Hatch or Go Bad – Agile and Enterprise PMO Legacy Processes

By · January 29, 2013 · Filed in Agile and Project Management Series

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

C.S. Lewis (novelist, critic, poet)

Development Teams Drive Agile Adoption

In our experience the driving force behind agile adoption in most organizations has been a development team or teams.

These teams adopt an agile development methodology and generally see good benefits; with better outcomes (higher quality solutions and improved customer satisfaction) and improvements in their own job satisfaction (and less stress as workloads even out due to the natural delivery cadence).

What Development Teams Experience

Good benefits, but not great benefits, and certainly not the game changing benefits that they may have secretly, or even openly, been hoping for. Such game changing benefits can only occur when agility extends to the rest of the enterprise.

What these agile teams are almost universally encountering is a drag factor from their existing legacy project management processes. These processes are very often directly at odds with the core tenants of agile methodologies. This is not to cast aspersions on these processes or on the PMO teams; they were put in place for good reasons after all. However, they were implemented in order to manage a completely different development methodology and as such there should be no expectation that they would still be applicable.

Some common characteristics of these PMO legacy processes are:

  1. Projects are typically managed with a “big up front” (BUF) approach. A BUF business case with a BUF project plan is required for project approval and precedes the BUF requirements document production which precedes analysis and design…well, you get the idea!
  2. Project progress is measured according to the BUF project plan via tracking the status of artifact production, which according to the plan should be completed sequentially.
  3. Change is discouraged (under the assumption that the BUF plan and requirements must be correct) and a heavy, burdensome process exists to manage any change that is deemed unavoidable.
  4. Team members are allocated to projects based on the expected contribution of their “role”.  Furthermore they are measured on output and artifacts associated only with their “role”.
Gains of the Team are Lost in Translation

The effect of this difference between the nature of adopted agile methodology and the governance model being utilized, is that a portion of the productivity gains realized by the development team’s agility is being literally lost in translation and another portion is being lost to negotiation.

The team spends time translating their iterative and incremental delivery of real functioning, potentially shippable, software into the project status percentages required by the legacy project plan.

They also spend time negotiating exceptions to the legacy process; getting permission to proceed to development before all requirements are 100% completed, getting permission to embrace change and streamline (or by-pass) the change management process, getting permission to keep a cross functional team in place despite the expectation of “roles”.

The good news is that the adoption of an agile methodology at the development team level is an excellent place to begin the migration to a more agile SDLC. It will be much easier to convince your PMO and your executives that there are benefits to adopting enterprise agility when you have:

  • A proven track record of development teams increasing their productivity and/or client satisfaction via agility.
  • Management’s experience with the big, highly visible, simple and clear communication of status that is readily available via iteration burn-down charts, task boards and release burn-up charts.
  • Demonstrable impediments that are preventing the teams from achieving the next level of agility (i.e. those specific PMO processes encountered that are adding work but not value) and a project manager who not only comes away with direct experience of the positive outcomes of an agile project, but equally important, with first-hand knowledge of the mismatch between the legacy processes and the governance required for agile projects.

C.S. Lewis was correct. Enterprises can’t go on indefinitely being ordinary decent eggs either. Legacy project management and reporting processes are some of the shells that must be broken in order to have our enterprise be able to spread its agility wings and learn to fly.

Mark Dickey
Partner, Web Financial Solutions
Creating high performance software teams
(519) 673-8145

Web Financial Solutions provides expert Software Development Life Cycle process improvement.

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