. From Delivery of Projects to Benefits Realization and Business Value
No longer is delivery of on-time, on-budget projects considered successful. It is necessary but not enough. PMOs need to cultivate a mindset to shift to a benefits and outcomes focus and establish measures to ensure benefits realization and achievement of business value.

2. From Delivery to Adoption and Usability
Typically, PMOs are focused on improving execution capabilities. Projects are implemented well, but often the outputs and deliverables are not used or adopted. With a shift to an adoption and usability mindset, PMOs can promote and plan for adoption throughout the project lifecycle to ensure intended realization of projects’ benefits and value.

3. From Diffused and Disjointed Focus to Holistic and Balanced Adaptive Approach
Often PMOs are pulled to address the current pain or fix the problem of the day. This results in a diffused and disjointed PMO focus and limits the ability of the PMO to provide a balanced approach.

4. From Change Management to Change Leadership
Change management in the PMO realm has focused on configuration management and procedural changes. Evolving PMOs understand the need for organizational and behavioural change and get involved in change-readiness assessments and preparation. PMOs can play a key role in understanding, leveraging and leading change.

The “Next Generation PMO” as Duggal names it will have a mindset viewing the organization as a complex adaptive system. The PMO’s purpose becomes more focused on linking tactical & strategic help with business value. Success will be measured via benefits realization and business value rather than project delivery. All of which are very much aligned with agile concepts.

So, rather than PMO’s being unsupportive of agile, I have found most to be very co-operative when alignment with agile helps them address challenging projects, deliver value and stay current. Also as project managers experienced in agile take roles in the PMO I think this transition will accelerate. With some education and buy-in a good PMO can Provide Many Opportunities for agile teams.

(This article first appeared at here)


Jonathan Rasmusson

Great article Mike. I like your ideas about aligning the PMO with Agile teams. If more PMOs operated from the mindset of how can we help, no doubt Agile teams consider engaging more.

Thanks for the article - Jonathan

Mike Griffiths

Hi Jonathan, Thanks for your comment, you identify the classic standoff when you say “If more PMOs operated from the mindset of how can we help, no doubt Agile teams would consider engaging more.” But standoffs don’t move us forward. For years I saw agile teams not engaging since the PMO did not appear to help. In defense of the PMO, when someone asks for directions then sets off in the opposite direction from what you first say, it is easy to shake your head and stop trying. I have only recently seen real benefits when we have not only educated the PMO, but also the team and created project stories relating to joint wins with the PMO. This first seemed counter intuitive and not focused on business value, but you can go faster when you learn how to take off the handbrake and then use it when needed.


Nice work Mike once again, very rightly said. Unfortunately most of the PMOs are not organization oriented rather they are a personality oriented and the competency of the PMO leader drive the PMO direction. Commonly asked questions are like which project management standard you follow etc. Very few PMO take initiative to lead PMO in Agile supportive environment as otherwise Agile projects are just one extension of PMO portfolio and they too are asked to submit report on waterfall style projects.
Farhan - Winnipeg

Luna Abualhaj

Thanks for a great article, well said Mike! I would tend to believe this is a difficult approach for many of the PMO's management to adopt or even to realize, their lack of understanding of what agile development is really about can be a major issue which has to be worked on.
As much as I would like to see agile development applicable not merely in SW/IT development, especially in the various industries in which the traditional project management may seem to be more applicable at the present time. Yes, I totally agree that PMOs should go beyond project delivery and look towards benefit realization and what value are they providing to the customer! you are providing a great approach here in which both can work in alignment. The mission here is to obtain the PMO's management understanding and buy-in to ensure its success!
Luna Abualhaj- GGU MS.PM student

Deepak Mulay

This is a great thought provoking article. Thanks for the same.
With the growing acceptance of agile project management practices and principles the traditional PMO is now facing a challenge on how to imbibe and enhance their ability to respond to complexity, ambiguity and fast paced change. The problem becomes accentuated when there is a hybrid of waterfall and agile projects being implemented simultaneously within the same organization. In such a situation what should the traditional Project Management office do?
Should they change their methodology to align with the agile approach? As the project management office matures they should be able to become flexible and adaptable to the demands of the situation. If the situation within the organization or within a certain project requires the introduction of the waterfall and its prescriptive requirements, that would be the direction to go. If the environment is fast paced and subject to frequent changes agile methods would be more appropriate. The high performance project management office will have to learn to pick and choose.

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