PMOs in a Multimodal World. Ray Mead of p3m global debunks BiModal & reconciles Agile & Waterfall.

People have come to realise that Gartner’s polarised 'BiModal' view of the World is too simplistic. In reality the World is not black and white, it is many different shades of grey. It is not Bimodal at all: it is MultiModal.

There is now a whole generation of people that have been indoctrinated into the “Agile Good: Waterfall Bad” way of thinking.

The answer to all your problems, of course, isn’t to make everything go through an Agile process. The whole point of multimodal is that ‘one size no longer fits all.’

So Alistair Cockburn has tried to boil Agile down to its foundations.
Agile isn’t a methodology. Being agile is a trait. It’s a state of mind, a quality to possess, and one that you can weave into your daily work by the way you think, the way you lead and the way you use the governance and the tools around you.

When you think of it this way, even traditional ‘waterfall’ projects can ‘be’ agile. After all, the plumbing is and always has been there….

How do you enter a dark room? You take small steps and you feel around experimentally for the light switch. You don’t take a massive leap into the unknown.

Crucially though, once you find that light switch and turn it on – you can now see ahead of you, so we can now make longer strides across the room to where we are going.

On a spectrum of predictive to adaptive life cycles, then, ‘Agile’ methods are like taking small steps in the dark - taking small risks and able to change direction quickly, whereas plan-driven projects, once planned, should be like having the light on.

The trick for PMOs is to understand how to govern projects in different shades of light.

None of that is new. None if it, is revolutionary. It is and always has been just good project management. Collaborative planning, stakeholder engagement, focus on the business need and the satisfaction of the customer, ability to monitor and control progress, change when required and to forecast as accurately as possible.

So, what can we do?

1. Abandon one size fits all – stop trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes.
And for this I mean either one size traditional or one size Agile. There is no single silver bullet. After all, we have always been taught that every project is unique. So where is the uniqueness in our approach?

2. Embrace portfolio management – especially the appraisal, classification and prioritisation of the pipeline. You are going to need to triage your various projects carefully, because this will dictate the type of governance they go through, the level of project manager needed and even the seniority of sponsor they should have. If the project evolves and becomes more or less clear or complex, don’t be afraid to change gear – that is part of your increased role as a PMO, to advise on such things in the context of the wider portfolio.

3. Take the lead on competence development – so, empowering project managers more requires them to be highly competent. They must be versed in traditional AND agile ways of working and the various tools and governance differences that implies. Low maturity organisations require tight control and supervision but that role should change the more work you have put in in this area. Unless you have teams of specialist PM types always ready to parachute in – multimodal environments need multitalented people and the trust that goes with it.

4. Adopt a toolbox approach. – it’s the same with tools and templates. Rather than dictate a single tool for all work the role of the PMO will be to provide a range of tools for different jobs, while also being able to reconcile all that output to be able to compare apples with apples when presenting Management Information. Which in turn highlight the need to…..

5. Focus on value. – If you truly focus on value then it doesn’t matter how things get done, for you will naturally be doing the right things but this means you’re going to need to change how you measure project performance. In predictive projects then one indicator is still always going to be performance against the approved plan (status, spend, variance etc).

This talk was given for PMI Lithuania in 2020.
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