The Agile PMO

Key message: A project management office contributes value to its organization by helping executives make informed, portfolio-based decisions regarding project prioritization and resource allocation. This article displays how a PMO can accomplish this mission more effectively by delivering value incrementally, focusing only on what is necessary at the appropriate time.

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Tom Jenkins, the newly appointed PMO manager convened his team. Xavier, Paula and Xing were eager to start work. Tom explained that the PMO rollout is a change process. He gave his team assignments around stakeholder analysis, mapping of communication requirements, and creation of the PMO newsletter. While the team was somewhat puzzled with these activities they moved to fulfill them. Working with the stakeholders, the team captured many complaints pertaining to the current way of work and gathered numerous requests for improvements. Eagerly awaiting their next meeting, which was held virtually through a videoconference, they prepared a list of proposed improvements. Xavier proposed to commence work on the work breakdown structure and the software development lifecycle. Paula suggested to update the risk register template and to implement a new tool for project scheduling. Xing reported that the stakeholders were keen on having a team collaboration tool and added that they are many resource conflicts which were not managed at present.
Tom listened carefully to his PMO team and empathized with their concerns. He then patiently detailed his vision of the PMO. While this was not the first time he discussed the vision, it was important that the team revisit the vision in light of their findings. He also instructed the team to communicate the vision continuously to the stakeholders during meetings. He further emphasized the importance of communicating through a newsletter to the global community. He moved to investigate with the team, which stakeholders were appearing to be powerful, interested and supportive to the cause of the PMO, and which were appearing to be opposing and would probably produce obstacles to the PMO implementation. He also offered his perspective around which areas may enable quick wins.
He then engaged the team in a discussion about value creation and how the PMO might provide value to the project and product community. He queried the team regarding the current status of the portfolio resource pool. It was evident from the team response that there was a resource pool in existence which was loosely managed, not centrally controlled, and not based on resource planned and actual efforts. Actually, in order to manage the resources on a global basis a new tool had to be implemented and more than 8000 resources had to be updated into the global tool. That was dire news indeed.
It seemed that in order to create value, the newly formed PMO had to immediately invest a huge sum in the procurement and implementation of a new software. Additionally, a new SDLC methodology had to be generated, updated processes had to be written and dozens of templates and work instructions developed.
It seemed a monumental undertaking and the team was at a loss regarding where to begin. They felt that it would be three years before they would start producing value. One of them even suggested hiring a management consulting firm and recruit five additional analysts to help with this huge undertaking. Once more Tom provided support to his team members, permitting them to air out their concerns. Then he explained the concept of the Agile PMO.
100 Days of Grace
He said that they did not have three years to create value; at most they had 100 days of grace before they were expected to produce some initial results. Xavier responded by offering to produce a new version of the risk register which may be not exactly what everyone needed but might make some stakeholders happy and buy the PMO some more precious time.
Tom gently rejected his offer, pointing out that a new risk register while useful, is not what an Agile PMO is about. The new risk register might add confusion and not support value creation and thus would be a waste of effort and time. This led to an extended period of silence and Tom suggested that the team would take a few days to contemplate on how to proceed.
Three days later the team reconvened, Paula proposed an idea. She said that resource conflicts were abundant and that the most value-added activity that the PMO could perform, was to manage resources on a global scale. Tom commented that it was a good idea. Xing questioned the logic of this idea saying, that they are too many resources to manage. Xavier interjected and added that the tool that was in place was not able to support such a task. Paula said that they don’t need to manage all resources, and maybe in an Agile PMO it was enough that they manage only what was needed to enable value creation. The other team members then listened attentively to her idea.
She explained that at this time they do not have a complete list of all projects executed globally and that should be their next task. Once they have such a list they would be able to assess project contribution from a portfolio perspective. Then they would be able to mediate between the different projects and assist management with making educated decisions pertaining to project prioritization based on the full list of projects in the global organization. Tom said that that was a good step in the right direction of being effective.
Eagerly, the team discussed how to carry out mapping of the projects. They defined a template to update the project list into and scheduled a meeting for the following week to review their results. Tom added that it is probably a good idea to present their findings in the newsletter and to continue stakeholders’ assessments regarding support or opposition to the PMO activities.
During the team meeting the week after, it was evident that many pet projects existed, which were using resources without providing benefits to the portfolio. The team mapped about 35% of projects that were redundant and probably unimportant to the portfolio of the company.
Tom said that this was a good example for an Agile PMO. Instead of discussing processes, tools and templates they were engaged in how to make the project and product community more effective. Xing then offered an idea; he said that he had noticed many resource conflicts that were plaguing the projects in his region. He was convinced that these conflicts were occurring between important projects and it was very important to map all the resources allocated to these projects to resolve the conflicts. Resolving the conflicts would enable streamlining important projects, contributing to the portfolio. Xavier said that mapping and allocating all the resources in the region would be impossible as there are more than 800 resources in that specific region, and most of them do not report to timesheets on a regular basis. He added that in any case, the tool in place does not support these reporting requirements. Xing answered that he had given much thought and suggested that initially they map only the critical resources.
The team then deliberated what constitutes a critical resource. Tom offered his perspective and recommended they read an all-time bestseller on the subject of mapping of critical resources by the famous author and physicist Eli Goldratt: “Critical Chain Project Management.” He said that true to the concept of the Agile PMO, they will identify critical resources. He estimated that only 3 to 5% of the total number of resources would prove to be critical. By following this line of reasoning, the team would quickly be able to allocate critical resources to prioritized projects enabling streamlining of the value creating projects from the portfolio perspective.
One month later the PMO team was able to provide an almost complete list of projects in the global organization, along with the list of critical resources. These were the critical resources that impacted project completion. By closely managing loading of these resources, the PMO was able to provide and assist project managers and management with timely-based decisions about resource allocations. The PMO also suggested on terminating none value added projects and transferring employees working on these projects to other projects which were creating value from the portfolio perspective. Three months after inception of the PMO, the impact was already tangible:
1. More stakeholders were moving from neutral attitude to high support of the PMO activities;
2. The low hanging fruit of critical resource mapping provided quick wins which enabled more rigorous undertakings to complement the initial activities.
3. The newsletter was instrumental for conveying the message of value creation from the portfolio perspective;
From Push to Pull
With the support of Paula, Xavier and Xing, the vision set forth by Tom became a reality 20 months after PMO inception. Needless to say that within this time the PMO transformed into a strategic tool for portfolio decisions about future projects. The concept of the Agile PMO translated into a PULL mechanism of projects, whereby projects are selected based on resource pool status. This was opposed to the previous approach of a PUSH mechanism whereby all incoming projects were selected, which resulted in the clogging of the resource pool and thus hindering the streamlining effect and reducing the throughput of projects.
Naturally, with time a unified software development lifecycle was constructed along with relevant processes, templates, and then a new software tool for integrating information globally. The software tool was a natural evolution to the development effort of the PMO. The team understood that using a tool to create change is futile, and rather the tool should be implemented after a considerable amount of the change has been in place. The tool as such becomes a method to encapsulate the change into corporate culture.
In conclusion, the Agile PMO delivers what is needed at the time when it is required. The Agile PMO focuses on the most important value creating activities while keeping sight of the overall objective. This is in contrast to the development of all at once, which tends to be the initial expectation that is expressed by stakeholders. The PMO is not about tools, processes, or a methodology, rather it is about creating value.
This article is adapted from chapter nine of the author’s new e-guide “The Agile PMO.” On Amazon :

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