Jun 22, 2017

A Question of Agility: Expert Answers on PMOs and Agile Processes

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin | 1 Comment

"The goal of a PMO should be to deliver value. So I really don't agree that Agile and a PMO have different goals!" -- Gary Alvord

In our May webinar/panel discussion of The State of the PMO 2016, we had a number of questions submitted by participants that there was not enough time to answer. One of the major themes involved questions about agile tools and processes in the PMO. I called on one of our in-house Agile experts, Senior Consultant Gary Alvord, who is fresh off a challenging assignment where he implemented agile tools on the fly to turn around a failing project in the financial services sector.

Q: What Agile and Lean techniques have you seen applied to PMOs to improve their effectiveness?

Alvord: Both Agile and Lean, as well as Traditional project management, share much more than they differ.  Of course the team, and Project Manager, must review which tools of each approach apply to their project.  The things that would make a Lean or Agile project successful should work for any kind of project, not just software development.  Problems occur when dogma is applied arbitrarily to a project simply due to PMO policy and procedures, or to what was on some seminar checklist.  

Agile is typically seen in the software development universe.  Lean is more often applied in process improvement.  If you face a situation where "we need to get a website up today, and we can make it better over time" then that is in Agile's sweet spot.  If you face a situation where "we need to improve the throughput of auto manufacturing by 0.8 this quarter" then Lean techniques may best be applied.  

Agile techniques work best with a highly (daily) engaged owner, and a somewhat self-governing team.  I've heard it stated that Agile requires self-governing teams, and that if you have self governing teams you don't need Agile.  In my opinion, a highly engaged owner may be more critical to a project than even a self governing team.  This is also true for any traditional project.

Lean is more about process improvement.  Lean is about "cutting the fat" or "muda" which wasted efforts over the course of iterations due to unnecessary or over burdensome process.  PMO's often view individual Projects as objects flowing through a Process.  Processes are good when they have been tailored to meet the objectives of the Owner or Client.  All too often, some processes are forced in order to meet the objectives of the PMO.

Agile is great for kickstarting a project where the owner doesn't really exactly know what they want; however, they will know it when they see it.  Both Lean and Agile principles call for delivering value fast.  PMO's can certainly provide assistance on Business Analysis methods to determine "value".  PMO's can also provide enormous value to the "Project Team" by helping to unencumber an Agile team with unLean processes.

So to the original question about which techniques?  We've seen all kinds of techniques utilized to create value for the customer. It really depends on the organization. PMO Coaches and Project Managers can help with the proper application of these techniques.  As this may involve significant change to the way "things are done" then a good strong and steady Change Management effort will likely be required.

Q: Please address agile versus traditional project management practices being supported by a PMO

A PMO looking to support Agile techniques may find resistance to change by developers to be a real drag on increasing the rate of value delivery.  The PMO must drive these changes; but, it's more difficult that providing checklists - it requires active engagement, often with "self-governing" teams that have no formal PM training nor presence.

A PMO may also use the opportunity to expand it's mission by providing constructive guidance to teams and individuals that are not members of staff.  This may include contractors, or non-PM's, who still must report progress to the PMO.  

Reducing "Capital A Agile" and "Capital L Lean" and "Capital W Waterfall" to "be more agile and lean with the flow" tends to remove "Dogma" and create more "doing".  Use the tools and techniques that work.

Q: Trying to align Agile and a PMO is a real challenge — any suggestions?

A bit of self reflection may help a PMO.  Go back to basics with the PMI definition of Quality: do those things that are necessary and sufficient.  The Goal of a PMO should be delivering value. So I really don't believe that Agile and a PMO have different goals. Of course, any process method implemented to perform strategic work should be aligned with the goals of the organization. Begin by asking what strategic goals of your company the PMO serves, and use the processes that will deliver the most value.

Q: Please talk about looking at and approaching agile differently? Not shoehorning a project into the methodology.

All too often PMOs fall into the role of Master Progress Report Generator.  While progress reports are a necessary component of upper management monitoring and control, the object of a project is to deliver value.  Shoehorning a quick development project into Waterfall, and thus delaying any value delivery for six months only because that's the way it's always been done, is arguably not in the interest of the customer (internal or external).  Those Monthly Master Progress reports need to be turned into Monthly Master Value Reports.  This should really be done if traditional, agile, bi-modal, tri-modal, multimodal, or whatever.

Projects need Management and Control.  Projects often have phases, each of which goes through a level of closing.  Projects and tasks need to be Initiated, Planned, and Executed.  Agile may use slightly different terms, may timebox differently, and may have more mandated owner involvement.  Agile projects still need the same things traditional projects need and can greatly benefit from experienced Project Managers and Business Analysis.  This is simply another opportunity for training and education by the PMO for the benefit of the organization. 

If your development teams don't know about the expectations of the PMO as to traditional Project Management, then teaching them Agile may be a perfect way to bring that message home. And with a number of Scrums/Sprints, the PMO may get a chance to help developers practice those IPECC cycles over and over. 

Editor's Note: We are answering questions from our webinar these two weeks. Check the pmcollege.com/blog for answers to questions on benefits realization and training. Next week, tune back in to read how J. Kent Crawford responded to questions about PMO structure and processes.


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1 Comment on A Question of Agility: Expert Answers

Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin says:

Just wanted to add ... because it is not in his bio yet ... that Gary recently passed his PMI-ACP with flying colors. So he has the verifying stamp of PMI certification to add to his agile expert credentials. Way to go, Gary!

Posted on June 26, 2017 at 9:53 am

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