Saturday, October 31, 2009


I have a visceral negative reaction to the PMO initialism; it stands for Project Management Office. I recently pounced (in an overreacting sort of way) on a colleague who was using this term. Sorry Carl.

I need to explain a bit. It's really all about the "O" - for Office.

"Project Management Office" screams bureaucracy to me. I've never seen an efficient and effective PMO. This is perhaps because most of them seem to be mired in "SDLC" - an oft-used euphemism for "waterfall" (despite it's innocuous spelled out translation: software development life cycle).

I once had to sign off on a 19-page document provided by the PMO to justify the acquisition of two load balancers for a test environment. This document had to be signed by 25 people in a 2000-person company. It was a stunning example of the need to feed the process beast. Some project manager in the PMO - who probably thought this process was necessary - filled out this template. My favorite section of the doc was "Metrics". Ostensibly this section existed to establish the metrics upon which the success of this project would be measured. The PM filling it out, indicated that 2 load balancers would be acquired - as if the number "2" satisfied whatever the template providers had in mind for metrics.

If we want to revamp the bureaucratic, inefficient, ineffective approach currently used for managing software project portfolios (the PMO), I think we need a departure from the term.

I'd love for us to agree to focus on the verb - not the noun. A brief digression:

I see many agile teams who use the iteration planning meeting - IPM - or the "sprint planning meeting" if you subscribe to that religion - as the only time in which the development team is exposed to upcoming work (other than, perhaps, estimation efforts that occurred months ago). I coach teams to treat iteration planning as a "verb": planning - rather than a noun: meeting. The "planning" should occur fluidly - some done in meetings before the IPM (e.g. estimation), some after (e.g. task breakdown).

Project portfolio management (the PPM in the title of this post) implies active engagement in assessing the health of the portfolio. The estimated release date or feature list should be adjusted after every iteration, and approaches need to be introduced to raise awareness of the new projections at least this often.

Let's please talk of project portfolio management, rather than project management offices.