The PMO phoenix is reborn

In my last article, I stated that the Project Management Office (PMO) is dead.  However, I also stated long live the PMO!

In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a fiery bird that would be cyclically be reborn from its own ashes.  I believe the concepts and the principles of a Project Management Office will be reborn like a phoenix and persist through project delivery no matter what new methodology or approach becomes popular and gets adopted by today’s modern businesses.

Some examples of newer approaches to the traditional PMO are Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) and Large Scaled Scrum (LeSS). Aside from the spiffy mix of capital and lower case letters, let’s dive into their suggestions on how to run a PMO.  For this blog, I’ll first focus on SAFe.

SAFe has been gaining adoption since its inception in 2007 and has been quickly popularized due to the visual graphical interface for showing the entire methodology on one page known as the SAFe “big picture” and “diving into” each component for further detail.

SAFe is broken into three key levels: Team, Program and Portfolio.  The team level is essentially Scrum based delivery.  If you understand Scrum, you understand Team.  The Portfolio is the strategic level where company leadership management, review and prioritize the major initiatives within the organization.  The Program level is where the current portfolio of projects are collectively executed and managed.  This is where the PMO would play.

SAFe is intended for organizations that have large software delivery divisions of at 50 or more cross-functional staff, really best suited for 100 or more employees in product development teams.  SAFe does have a PMO, which are intended “to shepherd large programs from development and deployment and provide status and financial reporting.  This function may even include the responsibility for defining the enterprise’s Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC).”

This matches the traditional PMO, but changes from the “command and control” focus of the past to a lighter weight more lean approach.  However, my main point is that this is merely a rebirth of the PMO and still directly matches with the five goals mentioned in my last blog, “The PMO is dead; long live the PMO“.

Let’s take a look:

  1. Governance –  Now decentralized, so shifts now into more of a support mode, inspect and validating delivery efficiency with a focus on security, regulatory, standards, quality and release requirements
  2. Transparency – No change at all, but expected to be focused more at the team level
  3. Reusability – This is intended to keep delivery light weight and changes are more from reusable waterfall to reusable Agile artifacts, going from traditional project plans to backlogs, velocity, burn down, and Agile release schedules
  4. Delivery Support – Now supporting the Agile Release Train (ART), delivery support focusing on the quality of the releases
  5. Traceability – Under SAFe, this follow the Measures and Lifecycle Milestones with metrics on epics and budgets under regular inspection of Production Increments and Releases under SAFe

As you can see, there are differences in how the PMO is conducted to follow the SAFe delivery model, but the overall purpose and function remains the same.  So like the phoenix, the PMO is reborn!

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The PMO is dead; long live the PMO!

Today, the traditional Project Management Office (PMO) is being challenged as a viable model for project governance.  Back in the day when traditional waterfall process dominated IT project delivery, the PMO was king for larger organizations.  However, even when “PMO was king”, many people within an organization would consider the PMO unnecessary overhead, calling it, “Project Management Overhead” and criticize that the PMO was a cost center, not providing enough value for the cost incurred to maintain.

With the expansion of Agile methodologies along with scaling them to a large enterprise level, the PMO has been brought under scrutiny by many pundits leading project delivery in the industry.  There are two forms recently adopted in the industry, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Large Scaled Scrum (LeSS).

One thing that should be stated first is to understand why PMO’s were formed in the first place.  Back in 1994, the Standish Group issued a report that stated over 80% of projects were either challenged or failed outright.  Clearly, that is not an acceptable success rate, unless you are batting for the Chicago White Sox.  Hence, PMO’s were born to observe and govern projects to decrease project challenges and failure.

Traditional PMO’s have the following objectives to reach that goal:

  • Governance –  Confirming the right people and right decisions are made, based on the right information
  • Transparency – Identify and address issues when they appear
  • Reusability – Providing consistency and simplicity through a single source of information
  • Delivery Support – Intended to provide project teams training, mentoring and quality assurance
  • Traceability – Track important project history for comparison and documentation to use for data mining and delivery intelligence

When it comes down to project delivery, communication is the most important factor in delivery.  Most projects fail because of lack of communication of real issues often because of lack of transparency (i.e. people are aware but keep them hidden).  Agile methodologies have helped increase transparency, thereby decreasing the ability to “hide the truth” and has therefore increased delivery success rate.

In my next blog, I’ll cover the latest ideas around PMO’s in our Agile delivery era.

The PMO is dead;  long live the PMO!