Is the Idea of a PMO Obsolete?

I think the traditional notion of a PMO is becoming obsolete rapidly in many industries; however, that doesn’t mean that the idea of a PMO is no longer needed at all. A PMO can play a value-added role but it is a somewhat different role than what a PMO may have played in the past. It’s a difference in emphasis between providing control versus producing value. The traditional emphasis of a PMO has been primarily on providing control of spending to ensure that individual projects were well-managed from a fiscal responsibility perspective and that the overall portfolio of projects produced an acceptable return.

What’s wrong with that picture? We’ve learned that many projects may seem to be successful from a financial perspective yet fail to deliver business value. Business value is a much more elusive target that is much more difficult to measure. So what is the answer? It’s a significant shift in emphasis for a PMO to put more focus on producing value versus providing control; however, that’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Many people tend to see things in black-and-white, binary terms – either you’re focused on value or you’re focused on control and there’s no middle ground. I don’t believe that to be the case.

It takes a lot more skill to find that middle ground” but it definitely can be done. It requires seeing “control” in a different perspective – it’s a more dynamic kind of control. There’s a lot of similarities to the difference between traditional plan-driven project management and a more dynamic form of Agile Project Management at the project level.

  • Instead of having very well-defined plans at the project portfolio level that aren’t expected to change at all, plans are much more broadly defined and are expected to change and become further defined over time
  • It also requires a partnership with the business and much more active participation in the development and implementation of the project portfolio strategy by the business

What needs to happen at the project portfolio level is very similar to what needs to happen at the project level; it’s just at a higher level. There is a direct parallel between the role of a modern, PMO and the role of an Agile Project Manager. Both need to play much more of a facilitation role and add value based on a much more dynamic style of management rather than a controlling role. They both need to put in place the right people, process, and tools to execute the strategy and intervene only as needed. For more on this, check out my article:

What is an Agile PMO?”

Also check out this online training course:

Making Agile Work for Your Business

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Agile Project Management Road Map

I recently published an article on “Preparing for the PMI-ACP® Exam“. I want to expand on that article in the broader context of: What is the “road map” for a Project Manager with little or no Agile experience to become a well-qualified Agile Project Manager and where does PMI-ACP® certification fit into that process? Here’s a simplified, high-level diagram that shows what I think that process looks like and how the online training I’ve developed fits into that “road map”:

Agile PM Training Roadmap

Here’s some notes on this “road map”

  • It’s important to recognize that the typical Project Manager who has little or no Agile experience can’t just go out and take the PMI-ACP certification exam (even if they took at least 21 hours of training first), you need at least 1,500 hours of experience in an Agile environment to qualify to take the exam
  • In order to get 1,500 hours experience in an Agile environment, you need some knowledge to be able to perform that role. That’s the primary need that my current online training courses fill. Those courses provide an excellent foundation and an equivalent level of knowledge for most of the topics required for PMI-ACP but it’s more focused on preparing someone to assume a real-world role rather than “exam prep” training
  • After you get the 1,500 hours of experience, you need to take an exam-prep course before you can take the PMI-ACP® exam. A total of at least 21 hours of training is required to qualify to take the exam. My courses, as they exist now, will satisfy about 7.5 hours of this requirement
  • Finally, it’s important to recognize that getting PMI-ACP® certification doesn’t immediately give someone the skills to get a job. PMI-ACP® certification is a test of general Agile knowledge and is not oriented around qualifying someone to perform a particular role. This is a very controversial topic; but, in general, there is no role for an Agile Project Manager at the team level in an Agile environment, the typical role for an Agile Project Manager would be at a higher enterprise level and PMI-ACP® definitely does not prepare someone for that role. That’s requires additional training beyond the level of PMI-ACP® certification and that’s the need my Advanced Agile PM Training course are designed to satisfy.

It’s very important to recognize that Agile will precipitate a dramatic transformation of the Project Management profession as we know it today and PMI-ACP® certification is a good step in the right direction but I think most people will agree that it’s just a test of general Agile knowledge and doesn’t go far enough to prepare project managers for a specific Agile Project Management role and to address the real challenge that many project managers face of “How do I blend Agile and traditional Project Management” principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation?”

