Planning for PMO success in an agile world

Was your Program Management Office (PMO) function launched in the late 1990s to control and coordinate the myriad Y2K projects?  Or was it set up in the early 2000s to support Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation?  Regardless of what prompted the launch of your PMO, there is a good chance that it began when projects were run according to the waterfall approach which prescribes a big upfront plan followed by months (or years) of careful execution.  PMOs from that era supported the planning efforts and implemented scrupulous control and governance practices to ensure projects were executed according to plan.   If your PMO was like most, it was “rewarded” for its success by being given even more projects to manage.   Perhaps your PMO is now so busy that it may not be prepared for the changes that will result from the maturing of the agile movement.

Regardless of the particular approach to agility (Lean, Scrum, XP, Scaled Agile, Disciplined Agile, etc.) project work will change in the coming years.  A cultural transformation away from command and control toward servant leadership and empowerment will spawn self-organized teams with new roles such as Scrum Master and Product owner, among others.  These teams will deliver projects in shorter timelines with a reduced need for extensive oversight and control measures.  The transition toward agility will impact the services your PMO offers.  The transition will likely be incremental, but these increments should be directed toward a new strategic direction for your PMO.

To set a new strategic direction for your PMO, begin with conversations with your stakeholders including new ones such as Scrum Masters and Product Owners.  These conversations will help you answer some key questions, a few of which are summarized below:

  • Should the mission of the PMO change?
  • What is the vision for the PMO for the next 2-5 years?
  • What legacy mindsets need to change within the PMO and among the PMO stakeholders?
  • Which PMO activities contribute to business value in an agile world, and which activities are impediments?
  • Do current prioritization methods allow for rapid change and thus ensure the highest value work is being undertaken?
  • What project control processes should be modified, replaced or eliminated?
  • What old services should be discontinued and what new, higher value services should be launched?
  • What new PMO metrics are needed to support more effective decision-making?


The movement toward agility represents change that is sufficient to warrant a reassessment of the mission, vision, and services offered by your PMO.  To ensure the continued success of your PMO in the future, begin asking (and answering) some fundamental questions now.

Author: Ron Montgomery

Ron Montgomery is a management consultant and owner of OnPoint, LLC, a firm that partners with clients to drive business value from I.T. projects. Ron has 36 years of hands-on I.T. experience, including 8 years using the agile framework. Ron launched his independent consulting career in 1994, and his clients include major insurance carriers, banks, technical solution firms, and non-profit organizations. He has assisted these clients with business planning, IT strategy, project and program management, vendor selection and team training / mentoring. Over the past eight years, Ron has led multiple initiatives that employ the agile framework.

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