Do You Need Personal Agility for PMOs?

In today's rapidly changing business landscape, agility has become a crucial concept for organizations striving to stay competitive. Agile methodologies have gained popularity in project management, emphasizing flexibility, collaboration, and iterative approaches. However, being agile goes beyond following a set of processes—it requires adopting an agile mindset. But what exactly does it mean to be agile? How can organizations know if they are truly agile? These questions are especially relevant for Project Management Offices (PMOs), which play a vital role in driving organizational agility.

Some individuals among you may already possess knowledge about the concept of agile. A few of you may even be employed within organizations that embrace agile methodologies. Perhaps some of you aspire to establish an AgilePMO. It is often suggested that rather than simply adhering to agile practices, one should strive to embody the principles of agility. But what does it truly mean to be agile? How can we determine whether our endeavors exhibit agility? The notion of agility holds great significance for numerous organizations, particularly when considering the context of a PMO, as PMOs must adopt an "Agile Mindset." However, many questions arise: How can we define an Agile Mindset? Could it be equated with Personal Agility? When seeking to transform a PMO to embrace agility, the journey commences within oneself, necessitating the identification and establishment of one's own Personal Agility.

Based on our research and many years of experience we aim to define Personal Agility to guide you to be PMO leaders by keeping in mind that you can choose what fits your situation. Although there is no “one size fits all” PMO, Gartner, has identified four types of PMOs.

The activist PMO: Popular in organizations with distributed, business-centric project ownership, the activist PMO takes a broad view and enabling approach as opposed to a controlling approach. This broad view provides a project portfolio dashboard of the status of all projects that it maintains.

The delivery PMO: Also known as the project delivery PMO is perhaps the most commonly found style. Gartner estimates that at least 40% of PMOs are mainly delivery PMOs charged with planning and controlling the tactical execution of projects to business expectations. The goal is also to build repeatable processes and techniques that will work to build a culture focused on results.

The compliance PMO: It is often the most suitable style for organizations where documentation, processes, procedures, and methodologies are lacking or inconsistent. In this scenario, the compliance PMO tends to be tasked with establishing standard practices for measuring project performance and the development of a capability for understanding the status of key initiatives.

The centralized PMO: When PPM maturity levels are low, organizations depend on the skills and abilities of key performers to get work done. At higher levels, efficiency is key, and management seeks to reduce this dependency and establish reliable processes for project tracking and reporting. A centralized PMO is therefore formed as a place where new hires can be quickly brought up to speed on how best to get project work done in the organization.

We use a lighthouse as an allegory for Personal Agility because they are constructed to withstand powerful storms, lighthouses are frequently depicted as symbols of strength. They are also used to symbolize shelter, protection and peace for the same reason. Lighthouses expose the connection between inanimate structures and human emotion in a way that few other buildings can.

Equipped with powerful radio transmitters and lights bright enough to penetrate the darkness, lighthouses serve as maritime and aerial navigational aids. They are often used to symbolize true guidance and steadfastness in relationships, teams, and organizations, encapsulating their ability to weather any storm. Lighthouses have also been used to represent the determination to achieve goals, no matter the challenges. They are almost always erected in desolate places because that is where the guidance is of utmost importance and that is the representation that we at AgilityDiscoveries guide individuals to hone one’s personal agility.

Our definition of Personal Agility is the interpretation of agile mindsets in today’s modern organizations that impacts leaders of today by:

  • Relearning yourself
  • Rerouting capabilities
  • Improving competencies

People with highly honed Personal Agility can create enhanced Organizational Agility because the steps to organizational agility stem right at the bottom of the totem pole, the people. So, if you take the ladder upwards to reach the goals of organizational agility, it begins with understanding an individual’s agility which then translates to the team, then the functional managers which then leads to the personal agility of the divisional managers and reaches to the C levels. This encompasses the whole organization’s agility. Seven quintessential light beams that lead you to our PA lighthouse are shown below.

As you can see from our signature diagram, we feel that the seven flavors that are most important for an organization to reach its full potential are Learning, Emotional, Cerebral, Outcomes, Education, Political and Change Agility. Our research shows these are the foremost in most PMOs of an organization, although there are many others. Feedback from companies, such as the palm oil, finance, education industries are examples.