Preparing for the PMI-ACP® Exam

I’ve been engaged in some discussion lately on the PMI-ACP® certification and it caused me to do some research into how I can potentially help people prepare for the PMI-ACP® certification. I was among the earliest group of people to obtain the PMI-ACP® certification three years ago in 2012, I’ve published three books on Agile Project Management, and I’ve developed a number of online training courses on Agile Project Management. All of that effort has been focused around helping project managers successfully make the transition to a real-world Agile Project Management role and not specifically focused on helping people prepare for the PMI-ACP® exam; however, I do realize that having certifications can be valuable to help people get a job so I decided to do some analysis to see what, if anything, I could do to help people prepare for PMI-ACP certification.

First, let me explain my philosophy with regard to certifications in general. A lot of people chase after certifications to build up their resume. They cram for taking certification exams using a lot of rote memorization and focus on simply passing the exam. I’m not an advocate of that approach. I believe that the right approach is to build your knowledge and skills through training, self-directed study, and on-the-job experience to gain a solid foundation of the knowledge needed to do the job; and then, as a second step, take the certification exam to validate that you really do have the knowledge that you think you have.

Passing a certification exam should not be an end-in-itself in my opinion…developing the knowledge and skills to do the job is what’s important and a certification exam can be a good way of validating that you do have the knowledge and skills. One of the problems with the PMI-ACP exam; however, is it isn’t oriented around a particular job – it’s more of a test of general knowledge associated with Agile and Lean and isn’t really directly associated with a specific job role. That’s a very important consideration to recognize that getting through PMI-ACP® doesn’t really directly qualify you for a specific job. The role that an Agile Project Manager plays in the real world is not well-defined and it is even somewhat controversial among some Agile people that there is a role for an Agile Project Manager at all. I sat in on a presentation by a very well-known Agile consultant and book author a few years ago who made the statement that “An Agile Project Manager is an Oxymoron”.

There are a lot of PMI-ACP® exam prep courses out there but I’ve taken a different approach. I specifically didn’t want to develop an “exam prep” course for the reasons I mentioned above. I decided instead to focus on better defining the actual roles that an Agile Project Manager might play in the real world and designing online training around helping people prepare for those roles. My “Mastering Agile Project Management” course, for example, has a lot of material that defines the potential roles an Agile Project Manager is likely to play and some actual case studies showing how those roles are implemented in real world situations. That isn’t really an “exam prep” course per se, but I think it helps someone develop into a role to get the real world experience needed to qualify to take the certification exam.

Don’t forget that one of the requirements to take the PMI-ACP® exam is that someone has at least 2,000 hours of project management experience; and, in addition to that, has at least 1,500 hours working in an Agile environment. I think that’s a good requirement and it’s specifically designed to prevent someone from going out and cramming to get through the exam based primarily on rote memorization of information.

So, over the past few days, I did a gap analysis to compare the information in my online Agile Project Management courses to the material that is covered in the PMI-ACP® exam. To do that analysis, I looked at:

  • The PMI-ACP® Examination Content Outline
  • The outlines of several PMI-ACP® exam preparation courses
  • Mike Grifiths’ book PMI-ACP® Exam Prep Book
  • Plus numerous other books that are on the recommended reading list to prepare for the exam and many others I consider essential that are not on that list at all but should be (like latest book, The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile)
  • What I found from this analysis was that the material required for the PMI-ACP® exam fell into two categories:

    1. Information that is generally useful in an actual real-world Agile Project Management role, and
    2. Information that may have little or no value in the real world, but you have to know because it might be on the exam. Examples of information in this category include:
      • How many people really practice earned value management in an Agile environment?
      • How many people really do an elaborate quantitative value analysis based on NPR, IRR, etc. to optimize the value stream of an Agile project?

    The results of that analysis convinced me that:

    • I already cover most of the topics in category #1 above (topics that are really important in the real world); however, there are a few items that I think have real-world value that will further enhance my Agile Project Management courses. So, over the next few weeks, I will be beefing up my courses to more thoroughly cover those additional areas. The good news is that anyone who is currently enrolled in my courses or has taken my courses in the past will get the benefit of this new information at no additional cost.
    • I definitely don’t want to try to make my courses into an “exam prep” course because I would have to bog down the student in a lot of the information that is in category #2 above because it might be on the exam, even though it may have little or no real-world value
    • If you’re thinking about going for PMI-ACP® certification, my recommendation is don’t do it just to “get your ticket punched” that you have the certification. First go out and get the knowledge and experience required to fill an Agile Project Management role in the real world and then use the PMI-ACP® to validate that you do have that knowledge. The courses I’ve developed are not “exam prep” courses, but they are very well-aligned with that strategy which I think is a good strategy to pursue. When you do get to that point that you do have the knowledge and experience to take the exam, there are a number of resources to help you prepare to take the exam. In particular, I think Mike Griffiths’ book is a good resource but passing the exam and getting the certification shouldn’t be an end-in-itself. That’s only the final step in proving that you have successfully acquired that real-world knowledge and experience.

