Many organisations use the Project Management Office (PMO) to underpin their project delivery mechanism. The PMO exists within a business, agency or enterprise to define and maintain standards for project management within the organisation.
The role of many PMOs can be broken down into 5 key functions:
- Governance: ensuring that decisions are taken by the right people, based on the right information. The governance role can also include audit or peer reviews, developing project and programme structures and ensuring accountability.
- Transparency: providing information with a single source of the truth. Information should be relevant and accurate to support effective decision-making.
- Reusability: stopping project teams from reinventing the wheel by being a central point for lessons learned, templates and good practice.
- Delivery support: making it easy for project teams to do their jobs by reducing bureaucracy, providing training, mentoring and quality assurance.
- Traceability: providing the function for managing documentation, project history and organisational knowledge.
Traditional techniques, such as stage gates, are a keystone process of the PMO to achieve these outcomes. While they can be successful, they do have a significant challenge when implementing agile. A typical gate is a break point in the process; where work is halted pending further investment based on the approval boards sign off.
Additionally, PMOs enforce rigorous project reporting to ensure transparency and traceability of progress and decisions within the project.
How can a Project Management Office ensure the right decisions are made by the right people?
On an agile project, there should be a single accountable person – typically called a Product Owner (PO). The PO is authorised to make decisions relating to maximising the value delivered by the development team. The accountability should become transparent during sprint reviews where the product is inspected alongside stakeholders using empirical data.
The PMO can help by ensuring there are clear role definitions and accountabilities. Team members must have sufficient authority to perform their roles.
While the Scrum Masters are accountable for ensuring the effective implementation of the process, the PMO can assist by reinforcing the value of planning and review meetings and ensuring stakeholders are encourage to attend and actively contribute.
How can the PMO support transparency with agile teams?
Effective decision making requires facts and data. Product teams should be regularly inspecting their progress against their forecast using cumulative flow diagrams (CFDs) or burnup charts. Additionally, at the end of each sprint there should be no ambiguity about what has been completed and what hasn’t.
The PMO can help the teams and their stakeholders understand the value of using tools such as CFDs and burn charts. They can also help educate the organisation that these tools are only an indicator rather than providing certainty.
It is important that the right data is shared with stakeholders. E.g. the sprint burn down chart is a tool for developers to manage the sprint and not intended for wider stakeholder consumption. Sharing of the sprint burn down may inadvertently promote command and control behaviour. The PMO can assist in helping teams understand what data is appropriate for sharing with each audience.
How can the PMO prevent agile teams reinventing the wheel?
Great agile teams should be learning and improving all the time – specifically through retrospectives. Teams assess how they’re working, the tools their using etc. to identify and implement improvements. Here, teams assess how they’re working together, the tools they’re using etc. to identify and implement improvements.
When an identified improvement requires influence outside of the team, progress can often be stalled. The PMO can assist teams navigating the wider organisation, go beyond merely logging the issue and actively facilitate cross organisation collaboration. To help good practice spread across the organisation, without each team having to learn from their own mistakes, the PMO can sponsor guilds of practice, where people in similar roles meet informally to discuss and learn from one another.
How can the PMO support effective agile delivery?
One of the greatest factors in project success is ensuring that everyone on the project has been trained on the fundamentals of agile delivery and knows how to perform their role. For new teams PMOs can help by providing access to training courses and coaches.
Striving to eliminate waste will have a significant impact on productivity. The PMO can support efforts to identify and eliminate waste by helping teams map out their value stream and associated wastes such as wait time, rework, task switching, motion, etc. as well as addressing and removing unnecessary bureaucracy from the delivery process (see our 7 wastes of software development factsheet).
The agile PMO can curate and support the ‘standards’ used by teams when engaged in agile delivery such as helping teams implement definition of done, definition of ready and help share across teams where integration is required.
How can the PMO support traceability on agile projects?
Agile projects are notoriously light on documentation, however that should not mean that none is produced. Good agile teams focus on producing high quality documentation that has a clear purpose and audience at the right time. There is no value in producing documentation too early that requires extensive re-work, is not used or is not fit for purpose. PMOs can work with agile teams and their stakeholders to understand precisely what information needs to be documented at what time and for what audience. They can help eliminate much of the boilerplate that increases complexity. PMOs can also encourage and promote good practice with teams using collaboration tools such as whiteboards, chat tools, backlog management tools, file shares, Wikis etc, so that information remains accurate and easy to find.