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What is Agile Program Management?

Agile + Program Management = Agile Program Management. Easy, right? Not so much. Agile Program Management means different things to different people. It could mean the management of multiple Agile projects (“the scrum of scrums“); it could mean something as challenging as implementing the Scaled Agile Framework; it could be as simple as implementing daily […]

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September 05, 2014

Agile + Program Management = Agile Program Management. Easy, right?

Not so much.

Agile Program Management means different things to different people. It could mean the management of multiple Agile projects (“the scrum of scrums“); it could mean something as challenging as implementing the Scaled Agile Framework; it could be as simple as implementing daily stand-ups for program managers.

So what does it mean?

You know what Agile is. Agile is a mindset – a way of thinking about software development. This mindset is gradually being applied to other IT and non-IT business areas – areas like project management.  This mindset embraces change in business environments, encourages reprioritization, adding, or cutting requirements, adjusting timetables, etc.

You know what Program Management is, too. It’s straightforward and commonly understood to be the management of multiple associated projects. In federal contracting, program management means managing the Project Management Office, including financials, risk, security, contracts, acquisition, etc. In private sector contracting, program management often means managing multiple related projects with intersecting goals, requirements, and outcomes.

So what happens when you put Agile and Program Management together?  Agile Program Management is about the following three principles:

  1. Learning the business;
  2. Understanding the team’s specific challenges;
  3. Developing a specific approach to meet your stakeholder’s needs.

Pretty vague, right?  Many PMOs focus solely on check-the-box stuff – things that are required (like status reports and project plans) but don’t solve problems or get results. Agile requires an outcomes-based approach to running a PMO. As a result, our Program Managers solve problems by focusing on value, interacting with people, and adapting to change.

Focus on value seems obvious. It’s not, and if you’ve ever worked in a Federal PMO, you know how hard it is to focus and deliver based on value. Adding value requires a deep appreciation of the business problem and focus on solving that problem. Agile PMOs are structured and run with one objective: to find and deliver value for teams, stakeholders and organizations.

Great. So how do you do that? Here are three key things to know:

1. Collaboration is a key element to successful Agile program management.  The way to learn what matters is by talking to people all the time. Conversations help you understand the problem, set expectations and priorities, as well as create collaboration.  Yet despite this preparation, things change.

2. Priorities are constantly changing – accept it and move with it. Agile PMOs expect change, and can adapt because it uses iterative approaches wherever possible, leading to greater flexibility to handle changes. These kinds of PMOs can change (or pivot) quickly, with fewer speed bumps than with traditional program management.

3. Agile Program Management is hard. Even if you aren’t engaged in an Agile Transformation effort, you can still use the principles of Agile in a traditional PMO. Look for value in every activity, frequently talk to your clients, stakeholders, colleagues, and other interested parties, and help them adapt by planning for and embracing change.

Are you running an Agile PMO right now or working in one? Tell us your story!

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