Is the Concept of an Agile PMO Flawed?

Insights | 31 January 2019

As agile development methods continue to grow throughout nearly all industry verticals, it is worth noting how frequently the term “Agile PMO” is mentioned. Although intended to be used in a positive sense, the term itself is, in fact, flawed at best and downright damaging at worse.

While the continuing growth of agile methods is certainly a positive, personal experience over the past decade (and working with hundreds of organisations) suggests that majority of these organisations will never be “agile only”. Instead, they will comprise of both waterfall and agile methods, and therefore should be referred to as a bi-modal or hybrid PMO.

Waterfall and Agile Methods

As we’ve witnessed the growth of agile methods, we’ve also seen more silos created within organisations, i.e. the Agilists versus the Traditionalists.

The Agilist and the Traditionalist speak a different language, they do things differently and measure their success differently. I’ve witnessed the traditionalists refer to the agilists as flyby nights who never write anything down and are impossible to deal with. Similarly, I’ve witnessed the agilists refer to the traditionalists as dinosaurs that simply get in the way of progress.

Sound familiar?

Let’s take a step back and look at the most fundamental role of the PMO: to protect the investments that an organisation makes in projects to ensure the best possible value/outcomes are achieved. This is done via a series of frameworks and controls of varying degrees of rigour – they ultimately provide reports up the line to the executive.

The Concept of an Agile PMO is Flawed

The creation of an Agile PMO is therefore flawed at best. Consider an organisation where half of the employees work agile and the other half waterfall. It’s not practical to have 2 portfolio reports for executives – that would require the executive to learn how to read the ‘modern’ half of the portfolio. How long do you think that will last?

For decades, the executives have looked at “Red, Amber, Green” type reporting. They know this language and they are comfortable with it. Internal Audit have, for decades, looked at whether projects and programmes follow due process, go through stage gates and appropriately document things. Internal Risk teams will also expect certain protocols to be followed. So, what happens if Internal Audit and Risk teams are let lose among a group of agile projects? The subsequent reports are likely to be pretty scary reading.

What’s really required then is an adjustment to the PMO’s makeup to enable both waterfall and agile to coexist. The Hybrid PMO. In many ways, the new age Hybrid PMO needs to become the translator and enabler.

Breaking It Down

PMOs need to begin by sourcing staff with agile experience, who can then start to break down the silos. They need to look at ways to ensure greater collaboration and they need to ensure that consistent frameworks, controls and methods are in place for both waterfall and agile.

These individuals may also need to be the translator for groups such as Internal Audit and Group Risk. Finally, there needs to be agreed upon ways to provide executive progress reports from both sides, without having to teach executives new languages.

The PMO needs to evolve and take on newer concepts, while still adhering to their fundamental purpose of protecting the value of an organisation’s investments. Similarly, we need to stop imagining that the new era requires two PMO types. We need to focus more on ensuring that the PMO is a single, integrated function with accountability for all investments.

If your organisation requires assistance establishing a PMO, contact myself or PM-Partners today on 1300 70 13 14.

About The Author

Ray Wall, Client Engagement Director at PM-Partners

Ray has over 20 years’ experience working with organisational change and technology transformation programmes / projects in Financial Services, Management Consulting and Transport & Logistics. A highly experienced and qualified PMO Manager, Project Manager and Management Consultant; with extensive experience in; portfolio, programme and project management. He adopts a pragmatic approach to achieving results; combined with a proven ability to deliver in challenging environments.

Ray specialises in PMO design and build as well as the development and implementation of frameworks and methodologies that support effective and efficient programme and project delivery.

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