The Agile Team and the PMO: A Vital Link

9 August 2012

In IT projects, and particularly in software development, many teams still do not address Agile methods and thus fail to deliver, or to obtain an acceptable degree of success in their projects. In some situations, especially when IT is not the core of the organization but one of the areas of business support, the Agile team faces major problems if there is little or no support from upper management. In such cases we must take into account the importance of project management, based on the principles of PMBOK (the Project Management Body of Knowledge) and enhanced by the Project Office (PMO), to support software projects. This article aims to demonstrate two important roles within this scenario, involving projects managed by the PMO and software products managed by IT development team — in either case through an Agile approach (XP, Scrum, Kanban).

After all, what is a PMO? This is the person or office that centralizes certain activities, also called functions, related to the practice of project management in order to cause the organization to achieve better results through projects.

Among these activities or functions, highlights include these:

  • Provide methodologies and tools for project management
  • Support senior management with reports and executive information
  • Provide support for planning and control of projects considered strategic

This article is the result of my experience with software projects in some public sector enterprises with a rigid structure. The PMO is responsible for reviewing project proposals and prioritizing them according to the organization's strategic plan to optimize the business value chain. Moreover, this role is also responsible for promoting the culture of project management within the organization. The Agile team is responsible for the execution of all procedures for implementation and delivery of software projects within deadlines and with the quality desired.

Question

Can a Scrum team that maintains the principles behind the Agile manifesto, conquer new horizons, and run competitive projects without alignment and the support of the organization's project management office or PMO? Usually the answer is no. To mitigate this issue, we discuss some hypotheses represented below. In each quadrant we have a specific situation relevant to the degree of maturity of managing IT projects for the two parties involved. There is the strategic side (the projects office) and the tactical and operational side (the Agile team).

Chaos

In this situation, every process is in chaos. None of the parties has a satisfactory level of maturity. Poor planning, lack of control of processes, and lack of standards and methods are all in evidence. All projects are always dependent on the strength of heroes. And the projects are almost always subject to failure.

Problems

Problems are in sight, and it's certain that they will surface. The Project Office has maturity in project management, but it has not yet formed a culture throughout the organization, especially not in the software team. The teams need training, and immediate hiring or outsourcing may be called for. Even if the PMO has maturity, the projects will suffer negative impacts in their broader vision. If the PMO guides leaders and managers in best practices of project management and the alignment of IT with the strategic objectives of the organization, the picture may change positively.

Manageable issues

In this scenario there is a maturity of management principles and Agile development within the software team. There is a defined process, and projects are delivered on time and with expected quality. However, as the PMO has low maturity, IT staff will be required to exercise proactive management. There is risk due to the lack of a solid project management culture and the processes necessary to support Agile projects. Another problem is that IT staff, due to lack of autonomy, may have difficulty causing effective change, because instituting improvement from the bottom up is always more difficult.

Ideal point

This is the ideal point to reach: The PMO and IT staff have the necessary knowledge to apply best practices in project management, each within their particular line. They are united and aligned to the identification, prioritization, and implementation of effective solutions. The PMO creates a virtuous cycle between the transformation of the culture of project management and develops processes that enable proper management. The Agile software team continuously improves its process within the principles of the Agile manifesto. As there is a perfect symbiosis between the PMO and the Agile team, every effort is directed toward the development of integrated strategic projects that optimize the value chain and promote the elimination of waste in the process flow of the organization.

Conclusion

Maturity in project management, headed by the Projects Office, and maturity of the software team, through the Agile approach, will substantially improve the execution of IT projects. Scrum is a framework that works because it places the team and the client side by side, focusing on the same goal. But it alone is not sufficient inside the organization. It's highly important to use practices of project management, for example those defined by PMBOK, that cover the planning, control, and monitoring of areas that impact a project: acquisitions, cost, communications, integration, scope, timeliness, quality, risk, and human resources.

The Projects Office should empower the leaders of the organization. It should promote a culture throughout the organization that gives necessary support to the Agile team. A Scrum team with the support of the Projects Office will more likely be a winner, producing high-quality products on time. The Agile team should promote its Agile practices for leaders and disseminate suggestions for improvement and specific ways of working. However, managers must have knowledge of project management practices to begin with, and they must apply them in favor of the organization.

When there is a synergy between the Projects Office and the Scrum team, the chances for any project's success are inarguably greater.

References

Project Management Institute: PMBOK. 2008.

Kerzner H. Using the Project Management Maturity Model. 2005.

Lopes MM. The Impact of Maturity on Projects. 2011.

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