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

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.