project manager with a kanban board desk behind him, implementing an agile marketing process.
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The digital revolution is changing every aspect of the workplace, but few jobs will be reshaped as fundamentally as those in the project management office (PMO). Gartner predicts that by 2030, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will perform as much as 80% of the PMO’s traditional day-to-day work, such as data collection, tracking and reporting. That sounds ominous, but it’s a positive development for PMO professionals who embrace the new responsibility of helping teams outside the IT department implement agile methodologies.

Organizations are striving to become more agile in order to deliver value to their customers on a recurring, faster timeline. They are focusing more on products vs. projects, measuring progress based on outcomes vs. deadlines, and empowering teams by holding them accountable for a goal vs. telling them what tasks to undertake. Many are already operating in a hybrid state as they adopt agile gradually. Some parts of the enterprise, or some of the processes or projects, are agile, while others are waterfall. Agile is typically adopted first at the team level (execution) and is not being mandated or supported from the top down.

Agile Is Reshaping the PMO Role

The rise of agile is also reshaping the PMO role. A recent Project Management Institute survey of project management directors discovered that agile was the top skill sought by management — 67% requested use of this rapid, flexible approach to development. What happens to the PMO, as the current process of traditional planning efforts that occur annually become less and less relevant, and the need to track the value being delivered at any given moment becomes more and more important?

The answer is that the PMO role must expand beyond the limits of IT departments to incorporate PM needs across the entire organization. Consider that more than 72% already manage all major projects within the company; not just IT projects. Their expanded charter has resulted in a need to go beyond the traditional Project Portfolio Management (PPM) processes and tools they’ve been using in order to support teams that have traditionally not included a trained project manager (e.g., within marketing, IT teams, “lightweight” development teams, HR, legal, sales).

The PMO must also contend with the shadow IT trend that used to be primarily an IT administrator’s headache. Years ago, employees started insisting on using their own iPhones and laptops instead of IT-issued equipment so they could get work done anytime, anywhere. More recently, individuals and teams have adopted communications, collaboration and file storage/sharing tools without the PMO’s permission (or even knowledge). This has created silos that stunt the organization’s progress to becoming more agile, and increases the risk of suffering a devastating data breach. 

Related Article: A Look at the Most Common Project Management Methodologies

PMOs Will Play a Critical Part in Digital Transformation

PMO professionals need to walk the line between driving their organizations’ agile journeys without being perceived as obstructionist bureaucratic overlords who force a narrow set of tools and best practices on all teams. Fortunately, more executives are encouraging PMOs to assume this role of change agent. A Forbes Insight/PMI survey of 537 executives across the globe revealed that nearly 90% of execs are convinced that “the PMO will play an increasingly critical part in digitally transforming organizations.”

Nurturing and cementing this support requires the PMO to use their unique vantage point into all of their companies’ various pursuits to ensure everyone is following the strategic course the executive teams have set. The PMO role allows them to monitor the status of all of the different projects underway, and keep the executive team abreast on what’s progressing smoothly and where issues have arisen.

Yes, agile requires empowering teams to manage their own workflows in order to achieve productivity gains. But PMOs must remain responsible for assessing and reassessing the status of every project, alert teams and leaders if they’re falling behind or at risk of missing goals, and spot opportunities to make systems and processes more efficient and effective.

As the rate of change in the business world accelerates, the project management office will play an increasingly central and increasingly visible role in keeping the company adroit and agile. PMOs have the opportunity to demonstrate that they can be invaluable agents of change. By spearheading a company-wide drive for greater agility and better communication, PMOs will help ensure that individual projects succeed and take a lead role in keeping everyone focused on the company’s broader mission and strategic goals.