      Here’s a short video that explains how my courses can help you prepare to develop the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for PMI-ACP® certification:

      Preparing for the PMI-ACP Certification and Beyond,/p>

      It’s important to recognize that Agile is going to cause a major transformation of the project management profession over a period of time and I don’t think that anyone (including PMI) has figured out what the full impact of that transformation will be over time and the PMI-ACP® is only the first step towards making that transformation. It is a good certification and it is a step in the right direction but it is only a test of general Agile knowledge and doesn’t address the primary challenge that many project managers face of learning how to blend Agile and traditional project management principles and practices together in the right proportions to fit a given situation. That’s the challenge my courses are designed to address.

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level

One of the criticisms I’ve heard often about Agile/Scrum is that people do it “mechanically” – sometimes, they rigidly and dogmatically implement Scrum “by the book”. That’s very ironic because it’s the opposite of what was intended by the Agile Manifesto (remember “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”). That shouldn’t be surprising – you can get a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificate by sitting through a two-day course and many people never go beyond that level of training.

In my opinion, to develop a high-performance Agile/Scrum approach that is dynamic and adaptable to a broad range of situations, you have to go beyond doing it “mechanically by the book” and understand the principles and values behind it at a deeper level. This becomes particularly important when you try to scale Agile/Scrum to larger and more complex enterprise-level projects.

I’ve developed a new online training course to help fill this need and I’m offering this course at a discounted price of $10 for anyone who wants to take it during the month of June. Here’s a brief video summary of this new online training course:

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level Video Summary

You can find more information on this course plus the discount coupon code on this blog site training page:

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level Course Information

If you’re interested in certification, this course should be excellent preparation for the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification. I think the PSM certification is more rigorous than CSM and it recognizes that training and development should be an ongoing process beyond simply sitting through a one-time, two-day training course.

What is Systems Thinking and Why is it Important?

I’m an engineer at heart. I’ve been trained to analyze problems objectively and come up with well-thought-out solutions. That approach comes naturally to me but it is something that needs to be learned and reinforced. Here’s a dialog I had with my wife that illustrates this:

Wife: I will never buy another *Brand X* washing machine again!

Me: Why is that?

Wife: The clothes don’t smell fresh!

What’s wrong with that picture? People often rush to judgment like that without fully analyzing a situation and/or make a hasty assessment based on some kind of personal bias that’s not very objective. Think about it – in this situation, there are many things that might cause the clothes to not smell fresh so it’s probably premature to blame the washing machine and all models of washing machines built by *Brand X* so quickly but people do that all the time.

“Systems Thinking” is a framework for looking at something as a “system” and understanding how all the components of that system contribute to achieving whatever result it is supposed to accomplish. For example, the process of washing clothes in a washing machine depends on the type of detergent, type of fabric softener, the need to operate the washing machine properly, and the need to clean the washing machine drum periodically, etc. to achieve the desired result of having fresh-smelling clothes. For a more detailed definition of what “Systems Thinking” is, check out this blog post I wrote some time ago:

Systems Thinking

“Systems Thinking” is a powerful tool I learned a long time ago when I first read Peter Senge’s book: “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” in the 1990’s. That has been a very powerful tool for me that I’ve used over-and-over again in many situations.

The practice of systems thinking can be complex – you can use the phrase to refer to a set of tools – such as causal loop diagrams, stock and flow diagrams and simulation models – that help us map and explore dynamic complexity. “For example, systems thinkers often describe the world in terms of reinforcing and balancing processes, limits, delays, patterns of behavior over time, and so forth.” – Barry Richmond, isee systems, inc.

However, Without adding a lot of complexity, a lot can be gained from simply developing a unique perspective on reality – a perspective that sharpens our awareness of the whole and of how the parts within those wholes interrelate. The biggest obstacle to systems thinking; however, is our tendency to over-simplify something that is complex to force-fit it into binary, black-and-white terms rather than trying to understand the complexity of it at a deeper level. My wife’s emotional reaction to the washing machine is an example of that. Her instant reaction was that it must be that *@!# washing machine and I’ll never buy another washing machine like that again!

