PMO Role in Agile

If you lead a PMO or are a PM and your organization is embarking on an Agile adoption you are probably thinking so how do I fit into this new paradigm and still manage the work that I’m currently managing (it won’t manage itself is what you are thinking) ?

Organizations who are now moving towards Agile as a product delivery/SDLC method will find themselves trying to figure out where their PMO and subsequent Project Managers will fit.

The problems they face are several:
Traditional Project Managers:
  • Are experienced at managing to a specific plan and resolving resource issues that their specific projects are facing.  They are not typically assigned to just one project and the people they work with come and go with much frequency.  Project Managers have been for many years the ones who provide confidence that ‘someone’ has their hands on the pulse of the projects that are designed to deliver value to the organization.
  • Don’t typically look at their projects as value driven, rather they are priority and resource driven.  Their focus when they are assigned to a project is about who is on my team, who can I steal from other projects and creating a plan that is often not vetted by the very people who will actually do the work and socializing that with Sr Management.
  • Traditional Project Managers are excellent deflectors of blame (yep I learned quickly how to push off issues on to someone else)
  • Are not typically contributing members of the team.
I don’t say these things to make Project Managers angry, I was once a PM and a very good one at that (or so I believe).  And I’m not at all implying that there isn’t a role for PM’s in Agile, but I will suggest that how you think as a PM will need to change.
For starters you need to find a way to be a contributing member of the team and not just someone who sits on the sidelines like a reporter and records what is going on to report out.
The thing that was different about me was that I always managed my teams more like a Scrum Master would.  I found ways to contribute, I gained the trust of my team, I protected them and provided guidance for individuals when they were struggling with something about the organization that didn’t make sense.  This process of engagement led me out of the PM role and ultimately into QA Management so there are growth opportunities for PM’s if you are open to learning new things.
If the team needs help in testing, learn something new and help out.
Most Agilists’ may tell you that the Scrum Master and Project Manager role are completely different.  Though they are different I would argue that project managers can fill the void of Scrum Master and gain great insight to their projects and be on point to resolve impediments more easily than be bystanders to the entire Agile process.
Here are some key areas that Project Managers should focus on during an Agile Transformation:
  1. Planning – Is not a function of setting forth an unyielding plan.  Rather planning by the team is to facilitate an ever growing understanding of what the team is building.  Big Up Front Requirements convey a static nature to projects that simply doesn’t exist.  If you disagree actually track the number of times the team has to change their plans (for architecture, etc..) during a typical non-Agile project.  Teams that try to predict the future are destined to be wrong a majority of the time.  You need to become comfortable with a plan that identifies in detail only 4 weeks out.
    1. Goal – Be an active member of the team and be able to understand both the technical issues that are facing the team and bring them a clear understanding of dependencies with projects and teams that aren’t in their viewfinder.
    2. Goal – Learn different Agile planning techniques.  One of the key things that people miss in Agile adoption is that Planning needs to take place more often and that some level of upfront Discovery is not a bad thing.
  2. Scrum/Agile  Activities – A Project Manager for a Scrum Team needs to:
    1. Ensure that their teams are performing effective User Story development with techniques such as BDD and Specification by Example.
    2. Ensure that their teams have a well groomed set of stories in their backlog
    3. Ensure that their teams have effective Sprint Planning and Estimation sessions
    4. Ensure that the teams utilize their Retrospectives to drive continuous improvement
      1. Goal – Become an Agile evangilist, learn everything you can about Scrum, Story writing, TDD, Continuous Integration, User Story Mappiing, BDD, Specification by Example.
  3. Program Management – Is driven by the overall roadmap.  Ensuring that Scrum teams are aligning their user stories to appropriate Road Map Items keeps the organization focused on execution progress/success and provides the PMO with a clear view to all of the work that they are managing.  As an organization scales this is no small feat, so getting large sets of teams to keep up with story writing and roadmap linking is an administrative task that teams quickly tire of.  Project Managers need to provide support and assistance with the management of these types of activities in conjunction with their PO and Scrum Master.
  4. Technical Knowledge – Though this isn’t as big of a problem as it was 10 years ago, many Project Managers simply don’t understand the underlying technical platform that their teams are working in.  I personally don’t think that you can be an effective project manager unless you have this knowledge.  Take the time to learn, your team will appreciate it and you will be able to have better fact based conversations with your Stakeholders regarding issues that delay delivery of projects.

5 thoughts on “PMO Role in Agile

  1. Hi,

    I think your post is a bit harsh towards traditional project managers. You are indirectly saying that they are pure overhead, which is not the case.

    Nevertheless, this is a good post on the Agile PMO (PS: You can read this post from 2009 on this topic: ) and we would like to republish it on PM Hut where many project managers will benefit from it. Please either email me or contact me through the contact us form on the PM Hut site in case you’re OK with this.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for reading and comments.

      My intent wasn’t to convey that we as PM’s are pure overhead in traditional facets of waterfall SDLC rather that we can quickly become pure overhead in an Agile environment were self organizing teams drive many of the things that a traditional PM would be expected to handle.

      Many of the metrics and reporting that we do in waterfall and traditional project managed organizations goes away for much lighter weight Agile metrics such as velocity and say/do.

  2. Pingback: PMO Role in Agile | Project Management Practice...
  3. As a certified scrum master and scrum PO, I have run into this often in many companies. PMs usually are either converted to scrum masters or “coaches” that do SM type work, or they transition into more of a resource manager. That is not to marginalize the role, because both are desperately needed.

    Some of the points I will contend need to be separate roles. Item #1 really should be done by a product owner (or product manager or BA). Item #2 is the scrum master or coach role. Every trainer out there tells you those two items should be done by different people. Item #3 is the other role traditional PMs move to other than resource planning. Frankly, most are amazing at it. Item #4 should be done by any person on an agile team, frankly. I started out in QA, and interface well with devs, but frankly there is no way I will ever know enough to keep them from talking circles around me. I do keep learning, though, so it’s a valid point.

    We all come to agile through different avenues. Many agile groups have their fair share of PMs, and most likely will for some time as more and more companies go agile. I do think there will come a day where we won’t see much of them anymore, because the role doesn’t quite have the prominence it once used to. I could be wrong though, it’s just my lens. 🙂

    • Chris,

      Thanks for reading and the feedback. I ultimately agree with your assessment that the Project Manager role will continue to decline due to the move to Agile. Most smaller companies tend to utilize just the Product Owner/Manager and Scrum Master to drive their teams.

      The points that I made were about things that a Project Manager could do to participate and provide value in an Agile environment. Whether or not it’s the right place for them to be in is a valid point.

      As I’m a coach in a large scale adoption I’m seeing this issue first hand. There are few individuals on the Scrum Team who want to accept the responsibility of Scrum Master, who don’t have effective planning, etc….. This is where the role of a Project Manager, if it is a specific role in the organization can come into play.

      My ultimate goal was to convey that a traditional Project Manager who manages to a plan has to change if they are to bring any value at all to the organization.

      Great conversation!

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