Education Agility is to do role-playing in companies, getting the feel of the pain points of the person sitting in a different chair and doing the roles that do not necessarily fall into your daily routine. Education Agility which some may call empathy agility makes you Antifragile. For example, it can be your customer, a user, contractor or even your board of directors. It is very important to understand the other person and be antifragile.

How it can be applied?

Companies big and small for example Nike and Airbnb are drawing on design thinking frameworks to jolt innovative ideas. In Design Thinking personas are used that are fictional characters created based upon your research in order to represent the different user types that might use your service or product. Creating personas will help you to understand your users’ needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals., thus stepping into the other person’s shoes. It can help you to recognize that different people have different needs and expectations, which helps you to identify with the user you’re designing for. Personas help you hone Education Agility and as such, PMOs can facilitate creating personas for a particular project or for the organization as a whole.

Change Agility means taking the LRM (last responsible moment) concept borrowed from ‘Lean Thinking’, some of the constructs are your vision should be like a never-ending story. It is what inspires, sees and helps achieve you to do more. We need to manage our priorities and analyse what can be deferred to the point where non-decision moments will have a negative impact. Understanding LRM and using it wisely is essential.

Never commit early unless you know why!

Many companies use A/B testing as an example of deferring commitment and having options. A/B testing is a method of comparing two or more versions of a product or process against each other to determine which one performs better. AB testing is essentially an experiment where two or more options of a product/service are shown to users at random, and statistical analysis is used to determine which option performs better for a given conversion goal. Therefore, you as a PMO and the associated teams need to learn to use this to defer commitment, to test your options and make decisions as late as possible.

Another example of deciding as late as possible in agile development methods is - Sprint Planning, or iteration planning. In agile, you decide what features to include in each iteration and analyze them just in time for them to be developed. Then you have options and can apply the change agility as a PMO.

Tying into the Gartner PMOs mentioned earlier, the following examples of CEOs that gives inspiration for the trends for PMOs are given below.

Political agility if not addressed, then it is not all about job performance or organizational goals anymore, so coming up with a plan to divert its course of direction towards our Personal Agility Lighthouse is essential. Politics is everywhere, companies, families, schools, churches, you name it, it is there. Strategic competency and harmonizing individual and organizational goals. These are often lost when mergers and acquisitions take place. Therefore, political agility is a must. There is a need for a balanced ratio between learning avenues and control, bureaucratic, behavioral or any other systems to enforce control.

One of the goals of the Delivery PMO is also to build techniques that will work to build a culture focused on results. This ties in with a simple example of what political agility is. An article written by Mary Jo Foley in ZDNet says Nadella's first five years were about convincing people -- inside and outside the company -- to stop thinking of Microsoft as The Evil Empire. In the end Open source officially became a friend, not foe. This is good politics, no meanness, underhanded dealings, backstabbing, making unethical deals etc. Thus, if success is to be achieved by an organization, one of the main things to be honed is political agility in our minds. This technique certainly builds a culture that focuses primarily on results.

Emotional Agility is to develop an understanding of the relationship between moods, thoughts, behaviors and then to take charge of them by practicing skills to cope with fear, intense negative feelings, extreme sadness, anxiety and anger, so on and so forth. One broadens oneself via awareness, coping skills, regulating difficult feelings, killing skepticism and tolerating challenging situations in setting goals. Emotional intelligence and partnership in government visibility and innovation can be smooth sailing if this particular flavor is honed in.

In line with the centralized PMO, where new hires can be quickly brought up to speed on how best to get project work done in the organization, an example from Google is given next. Taking just one factor here, namely FEAR, one of the points in an article titled - Coding alone will not prepare workers for our tech-filled future -, published by the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai says that google rolled out a “Grow with Google” program, and partnered with goodwill to incorporate digital skills training into its already amazing training infrastructure for job seekers. In his article Sundar says - One trainee spoke of the value of her own experiences. “Before I learned digital skills, I felt unsure of myself,” she says. “Now I feel confident. You have to feel confident in what you do in order to be successful and move on in life.”

Sundar goes on to say - Through these trainings, people learn about using technology to research, to plan events, analyze data and more. They don’t require a formal degree or certificate. We think there’s great scope to expand this model and teach hard and soft skills that can empower a workforce that has access to constant, accredited learning opportunities as job requirements change. So, the employee’s fear was eliminated by the ‘Grow with google’ program and thus ‘fear’ which is part of emotions that was honed, and Emotional Agility was achieved emphasizing the centralized PMO skills.

