The PMO Coach

Over the last two years our Lean-Agile PMO course has proved to be a very popular course – there are no surprises there, shifting to an agile mindset and working with more development teams who are running their projects based on Agile principles has meant the PMO has had to get educated, and quick.

A small part of that one day course covers the Agile Coach role. It’s an interesting one because the discussions in the classroom often turn to the idea that the PMO can have a role to play here. The question is, is there a PMO Coach role needed?

There are a couple of different perspectives about this and in this article we take a look at what those might be.

First of all, the Agile Coach role, what is it exactly?

Here’s a good overview from Platinum Edge, they state:

When you want to develop new expertise on your project, the agile coach is an excellent source of expertise and guidance. The agile coach:

  • Serves in a mentoring or coaching role only and is not part of the scrum team
  • Is often a person from outside the organization
  • Is able to provide objective guidance, without personal or political considerations
  • Is an agile expert
  • Has experience in implementing agile techniques in different cultures and environments
  • Has successfully run agile projects of varying size and complexity

That all makes perfect sense and perhaps you’ve already worked alongside or at least met an Agile Coach in your organisation and recognise these characteristics.

The first perspective is, could the PMO provide the Agile Coach role?

If we look at those characteristics again for the Agile Coach, could the PMO carry out this role:

  • Serves in a mentoring or coaching role only and is not part of the scrum team
  • Is often a person from outside the organization
  • Is able to provide objective guidance, without personal or political considerations
  • Is an agile expert
  • Has experience in implementing agile techniques in different cultures and environments
  • Has successfully run agile projects of varying size and complexity

I think when we look at this, the PMO is perhaps lacking in skill and experience in some of the areas – specifically coaching, being an expert in agile, had the experiences from different places and actually run a few agile projects themselves.

I think today the PMO couldn’t easily provide the Agile Coach role.

The second perspective is, could the PMO be a Coach?

Here we’re interested in exploring if the PMO could provide a coaching role for the delivery organisation as a whole – so not specifically on Agile led projects but any kind of change activity that is happening in the organisation.

You could argue that the PMO has long had a part of the job description which specifically mentions coaching and mentoring. Yet, when PMO practitioners are asked about their experiences in this area there isn’t a lot going on.

There may be pockets of mentoring happening with junior members of the PMO, there may be mentoring happening with a handful of project managers on certain processes, by and large, there is very limited coaching happening.

Coming back to the definition of the Agile Coach, what if we were to use that as a basis for the PMO Coach. The role of the PMO Coach is not only to help develop new expertise on a project but has a wider remit which helps projects stay on track. Here’s how it might look:

  • Serves in a mentoring or coaching role only and is not part of the project team.
  • Is often a person from outside the actual delivery of the programme or project.
  • Is able to provide objective guidance, without personal or political considerations.
  • Is an expert in portfolio, programme and project management.
  • Has experience in implementing techniques in different types of projects and programmes.
  • Has successfully run projects of varying size and complexity.

How might this work? Having one person from the PMO that provides that role – someone trained and experienced specifically for that role – could offer the best solution. If the same person is offering this role across different projects and programmes they are able to hone their skills and also enable some cross-fertilisation from projects with similar issues.

If the Agile community could see that an Agile Coach would bring great benefits to Agile led projects, why not also apply that thinking more widely, to more programmes and projects regardless of their delivery approach – and even wider to the whole delivery community in that organisation?

In a recent report from McKinsey, it was mentioned that coaching is one of the greatest ways to get people developing well in their work, the biggest problem with this is the time and energy required to provide coaching programmes to everyone and ensure no one gets left behind.

We’ve known for millennia that one-to-one coaching by a master is an incontrovertibly great way to build a wide range of complex cognitive skills. What we don’t know is how to do it in an affordable way. How can we make it available for everyone and efficiently disseminate it at scale?

One of the ways we can utilise and receive some of the benefits of coaching is with a specialist role like this within the PMO.

The other option is to also ensure that all of us, every PMO practitioner, has some of the fundamental coaching skills that can make a real difference in our day-to-day interactions with project managers, stakeholders and senior execs. We don’t all need to be professional coaches, we can just use some of the same techniques in our work to make an impact and help our delivery organisations overcome some of the hurdles that block successful delivery.

If you’re interested in progressing your PMO career in the direction of a PMO Coach, take a look at the previous article where we take a look at some of the coaching skills covered by our one day course – Coaching Skills for the PMO.

PMO Coaching

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