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5 Core Principles For The Agile Project Management Office (PMO)

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Although Agile has long been recognized as a formal guide to software development, the principles it was built on are ideal for improving a wide range of projects.

Adopting an agile PMO framework, for example, can help minimize project delays and reduce the disparity between stakeholder requirements and outcomes – improving customer satisfaction dramatically.

Despite 11.4 percent of investment being wasted due to poor project performance, the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2020 suggests that professionals at organizations delivering the greatest value include a customer-centered approach in their strategy mix.

What does that mean for you?

By following agile, customer-forward best practices, your PMO may find it easier to:

  • adapt to changes quickly and effectively
  • improve process efficiency
  • perk up project performance levels

One of the best things about operating an agile PMO is the opportunity it presents to leverage flexible, collaborative tactics and tools to drive faster, better quality results – especially in projects where frequent change is the norm.

In this article, we’ll examine 5 core principles for supporting teams to execute with agility, as well as agile PMO challenges and solutions managers should know about when running agile projects.

Becoming an Agile PMO: Challenges & Benefits

Agile project management relies heavily on integrating planning with execution so your team can respond to changing requirements as part of the process.

With that in mind, running an agile project means committing to:

  • Speedy, intermittent results
  • A high level of flexibility
  • A collaborative mindset (especially where your clients are concerned)

The idea is to encourage a culture in which change is welcome, the customer is the focus, and shifting targets are reached through constant course-correction.

Unlike more traditional approaches, the Association for Project Management describes agile project management as being driven by vision: your team starts out in a broad direction, adjusts to changing conditions along the way, and meets their overriding project goal incrementally.

Agile PMO benefits

By adopting agile principles like the ones described here, your PMO stands to benefit from:

  • Greater team empowerment and accountability
  • Increased diversity of ideas
  • A culture of continuous improvement

And because agile practices include exploring various routes and decisions on the way to a final solution, you can take advantage of project visualization tools like MindManager to create important feedback loops.

Flexible, interactive idea maps, process maps, and workflow systems, for example, not only allow your team to explore different directions simultaneously, they make it easier to accommodate change requests “on the fly”.

Now let’s take a look at 5 core agile principles you can use to run projects more efficiently, along with some of the biggest agile PMO challenges and their solutions.

Core principle #1 – Stakeholder involvement is crucial to satisfactory outcomes

Want to mitigate the risk of inconsistent project success? The number one principle for achieving greater agility – and better project outcomes, as a result – is actively involving your stakeholders.

Unlike fixed approaches, where the customer may only see the final solution at the end of your project, an agile framework is based on:

  • Delivering early and ongoing results at regular intervals
  • Gathering feedback on those deliverables
  • Making continuous tweaks driven by customer input

The Biggest Challenge: How to engage stakeholders as part of your overall process.

Leaving customers in the dark isn’t just a recipe for frustration at their end, it makes incorporating change requests after the fact that much more difficult.

The Solution: Your customer needs to be part of your team. Keep them in the loop by taking a step-by-step approach to project deliverables, punctuated by ongoing communication.

Using a visual flowchart, for example, will make it easier to lay out the requirements, objectives, tests, and quality checks at each stage of your process and see where updates will need to be shared. You should also make it the responsibility of every team member to promptly address customer concerns and suggestions.

Core principle #2 – Flexible task chunking speeds up the project management process

Chunking bigger steps into smaller tasks doesn’t just have the potential to speed up their completion, it provides a flexible project framework when change is required.

Committing to a structured plan only makes it harder to accommodate change requests and meet your deadlines. By setting out with just a rough idea of what’s required – and a plan to clarify those requirements as the project progresses – your agile PMO will be better prepared to:

  • Use customer feedback to set new task milestones
  • Identify and avoid potential work bottlenecks
  • Make adjustments at any point in the process

The Biggest Challenge: How to respond to change requests efficiently, while avoiding delays.

What would happen, for example, if a stakeholder were to suddenly demand extra product features, mid-project?

The Solution: Rather than using a rigid or text-heavy system to lay out your plan, take advantage of a flexible project management solution to break job requirements into smaller, prioritized pieces.

Software like MindManager not only lets you build time and cost considerations into your process, you can set warning indicators at various stages for whenever limit values are exceeded or not met.

Core principle #3 – Fast, frequent deliverables are mandatory

Customer engagement and task chunking play neatly into the third core agility principle: delivering fast and furious project results.

An agile approach is especially well-suited to projects destined to unfold:

  • Over a relatively short period of time
  • In natural, distinct waves
  • With each stage defined by a new deliverable

Agile projects typically follow a repetitive, sequential process where the start point for each new phase is determined by the outcome of the previous one. One big side-benefit, as a result, is the way an agile framework encourages team members to regularly ramp up their performance.

The Biggest Challenge: How to stick to the short deliverable timeframe attached to each new stage of your project.

The Solution: Look to a proven, agile-based project methodology like Scrum or Lean to help keep your project on track.

By having your team work in short bursts (or sprints) up to a few weeks in length – and then repeating the process – you can ensure regular delivery of viable, working solutions and a fully refined product at the end of your process.

Core principle #4 – Collaboration drives greater agility

Frequent collaboration by everyone involved is even more critical for keeping agile projects moving in the right direction than it is for traditional methods.

Efficient feedback loops play a key role in an agile environment. So it’s important to establish strong, communication-driven working relationships – especially between stakeholders and the team members delivering results.

An agile PMO is also more likely to make better decisions when departments are aligned and in contact daily.

The Biggest Challenge: How to keep business, technical, and stakeholders involved at every stage of your project, so you can incorporate input quickly and deliver true value.

The Solution: Taking advantage of collaborative tools and platforms – especially those designed to enhance project management – is the easiest way to streamline your outcomes.

For example, if you don’t use one already, you might consider boosting team collaboration with the help of a project management tool that integrates data and timeline visualization with communication, reporting, and task management.

Core principle #5 – Team empowerment yields better performance

Another element that sets agile projects apart is their reliance on empowered teams to ensure the delivery of value. There’s a particular focus on benefits that can be achieved when engaged, accountable team members share information and learn from their own, and each other’s experiences.

The best solutions are often developed when teams are self-organized, and individual project participants:

  • Are both skilled and motivated
  • Communicate and brainstorm ideas on a regular basis
  • Take ownership of their work

The Biggest Challenge: How to promote self-organization within project teams.

As difficult as it can sometimes be to grant the necessary freedom, your team will have a tough time self-organizing if you don’t enable a shift from control to consensus.

The Solution: To maximize team performance, your PMO may have to commit to some behavioral changes. Those in management roles, for example, will need to both lead and serve with their teams.

Empowering team members with the ability to make decisions, meanwhile, will help you:

  • Spread out responsibility, taking the pressure off individual managers
  • Encourage the commitment and accountability necessary to consistently meet goals and satisfy customers
  • Set up and maintain a system of continuous improvement

What might be most impressive about the core principles involved in running agile projects is the way they lay the groundwork for learning from past mistakes and heightening performance.

There’s a lot to be gained as an agile PMO professional by sitting down with your team on a regular basis and openly discussing ways you might strengthen everything from technical and managerial skills, to project techniques and processes.

PM Today Contributor
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