Aug 9, 2017

Self-Governance and PMO Governance: Agile Teams Need Both

Posted by Gary Alvord | 2 Comments

All too often PMOs are seen to be in conflict with the Agile Principle of simplicity.

Say you're a busy business owner with an urgent problem.  You are also blessed with some talented and high-performing people, and maybe access to some expert consultants, that you can throw together in a conference room on Tuesday and work until the problem is fixed — as long as it is fixed by Friday afternoon.  You want to be supportive and empowering, so you tell them to work it out among themselves by being "Self Governing".  You go away for a two-day conference and return to check on them Thursday afternoon.  Oh my!  It feels as though you've walked into a room full of bickering kindergartners instead of your talented and trusted high-performing individuals.  

What is happening?  In addition to trying to work towards the problem your group of individuals is being forced to become a team.  

Way back in 1965 Bruce Tuckman described four stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing (FSNP).  It's just well-known human psychology at work.  You Formed the team on Tuesday, and they are in the Storming phase.  This isn't just about getting the work done, it's about learning to work together.  They are going to have to learn to work through conflicts and personalities and this can be a bit, well, Stormy!  While they may actually get something done by Friday - assuming the problem is exceptionally well defined (oops) - they will likely not become a Normal group for a while longer.  That's when they get to know each other, sort out the real pecking order (vs the assigned one) and start to work together as a team.  Keep them together and they will eventually become a Performing Team and that's when self-governance can actually have a chance.   Caution is needed before you toss in more help risking breaking "Brook's Law" because they will have to go through FSNP all over again.

Could a project manager help?  Certainly!  She could help the group understand the cycles of behavior, help you identify scope, and help them chart progress and keep on track.  But would a project manager get in the way of self-governance? Not necessarily.  Choose one who understands "servant leadership" and is experienced with Agile project management using small teams.  Use your PM to help get in the practice of bringing that team together for those non-urgent tasks just so they can practice at becoming a performing team.  Sure, one of them can fix the routine stuff; however, when you need a team it's better to have a Team ready instead of even the best set of Individuals.

How Agile Can Help … And How the PMO Can Support Agile

The Agile Principles have a lot to say about teams.  For example "The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams."  The Principles also call out individual team members as in "Build projects around motivated individuals.  Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done."  An essential role in the team is that of the Owners, thus "Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project."  A key word in that principle is "daily." Business people must work daily to provide guidance and feedback on the work of the team from their unique perspective. The PMO and Project Managers often play this essential role in representing the needs of the business.  While the team may be "Self-Governing" it is still fully accountable to the business owners who are funding the efforts.  The Project Manager, acting as servant leader, can help to "Give them the environment and support they need."  The PMO and Project Manager can also help train the team in group processes, keeping track of metrics and valuation of deliverables.

First on the list of the twelve Agile principles is "Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software" and this is reinforced by another, almost redundant, principle: "Working software is the primary measure of progress."  It is the customer that really determines the "value" of the delivery, and the PMO can help be an arbiter of this by providing Business Analysis of the requirements, and confirming the delivery often via Quality Assurance (although BA and QA is best when integrated with the team).  The PMO is usually the source of trusted project status for upper management, so it is natural that the PMO be tasked with keeping track of Agile projects and teams.  This is not without controversy as maybe all too often PMOs are seen to be in conflict with the Agile Principle: "Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential."  As long as the PMO burden includes only that which is really necessary and sufficient to keep score on value delivery and progress, and to align all the other projects and teams, then the PMO can provide a very effective service of governance for the business.

Editor’s note: Check out the PM College offerings in Agile training.

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2 Comments on Agile Thoughts: Self-Governance vs. PMO Governance?

Dan Lorenc says:

Great reminders!... ‘new’ methods (like agile/scrum) success continues to be based on the basics of good PM (PMBOK, Brooks Law, PMO/SPMO concepts).. and finally, how to please who is paying the bill (Fruit of the Loom inspector 25)...

While organizational roles continue to get blurred with self-governance, the point is the roles do not go away.. hopefully we are tasking the roles at the most efficient level in the Program/Project organization.

Posted on August 10, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Gary Alvord says:

Thank you @DanLorenc for you kind comments!  I really liked your reference to “Fruit of the Loom Inspector 25”.  As you noted the basics of good PM do have much more in common with Agile than any perceived differences.

Posted on August 10, 2017 at 3:54 pm

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