Everything starts with oneself and being agile!

Emotions involve the brain and the mind, two of the most agile parts of a human being that is now seen on the horizon as Cerebral Agility as our journey towards our PA lighthouse continues. Our brains are preprogrammed. We need to rewire them to achieve the intended goals. There are times when you are stuck because there is a situation where you are at a loss as to how to answer or act or come up with solutions. So, you have to give yourself time to think but you don’t have much time and what comes out of your mouth has to be Persuasive, Powerful, Credible and Informative – for example - there is a sudden explosion, hostage situation, fire, etc.

An example of the Gartner Activist PMO which takes a broad view and enabling approach as opposed to a controlling approach is given here. A very interesting situation was quoted in the Inc magazine about how Steve Jobs responded to a public insult. This needs Cerebral Agility to respond calmly in public and aptly.

He saved his reputation, his company’s reputation and much more. Justin Buriso wrote in Inc: “...He was answering questions for developers at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference when one audience member took a shot at him: "Mr. Jobs, you're a bright and influential man," he begins. "It's sad and clear that on several counts you've discussed, you don't know what you're talking about. I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say, Java and any of its incarnations addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc. And when you're finished with that, perhaps you can tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years.

For most of us, a public attack such as this one would leave us at least a little flustered. But Job’s response is a perfect demonstration of what to do in this situation. Here are some highlights of lessons learned. He takes a pause. Sits in silence. The first thing Jobs does is probably the hardest. In what seems like an eternity to the audience (and in reality, lasted about 10 seconds), Jobs takes a sip of water and answers to both the criticism and the question. "You can please some of the people some of the time, but ... "

This technique, pause, is so valuable because it allows you to get your emotions under control and think things through before you say or do something that you'll regret. This is a big part of Cerebral Agility that all of us need to hone. The thoughtful and remarkable response was he agrees with his accuser. Within a spur of the moment the enabling approach was demonstrated by Steve.

Learning Agility equates to learning fast, extracting, and applying learnings from proficiencies and realizing results optimally. Learning agility is the answer to the question ‘how does one stay open to new discoveries and learning opportunities?’ This is done by learning from the others, looking beyond your industry, trying to benchmark. Learning and checking fast high potential hypothesis is what should be mastered by any PMO.

Taking Google Design Sprint as an example, using and mastering Design Sprint developed by Google Ventures is apt here as well. The design sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, benchmarking, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Many huge brands like Slack, PwC use Design sprint. There are more examples at Using it for an IT Strategy works very well to learn fast, benchmark and get feedback from users. Therefore, it would benefit every PMO, especially Agile PMO to master moderation of Design Sprint and applying it to validate critical projects.

Outcomes Agility means enterprising, inspiring, and pushing to excel beyond one’s limit. It is ok to never reach the lighthouse, it is not ok to not improve and strive for excellence. To achieve more and be successful, a purpose needs to be created, not just progress. So, taking on meaningful projects is the first thing we can do to create an environment where employees have a sense of purpose. When people see and feel the purpose, then they can make pronounced decisions about what to do next, and make sure what could be the best for any organization’s wellbeing.

Look for something that inspires you and break all barriers!

The way to apply this is to begin with a vision which means, starting with the end in mind. A project vision answers the question “why” - the essential starting point for inspiring action. A vision gives project participants a reason for contributing. It clarifies the project’s purpose, eliminates confusion, unifies the team, and inspires them to do their best. An example is Amazon – every time they start the project, they create a marketing brief and visualize it as a poster or an advertisement. The advantages are that it is:

  • Simple as every advertisement should be
  • Builds common understanding of a project among team members
  • Focused on customers
  • Visualized and easy to access
  • Easy to refer to, at any stage of the project

Always start with the end in mind. Agility is crucial for organizations to stay competitive in today's rapidly changing business landscape. PMOs play a vital role in driving organizational agility and need to embrace an agile mindset. Personal Agility is the foundation for creating enhanced Organizational Agility. This is how Outcomes Agility will help. AGILITY for companies WILL REMAIN THE ULTIMATE IMPERATIVE – Personal Agility is the future skill of a leader in most innovative companies. This is the future for you!

Hope this article about PMO leads you to think through the beams of Personal Agility and how it can be applied to your own PMO.

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