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AgileThe transition from traditional waterfall development to agile development doesn’t occur overnight and, as a result, most organizations find themselves working in both methodologies for at least some period of time. That’s not a bad thing, as an incremental adoption plan reduces both business risk and disruption. To make the process as seamless as possible, it is imperative that you plan for cooperation and collaboration between the agile teams and your project management office (PMO).

Typically, the PMO continues to follow waterfall processes while development teams move forward with the new agile processes. Unless the relationship between the PMO and the agile teams is carefully managed, tensions and conflicts will arise, taking a toll on productivity and morale.

As project managers, we focus on ensuring that schedules and milestones are met as the organization marches forward with an agreed-upon plan. The agile teams, in contrast, will focus on delivering the best product they can, as quickly as they can, amid shifting priorities.

In our experience, the differing mandates that guide the two groups almost always lead to conflict. Similar conflicts often arise with other schedule-driven groups, such as compliance or audit, so this tension is by no means unique to the PMO.

Battles between the PMO and agile teams not only create distractions that interfere with work, but they also can lead developers to begin “sandbagging,” or creating exaggerated estimates of the time required to complete elements of a project. While sandbagging assures the development teams that they’ll hit their numbers and keep the PMO happy, it reduces productivity, which costs money, slows time to market, and defeats the purpose of the changes we’re enacting in this transformation.

We’ve found that there are a number of change management initiatives that organizations can take to defuse tensions and keep projects on track. Among them:

Mapping. Waterfall stakeholders may feel that, as the organization moves to agile, they will lose control over projects. Control mechanisms do exist in agile; it’s a matter of finding them and mapping them to the control mechanisms that exist in waterfall.

We’ve sat down with representatives of PMO, audit, and compliance and evaluated their current state processes in order to identify the most important aspects of those processes. We ask, “Where do they need the greatest degree of control?” Then, we map these to the ceremonies (or meetings), processes, and touchpoints that are part of agile development, giving waterfall stakeholders desired controls within an agile context.

Another concern we’ve encountered is that the PMO’s traditional focus on the triple constraints (scope, time, and budget) disappears in an agile environment. This is a false perception; in fact, the same constraints apply in the agile environment, but there are new ways of looking at them and getting the data you need regarding them. In most cases, we find that PMO, audit, and compliance stakeholders actually gain greater visibility and more frequent visibility in an agile environment.

Communicating. We’ve found it helpful to create an active plan of communication that includes traditional waterfall stakeholders such as the PMO, agile team members, and the agile product management organization. This isn’t just a matter of introducing the players and holding status meetings; rather, it involves mapping all the ceremonies and other means by which information is made available, and then including all stakeholders in the appropriate steps. This helps the entire organization learn to work together toward the future state agile processes and provides updates and insights into the process while moving everyone along the agile spectrum.

Engaging. One of the most important steps is making sure that the PMO feels like it is an important part of the process, and not that it is being dragged forward or that its reason for being is in jeopardy. The PMO has had tremendous authority in the traditional waterfall environment, but that environment is now changing. PMO stakeholders need to know that they are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Engagement reduces roadblocks and increases collaboration. Involving these stakeholders in the steering committee that oversees agile adoption makes the PMO part of the process.

Although all three of these steps can help organizations reduce the tensions that accompany agile transformation, every organization is unique. The key is to be flexible and listen. Identify the organization’s pain points, as well as the expectations and desires of the different players, and then select an approach. As you craft a solution, keep in mind that it will need to evolve over time so that you can continue to reap the rewards of your agile transformation.

About the Author

Dennis Bowne

Dennis Bowne is a Principal at CapTech based out of the Richmond, VA office. Dennis has provided account management, IT leadership, and operational support over his 10 years with CapTech. In addition to his role managing projects for financial services, IT, and application development projects, he has played a significant role in operations support and development within CapTech’s service offerings. He founded the User Experience service offering, helped establish the IT Program Management Office, and provides business development and strategic support for multiple client accounts. Dennis is also an Agile Coach and leads CapTech's Agile Transformation services, providing guidance on Scrum, Kanban, and Scaled Agile practices to multiple organizations.