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The four facets of an Agile PMO

The Agile project management office (PMO) leverages the centralized portfolio management team to deliver on projects and products faster, said Michael Nir, president and founder of Sapir Consulting US and author of the book The Agile PMO. At last week’s Society for Information Management Boston chapter meeting, Nir identified four ways PMOs can do that.

Remove waste. “If there’s one thing a PMO can contribute on a portfolio level, it’s to start looking at what stands in your way of delivering value,” Nir said.

During his presentation, he identified two types of waste: process waste and project product waste. Process waste includes cumbersome documents that take a long time to create but no one bothers reading. A 30-plus page project charter is an example. Project product waste includes the development of product features no one will use.

Prioritize projects. For many PMOs, that means reworking the intake process for projects. Nir recommended PMOs apply Kanban, a manufacturing process developed by Toyota that uses visual cues to trigger an action.

One of the characteristics of Kanban is to use a pull system, enabling teams to take on projects when they’re ready, rather than a push system, which creates a queue of work.

The same technique can be applied to portfolio management by gathering all project requests and then prioritizing them into a backlog. Nir argues PMOs are in the best place to take on the prioritization task, as they have no horse in the game.

Allocate resources. If resources aren’t allocated strategically, businesses may find themselves in a classic airlines situation: If a plane breaks down or flights are delayed because of weather or a pilot becomes too sick to fly to a point where passengers have to be rerouted, an entire segment of the day’s plan collapses, he said.

“The solution is to use capacity allocation that works,” Nir said. He recommended CIOs read Critical Chain, a “business novel” written by Eliyahu Goldratt. The book takes a close look at the critical chain of project management, an approach developed by Goldratt that prioritizes resources as a major consideration for managing projects well.

Agile leadership. In a hybrid Agile/waterfall organization, executives and Agile teams aren’t speaking the same language and aren’t looking at the same key performance indicators. PMOs can be instructive in getting the two teams to see eye to eye. “You need to talk and agree,” Nir said. From his experience, that’s easier said than done. In one example from his own consultancy practice, Nir said he had to make the waterfall practitioners sit down with the Agile practitioners so that they could walk through the Agile manifesto together and negotiate basic terms.

“If we don’t do that up front, we’re going to pay for it later on by having disagreements,” he said.

In part one of this two-part blog post, Nir explains why PMOs are best positioned to become ambassadors of Agile.

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