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PMO vs. Agile Delivery – How Do We Resolve the Inherent Friction?

Updated: Feb 28

Traditional Project Management Office (PMO) governance and Agile delivery have distinct differences in how they approach project management, governance, and decision-making. These differences are not new, over the past decade of organizations doing agile transformations, we have seen friction between traditional PMO’s and agile delivery teams increase. 

The challenges we see at our clients seems to stem from the disconnect of objectives between the agile delivery teams and the program governance frameworks. Most of the misalignment comes from enterprise transformations to agile that did not include the examination or impact to the long-standing project governance structures established during traditional waterfall or older project delivery methodologies. 

Here are some key differences between the two:

Approach to Planning:

  • Traditional PMO Governance: Emphasizes detailed upfront planning with comprehensive project documentation, including Gantt charts, detailed project plans, and extensive risk assessments.

  • Agile Delivery:  Focuses on adaptive planning and iterative development. Agile projects typically start with high-level plans and adjust as they gather more information and feedback.

Project Scope and Change Management:

  • Traditional PMO Governance: Typically follows a strict change control process, making it challenging to accommodate scope changes once the project is underway.

  • Agile Delivery: Welcomes and accommodates changing requirements and scope throughout the project, allowing for flexibility in response to evolving customer needs.

Delivery Methodology:

  • Traditional PMO Governance: Often follows a Waterfall or phased approach with distinct project phases (e.g., initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure)

  • Agile Delivery:  Uses iterative and incremental development, with work divided into smaller, time-boxed iterations or sprints.

Project Roles and Teams:

  • Traditional PMO Governance: Typically employs specialized roles, such as project managers, business analysts, and testers, with defined responsibilities.

  • Agile Delivery: Favors cross-functional, self-organizing teams that collectively take ownership of all aspects of project delivery.


  • Traditional PMO Governance: Emphasizes extensive project documentation, including detailed project charters, requirements documents, and project plans.

  • Agile Delivery:  Values working software or deliverable features over comprehensive documentation, although it maintains lightweight documentation as needed.

Governance Structure:

  • Traditional PMO Governance: Usually has a centralized governance structure, with decision-making authority concentrated at the top.

  • Agile Delivery: Promotes decentralized decision-making, with teams empowered to make decisions related to their work.

Risk Management:

  • Traditional PMO Governance: Emphasizes risk analysis and mitigation at the project’s outset and may not revisit risks regularly.

  • Agile Delivery: Identifies and addresses risks incrementally during each iteration or sprint.

It’s important to note that some organizations choose to adopt a hybrid approach, where traditional PMO governance coexists with Agile delivery, often referred to as “Agile PMO.” In such cases, the challenge is to strike a balance between the structured governance required by some projects and the flexibility and adaptability offered by Agile methodologies. The specific approach taken depends on the organization’s culture, project types, and objectives.

Conflicts can arise when organizations attempt to switch from one methodology to the other or when they try to integrate elements of both Agile and Waterfall into their processes. The choice between Agile and Waterfall should depend on the nature of the project, the organization’s culture, and the specific requirements and constraints involved. In some cases, a hybrid approach, such as “Water-Scrum-Fall,” is used to try to balance the strengths of both methodologies.

Organizations that are transforming to agile frameworks must recognize that examining their traditional PMO structures as part of their transformation is paramount in reducing the friction over time. They must also recognize that elements of the agile frameworks must contain governance and controls to be and effective enterprise solution. The agile delivery teams and PMO can operate successfully and harmoniously if adjustments and compromises can be made by both sides with the objective of improving the enterprise as a whole.


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