Difference between running a PMO in waterfall vs Agile organization


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Before we get into specifics of how PMOs are run in these two methodologies, let us review what is a Project Management Office (PMO).

As per PMBOK 6th edition, PMO is defined as an organization structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques. The responsibilities of a PMO can range from providing project management support functions to the direct management of one or more projects.

Every organization defines or refines their PMO model, structure and responsibilities as per their needs and maturity.As Waterfall has been used for a while, it’s easily accepted in the organizations but Agile is still unknown to most organizations. That’s where PMO plays an important role to make organization management and executives be made aware of both benefits and challenges.

When it comes to managing PMO in Waterfall compared to Agile, these are some of the differences at a high level.

1. Managing golden triangle: In waterfall, it uses a standard definition of a project where you have a start and end date (timelines), fixed budget (resources), and scope. PMO/PM uses metrics centered around these to monitor and control the project. A detailed project plan in a tool like MS Project allows to monitor timelines and the deliverables (scope). In MS Project 2016, it has enhanced features to manage budget & resources as well. Whereas in agile, although you may or may not have a target date; the end goal is a deliverable. Finances can be fluid as they vary depending on many factors in a sprint or sprints like need of specific resources, size of the deliverable (if it can’t be broken down into smaller units) etc. Metrics like burndown charts and velocity are the most common ones to monitor & control. Tools like Version 1 and Rally give dashboard kind of capability which PMO utilizes to monitor and control.

2. Tracking Project artifacts: PMO makes sure that project artifacts are done and completed as per the PMO standards. In waterfall, you have project charter, project management plan including project plan, scope document, schedule, budget, communication and stakeholder plans, risk and issue management plan, test strategy plan, go live plan, post go live plan, and lessons learned. Most of these documents first have to be approved by set of authorities in order to move forward. Microsoft Project is the most used tool to create a detailed project plan. In agile, there are fewer artifacts but they are updated and maintained almost on a daily basis. Sprint & release planning is done between the product manager, scrum master, and the team which sort of gives end date of the project but it can change. Newer tools like Version 1, Rally etc. are great platforms to create sprints and then view them in a dashboard form. It would have each sprint with tentative start and end date. As product and backlogs are developing, these sprints can be populated with the information. At each sprint, you have a daily log of what you did yesterday, what you’re going to do today, and what the impediments are: burn down charts, velocity view, sprint review and retrospective documents, which a PMO can use to monitor and control. One of the common challenges both in waterfall & agile is, defining the scope or a product backlog. PMO can play a huge role to make sure that scope is within what the initial intent was. In agile, product managers are business PMs who can sometimes cause delays by not providing the proper product backlog or their unavailability. PMO can intervene in such situations.

3. Resource optimization: One of the key responsibilities of a PMO is to provide resources to projects. They negotiate with departments and functional managers for the resources. For waterfall, different resources are required at different stages of the project. A partial resource can be used. For example, a resource can be allocated for just 25%. A resource request can be planned better due to skill sets not needing to be very stringent; whereas in agile, in general an SME is expected as a resource. In a true agile environment, a resource has to be available 100% to the project and must to be an SME. Although, it can require some extra work for the PMO to find such resources. It becomes even more complicated when you have a matrix organization and are geographically dispersed. Once you have that resource, PMO ensures that the resource is almost 100% utilized (capacity planning).

4. Best practices and processes & procedures: According to the PMBOK 6th edition, as part of supportive role of PMO; it provides projects best practices, training, access to information, templates for gathering artifacts etc. In waterfall methodologies, PMs can utilize all these as they become standard practices leading to governance by PMO, practices becoming easier too. In agile, team is constantly evolving and changing as per the retrospect and review recommendations if there are any. As the team matures, practices become more standard; but after the project is over, the new team has to start to all over again. There are very few standardized templates in agile. In both the methodologies, PMO ensures that standardized tools for project management are available and are used.

In conclusion, running a PMO in any environment is hard. With agile the PMO directors need to be little more fluid with documentations and processes and have the trust in the team to do the job right. In Agile environment, PMO directors role is to be a forward thinker and remove impediments before it stops the momentum of the project.

About The Author: Vivek Chaudhary,PMP is a highly successful in leading application software development, infrastructure, and database projects in waterfall and agile/scrum methodologies; working very closely & effectively with C-level executives, cross-functional departments/groups, business units, vendors, outsourced, and offshore teams.