A Case for The Methodology Agnostic PMO

Everyone has heard the statistic that most PMO’s fail within the first 3 years. You also might know, that the number 1 reason they fail, is that they don’t add value. How can we ensure that we are adding value? Seems like an easy question, but turns out, it’s not. The answer is…it depends. What value means to each organization could be very different, depending on the business model, maturity model, norms, culture, appetite for risk, organizational structure, and skill sets within the organization. I propose that a more fluid and dynamic PMO model would work best in most organizations.

The term “methodology agnostic” is used in IT to say, that one is not tied to a particular way of thinking in terms of a development tool, data, or lacking a preference for a particular methodology, say Scrum, or Traditional project management (or Waterfall). This is the basis for the “Methodology Agnostic or agile PMO”.   Setting up an “agile pmo” that has all the tools available to them, would provide the greatest value to the organization. Therefore, making the tools adhere to the business model and to the needs of the business, and not the other way around. Not every project needs the same level of rigor, documentation, or process to follow.

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Current Practices

Waterfall, typically works best in time-constrained, regulatory-based projects, such as in healthcare and government. It also may be a suitable methodology to use for vendor developed software. Unless the vendor is engaged in Agile processes for development it’s not necessarily the best fit. Agile/Scrum works best as an efficient framework for delivering product (and value) to the business on 2-4 week cycles.  There is a case being made, that Scrum is not only a development methodology, and that Scrum works very well for all types of projects.  In scrum, your finish line is 2-4 week intervals. The end-game is when everything is done, but without knowing when that end is. Another case for broadening the appeal and use of the Agile framework is scaling, whether using the Agile approach of “scrum of scrums” to scale larger efforts and project teams, or Scaled Agile’s, SAFe framework.  Both can be utilized as an-overarching way to pull all the work of the team together, much like a program would do with multiple projects, and project teams using Waterfall. The SAFe framework is rapidly gaining momentum, and offers a more structured approach than scrum of scrums, and this allows for planning of larger, more complex, and time-constrained projects. There are also hybrid, or blended models in use today, which incorporate aspects of both Agile and Waterfall. In most cases, not fully realizing the benefits of either methodology with this practice.

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The Agnostic Methodology Model

Back to the question of how do PMO’s add value, and once they do, how do they sustain it?  The key would be to develop multiple models that can be flexed to meet the business needs. To the point, where you are no longer an Agile-shop, or a Waterfall-based PMO, you are a methodology agnostic PMO. I’m not proposing a “project lite” version, but rather, having all methodologies in play in your toolbox. A business case or need is defined, and approved.  It then goes to the PMO or Portfolio Management team for review with the executive sponsor, or product owner, whichever is applicable. The right-fit methodology is then chosen based on several predefined factors. Each inherent framework/methodology will come with its own rules for flexing, and growing and changing with the business.

The biggest challenge with this model, is how do you staff for it? I think over time, the role of project manager, agile coach, and scrum master will blur, as our definition of an effective leader, shifts from a hierarchical leader to a servant leadership mindset, and approach. In the interim, project managers and scrum masters can be cross-trained and certified on both methodologies. Many are already seeing the advantage of having both credentials. Even though the approach to the roles are very different, the goal is the same, to deliver the solution to the customer. Not too much of a paradigm shift for either role. Most teams are also very resilient and can flex. This is already done when flexing to different styles of scrum masters and project managers. If PMO’s and portfolio management offices, don’t embrace both methodologies, they may miss out on positive change that drive the profession forward, and secure the place of the project management office as a valued and successful partner in enterprises. What is the state of your PMO/portfolio office? Can a PMO or Portfolio office support multiple methodologies?