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PMOs could benefit from supporting, adopting Agile

Adopting Agile methodology for IT seems like a no-brainer these days. But CIOs may not anticipate the complications — such as the culture and language barrier — Agile can create. Agile methodology, a alternative to the rigid, sequential waterfall methodology, breaks projects into smaller pieces, enabling teams to work in an iterative fashion and to change directions when needed.

When adopted by software development teams, Agile shakes up the workflow and introduces new terms such as “scrum master” and “sprint” into the software development team’s everyday vocabulary. But the executive management team often continues to work — and often has to work — in a style driven by top-down control, according to Michael Nir, president and founder of Sapir Consulting US and author of the book The Agile PMO.

Instead of adopting one methodology over the other, some companies, especially large corporations and regulated industries, may benefit from a hybrid approach that marries Agile and waterfall project management together. One best practice that can make the transition a little easier? Finding an intermediary or a translator to help executives and Agile teams get on the same page.

Nir argues that no office is better positioned to do this than the project management office (PMO), a team that oversees the project portfolio across the enterprise to ensure that projects come in on time, on budget and within scope. PMOs often standardize how work gets done within an enterprise, how projects get funded and how the portfolio is managed.

“One of the problems we’re seeing when we’re rolling out program management initiatives, whether they’re PMOs or just portfolio projects: We tend not to think end-to-end agility,” Nir said during his presentation at last week’s Society for Information Management (SIM) Boston chapter meeting. Instead, agility is associated only with the software developers. “We think about the [software] teams, the scrum masters. But this is not the only agility the business needs to adopt if we want to move toward a functioning PMO and a functioning value-driven portfolio.”

Taking a more holistic approach to agility couldn’t hurt many PMOs, suggested Nir, citing Gartner and ESI International research findings that 30% to 50% of PMOs fail.

In part two of this two-part blog post, Nir lays out four tips on how to become an Agile PMO.