Here’s an example from a LinkedIn discussion I recently participated in that is more directly relevant to the subject of Agile Project Management:

“Ultimately Project Management is a type X/violent approach to delivery. Where Lean/Agile is a type Y/non-violent approach to delivery”

What’s wrong with that statement? It makes a very broad-based assessment of what “project management is based on some very biased opinions of what project management is and attempts to characterize the whole practice of project management that way. It’s equivalent to my wife’s statement that “I will never buy another *Brand X* washing machine again!”. Anyone who thinks that way will have a very difficult time adopting a true systems thinking approach just as my wife had to adjust her thinking to think about the problem with the washing machine in a broader and more objective perspective. There’s a saying that I think is very relevant to this that says:

“It’s easier to accept a simple myth and move on than it is to take the time to understand complex reality”

As long as people cling on to some of the simply myths and stereotypes that exist about what “project management” is, it will be difficult for them to see “Project Management” and, more specifically, “Agile Project Management” in a fresh new perspective. Another statement made by the same person in the LinkedIn discussion was:

“The term Agile PM is as disconcerting as a Scrum Project Manager”

People like to see things in binary, black-and-white terms and have difficulty seeing the possibility that all project managers might not fit into that stereotype.

I’ve just finished developing a new online training course on “Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level” that includes a module on “Systems Thinking” because I believe it is very important to Agile Project Management. The new course also has a lot of material on the principles and values behind both Agile and Scrum that I think will help people see things in a fresh new perspective based on a deeper understanding of Agile and Scrum beyond just the “mechanics” of basic Scrum practices. This new course will help people take a systems thinking approach to understand Agile and Scrum at a deeper level and see it in a broader perspective of how it fits within a business enterprise as a whole. This new course is in final review now and should be released within the next week. You can view a brief video summary of the course here:

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level – Video Course Summary

I am offering this new course for a limited amount of time for only $10. You can find information on this offer at the following location:

http://managedagile.com/training-courses/

Advanced Agile Project Management Training

As many of you who have been following my blog post realize, I’m very passionate about closing the gap between the project management community and the Agile community and helping people see these two approaches as complementary rather than competitive. To that end, I’ve published three books on Agile Project Management and I’ve written over 60 articles in this blog site. However, I’m determined to go beyond that and develop an online training curriculum that condenses a lot of that knowledge into a well-organized set of training courses that are easy to follow and understand. There are several needs that I’m trying to satisfy with those courses:

  1. Project Managers – Many project managers are unsure about the impact of Agile on the project management profession as well as on their own career direction.

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    A key objective of the training I’ve developed is to help project managers develop a more adaptive approach to project management that integrates Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation. I do not believe that traditional plan-driven project principles and practices are obsolete and no longer needed; however, I do believe that any project manager who only knows how to do traditional plan-driven project management will be very limited in the not-too-distant future.

  2. Business Managers – Many project managers are a product of the environment that they work in and their organization’s management approach is heavily rooted in a plan-driven approach to project management.
    • The organization expects project managers to take charge of projects and to do whatever is needed to manage and control a project to make it successful. If a project is in trouble or fails, the project manager is the one held responsible. Naturally, that would tend to lead a project manager to take a “command-and-control” approach to managing projects.
    • There is also typically a heavy emphasis on management of project costs and schedules and a project that goes significantly over its schedule and cost goals is likely to be regarded as a failure. That would also naturally tend to favor a “Waterfall” approach where the project locks in the requirements upfront and does not encourage making changes once the project is in progress.

    A project manager who works in that kind of environment will have difficulty developing a more adaptive approach to project management if that isn’t consistent with what the organization expects of him/her. Many of these organizations see it as a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and think they have to force-fit their business and projects to one of those extremes and they’re scared to death of adopting an Agile approach for fear of totally dismantling their existing management systems and completely losing control of their business.

    That’s a key reason why I developed the “Making Agile Work for Your Business” course so that project managers who are stuck in that kind of environment can use that training to influence their organization to understand how to fit an Agile Project Management approach to any business environment.

