Please Don’t Set Up An Agile PMO

Colin Ellis
3 min readMay 30, 2018

The Program Management Office (PMO) is a product of the early 2000s. They were designed to ‘enforce’ methods to provide consistency of delivery and to ensure that senior managers were given the right information at the right time to make the decisions necessary to deliver against business strategy.

Except, in the majority of cases, that didn’t happen. Worldwide project delivery rates stagnated, and researchers found no proof whatsoever that this approach added even 1% to outcome delivery. Indeed, KPMG in New Zealand found that only 25% of PMOs were effective in supporting change.

The PMO has become a honeypot of framework diagrams, process flows, templates, email reminders and self-important people demanding a ‘seat at the table’. Moreover, I know this because there was a time early in my career in when I was one of these. I forgot everything that made me successful as a project manager and built a fiefdom.

Thankfully, that approach failed, led to me being made redundant and refocused me on what was important in getting things delivered. As comedian Chris Rock once said, ‘If you don’t let failure defeat you, it’s what fuels your future success.’

The fact of the matter is, if you need a central ‘unit’ to tell a project manager to follow a process to build a plan to deliver a project, then you’ve already failed. It should be immediately obvious that that person doesn’t have the right skills to get the job done in the first place and unfortunately, I see a lot of that.

Organisations often confuse compliance with performance management, and then they wonder why nothing ever improves.

The PMO has no place in a future organisation…in its current format.

Those in charge of PMOs need to downsize and reassess the value they provide to a future version of the organisation, to remain relevant.

But this does not mean setting up an ‘Agile PMO’. This is the complete antithesis of what’s required and further proof that empire building, process adherence and names hold sway over what it means to create an organisation that understands that agility in delivery requires much more than that.

Swimlanes should be confined to deep swimming pools and those in PMO roles should concentrate their efforts on simplifying just about every element of execution. To remove roadblocks for teams and to put the emphasis on executives getting more involved and providing their peers with regular verbal updates, rather than producing overly complex ‘governance packs’ that get in the way of decision-making, not make it easier.

This will mean that PMOs need to fundamentally change the way they think of themselves and the service they provide. In the PMO Benchmark report in 2016, PMO Managers saw their top three services as:

  1. Reporting and analysis
  2. Governance
  3. Training

Those who currently have responsibility for PMOs will need to look at how they can better serve the organisation moving forward, by placing greater emphasis on the following things instead:

  1. Helping people across the organisation build a new mindset and (real) skillset that fosters agility of delivery AND thinking
  2. Building talent profiles to facilitate the swift mobilisation of teams
  3. Creating visual spaces were strategic progress can be charted, great ideas or failures can be shared
  4. Being the hub for cultural evolution initiatives
  5. Leading design-thinking (or similar) workshops

Forward-thinking organisations do not need a central group to tell their people how to get the job done or to produce endless pointless reports that nobody reads anyway. They need people who role model what a growth mindset looks like; that know how to communicate; that value getting things delivered swiftly; and who create an environment where teams are allowed the time to concentrate on what’s important.

The new emphasis should be on support, sustain and role model, not command, control and report. If they can’t do that, then, they have to go, regardless of what they call themselves.

To read more on the evolution of project delivery and the five things you can do right now, download the whitepaper from here.



Colin Ellis

Global culture consultant | Best-selling Author | Keynote Speaker | Podcaster | Evertonian | Whisky Lover | Likes to laugh, a lot