By Aaron Stibel
What, more than anything else, eases the transition from the waterfall world of traditional enterprises to the agile, continuous integration world of today’s fastest-moving companies? Some feel that it is a combination of Product and Engineering teams–and they are right. But often overlooked is the need for a strong Project Management Office (PMO).
A strong PMO? Some of you with a history in software development may think I’ve lost it. The PMO? Those slightly self-important guys and ladies with the massive Gantt Charts? That team whose only job seems to be telling you when you’ve screwed up? That you’re off schedule? That you’re spending too much money? I’ve worked in too many organizations where there was no love lost between the development team and the PMO. So why are there still formal PMOs in so many high-tech companies?
The simplest answer is: as the rest of the software world has changed, so must the PMO. The movement I’m seeing underway is that the PMO is becoming more a partner of the engineering team than it used to be. One reason is that Project Managers are becoming more like engineers. At our company we’ve just hired a woman from a top engineering school as a senior project manager. She knows code. She knows technology. I have spoken and written about how the best engineers must also be good business people. The reverse is true for the PMO.
From Traffic Cop to Collaborator
I originally worked in the government space, selling software I helped create to dozens of state governments. In my experience, over the prior 15 years, PMOs were massive organizations and the epitome of the traffic cop mentality. So I was somewhat surprised to find strong PMOs in high-tech companies. When I took a closer look, I discovered significant differences. The agile PMO is part of the team, and they are technologists. They’ve become part-time architects and a true point of confluence between a very technical development audience and an operations audience that may be concerned about compliance and security and other issues. This is a real sea change and a necessary one, because how could you possibly do agile well without it?
The head of our PMO is an extremely important player to all aspects of our company; relied upon by the executive and product teams as much as by the engineering team. He understands all the moving parts. He sees all projects and is the person that bridges the gaps. Alongside our head of engineering, he helps ensure the engineers aren’t making security or business mistakes as they push code out quickly. The way that agile works, the act of project management will naturally evolve toward more of an engineering role. And as the PMO adapts to this new development environment, they will have made themselves more important, not less so. DevOps has created a larger onus for managers to have engineering degrees and development experience. In traditional organizations, all you had to do to be in the PMO was take the Project Management Professional test.
Today, we don’t have a single project manager on our team that can’t write or at least read code. Not a single one. That’s massively helpful in our organization. In fact, one of our project managers wants to join the data team and start writing SQL full time. That’s the kind of thing that puts a smile on my face, albeit at the expense of the PMO.
For more on DevOps from Aaron Stibel read: The secret ingredient for successful DevOps
Aaron serves as Executive Vice President, Technology of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. Prior to Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., Aaron spent nine years with software company Revenue Solutions Inc. where he co-created DiscoverTax and led technology efforts for multi-billion dollar enterprise data warehousing implementations for government agencies. He additionally led consulting and sales engagements for large-scale enterprise technology implementations ranging from $500K to $250M. Previously, Stibel was a senior technology consultant at Granitar, helping financial services clients develop eCommerce and data strategies, including implementations for Thompson Financial, MindBranch.com, Law.com, Boston.com, and NYT Companies. Stibel began his career at business consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers in the Strategic Change Business Unit. He holds a BS in Computer Science from The Johns Hopkins University.