  3. Agile Teams – You might ask, “Why would an Agile team need to know anything about ‘project management’?” The answer to that question may not be obvious but there are several good reasons why Agile teams need to learn how to integrate some level of project management principles and practices into their work.
    • There’s a common misconception that “project management” isn’t required in an Agile project at the team level because you typically won’t find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” at that level. The truth is that there is still a need for “project management”; it’s just a much more adaptive approach to “project management” and the “project management” functions are distributed among the members of the team rather than being performed by one individual with the title of “Project Manager”. Even a developer or a tester on an Agile team has some very basic project management responsibilities for planning and managing their own tasks and collaboratively working with the rest of the team to integrate all of the work of the team around a common goal.
    • Many projects require some level of predictability and control in addition to being Agile. A good example of that is an Agile contracting situation where it is essential to manage a customer’s expectations regarding costs and schedules in addition to being agile.
    • Many people on an Agile team have been thrust into the role that they’re in with little or know training at all. They may know something about the “mechanics” of how to do Agile and Scrum but they typically may have no project management background at all and they may even see “project management” as inconsistent with an Agile development approach. My courses will also help people on Agile teams see this in a broader perspective and learn how to integrate an appropriate level of “project management” focus into their efforts on an Agile team.

The effort required to develop a training curriculum on Agile Project Management to meet these needs has been significant; however, I’m pleased do announce that I can begin to “see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

  • Video Overview – Over the past week, I’ve completed a video that provides an overview of how all the courses I’ve been developing fit together around the overall vision I’ve been developing for Agile Project Management. You can check that video out here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ospxWEnCWg

  • New Advanced Agile Project Management Course – I’ve also completed the outline for the final primary course in this series which will be called “Advanced Agile Project Management”. You can check that out here:

    Advanced Agile Project Management Course Outline

You can find more details on all of my training courses here:

Agile Project Management Training Curriculum

I would welcome any feedback and inputs on these courses and the overall direction and strategy behind them. I’ve tried to take an agile approach to developing this material by taking an incremental and iterative approach to doing the development and relying heavily on user feedback and inputs all along the way.

Modifying and Extending Agile/Scrum

I recently participated in a discussion on LinkedIn that was initiated by someone who suggested several possible roles for a Business Analyst in Agile/Scrum that didn’t seem consistent with Agile principles at all. I believe that Agile/Scrum can and should be modified and extended as necessary to fit the situation, but it has to be done intelligently and I think it takes some skill to figure out what makes sense and what doesn’t.

We all know that there are Agile “zealots” who insist on rigid adherence to doing Agile/Scrum “by the book” without any deviation. On the other hand, there are people who “wing it” and treat Agile/Scrum practices like a “cafeteria menu” where you can pick and choose the principles and practices you want to adopt and which ones to ignore. Neither one of those approaches makes sense in my opinion but there’s a lot of “gray area” between those extremes. So, how do you determine what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense? I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that question but here’s some guidelines that I think are useful.

  • There’s a big difference between:
    1. Taking a proven framework like Scrum and modifying it and extending it in a way that is consistent with Agile principles and practices, and
    2. Just starting from scratch ignoring Scrum and all other Agile methodologies, principles, and practices and attempting to put together some kind of ad-hoc approach
  • There’s an analogy to the martial arts that I think fits pretty well. There are a variety of different kinds of martial arts but they all have some similarity and they all require some level of knowledge, proficiency, and discipline in how they’re practiced to be good at it. You don’t just go out and start doing martial arts without any training and experience to know how to do it. Check out this article I wrote on “Stages of Mastery in Agile”.

    http://managedagile.com/2014/06/13/levels-of-mastery-in-agile/

    It is based on a model of stages of maturity in martial arts called “Shu-ha-ri”:

    http://managedagile.com/2013/07/17/agile-and-lesssons-learned-from-martial-arts/

    The essence of the “Shu-ha-ri” martial arts philosophy is that you should be at a level of proficiency before you start improvising and “improvisation without knowledge and proficiency is just amateurism”. I think that is also very applicable to Agile. It takes a considerable amount of skill to figure out how to modify and extend Scrum and other Agile methodologies to fit a given situation.

The key message is that people shouldn’t underestimate the level of skill it takes to modify and extend an Agile/Scrum approach to fit a given situation. That’s a key advantage of some predefined frameworks like SAFe but, on the other hand, even with some of the predefined frameworks, it takes some skill to adapt an Agile approach to fit a business and there is no “silver bullet”.