How to Create an Agile Project Management Office – 5 Essential Tips

When you hear the term “PMO” (commonly known as “Project Management Office”), what’s the first thing that comes to mind? How would you describe it in a single word? For me, I usually think of one of the following: “slow”, “rigid”, “bureaucratic”, “unresponsive”, “structured”, or something similar. Although it may seem that most of these are negative, more than likely, your experience is similar to what I have observed. With that in the back of our minds, what would be your initial reaction to the term “Agile PMO”? Perhaps this sounds like an oxymoron constructed with conflicting terms?Agile Project Management Office

My experience designing and launching Project Management Office’s has led me to believe that the PMO does not necessarily need to be any of those things I just mentioned; it is indeed possible to build a PMO organization that is nimble, adaptive and responsive to changing business needs. This is not an easy undertaking, naturally, but I know this is possible because I have personally witnessed this.

Based on my own journey of failures and successes, I have gathered a few tips for those of you who may be interested in learning how to create an Agile Project Management Office that provides higher degree of flexibility as well as greater probability of achieving successful project outcomes.

Tip #1 – Plan shorter cycles (one quarter at a time)

How many successful multi-year projects have you experienced? I would be willing to guess that is a very small number. One of the main goals of your Agile Project Management Office should be to deliver projects quickly, even if scope must be reduced. Planning shorter cycles means you will have more focus on what is important and will be able to more effectively execute your projects.

Tip #2 – Reduce batch size / project size

Smaller projects will offer more agility in many ways, including faster turnaround time, which maximizes the value you deliver to your customers. While the relative volume of capabilities may be reduced as a result, the reduced time-to-market will usually provide a much higher level of customer satisfaction. Also, delivering smaller projects more quickly will give your team quicker feedback and enable faster course-correction if changes to the original assumptions, market conditions or customer needs have evolved; it is very likely that at least one of these will change before your project has completed.

Tip #3 – Limit WIP (Work In Progress)

By limiting the total number of work items (project) your team has in progress at any given time, there will be more focus on completion of work and less likelihood of context switching, resource swapping, etc. Focusing on fewer projects should improve overall project throughput.

Tip #4 – Reduce lead time and cycle time

Working in tandem with limiting WIP, you will benefit greatly by focusing on delivering the projects as quickly as possible. Having smaller project will make a tremendous impact here.

Tip #5 – Advise, don’t dictate

Last but definitely not least, to rebrand your PMO as an Agile organization, it will be advantageous to change the perception of the PMO from an auditor/enforcer to an advisor/consultant role. This change will likely take time, since perception may be challenging to alter. However, by providing guidance, mentorship, and expert advice, your PMO can evolve from an administrative function into an enabling function.

To summarize, establishing an Agile Project Management Office will require you to fundamentally change many of the things you are accustomed to doing, and this will not be easy. Depending on how adaptive your organization may be, some of these changes may take several months (or even years) to accomplish. However, do not let that stop you from experimenting and building your capabilities incrementally. Do not expect to see miracles overnight, but view it as a journey of successive improvements over time.

Agile Project Management (ICP-APM)

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai