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The Role of the Project Management Office in Scrum

The Role of the Project Management Office in Scrum

Project Team in a Scrum meeting.

Last Updated October 11, 2023

The Project Management Office (PMO): Making Strategy a Reality with Scrum and Agile

Disruption is shaking up industries across sectors, spurring organizations to rethink their strategy and approach in order to remain competitive. In theory, this transformation is a strong approach for gaining a competitive edge; however, in practice, implementing this vision often falls short – and wastes millions of dollars.



Almost 12% of every dollar is wasted as a result of poor project performance, the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) 2019 Pulse of the Profession® reported. Organizations can’t afford such costly misses, and to mitigate them, they are increasingly looking to the Project Management Office (PMO) to bridge the gap between the vision and its execution.

What is the Project Management Office’s (PMO) Role in Scrum?

Transforming company culture can be challenging, especially cultivating an Agile project management culture. Scrum implementation can feel disorganized to professionals accustomed to one individual controlling project management since Scrum involves a Scrum Master and a Product  Owner. When incorporated correctly, PMOs can help ease this transition.

As supporters of the practice, the PMO should be engaged early to influence a smooth Scrum transition to avoid a team’s natural defensive reactions to change. As PMI and accounting firm KPMG highlight in the joint thought-leadership report, “Achieving Greater Agility: The Vital Role of Culture and Commitment,” the PMO can be a beacon or enabler of greater agility.

Specifically, PMOs can support increased agility by:

  • Providing hands-on coaching to teams – PMO members newer to the process may first need to obtain this training themselves; however, once armed with knowledge and skills, PMO members can host coaching sessions to role-play spring planning meetings and provide live coaching.
  • Identifying and training coaches – As Scrum grows increasingly successful at an organization, the need is likely to extend beyond what the PMO can support. PMO members can identify additional coaches and develop them with training and support to act as an extension of the PMO in a part-time capacity.
  • Challenging complacency – At its core, Scrum is about continuous improvement. The PMO can help cultivate this pursuit by continuously challenging habits and practices that are the norm to encourage teams to pursue continuous improvement.

Making an Impact: Effective PMO Team Practices

Although all organizations are different, and within them each project is unique, effective PMO teams can adhere to global best practices that make them most effective. These best practices include:

Focusing on a few projects

Even if approvals lead to the opportunity to launch everything at once, Villanova Agile instructor Karam Labban says staggering projects can ultimately result in fewer issues and better quality. This staggered approach affords the opportunity to learn and adapt, as well as focus more closely on active work. Lecturing in the Leading Agile Teams course, the third required course in Villanova’s Certificate in Agile program, Labban highlights that a PMO could launch 12 projects simultaneously at the outset of the year, all finishing at the end of the year and managed at the same time.

But instead, Labban advises, the PMO could kick off just three projects at the start of the year, finishing them in three months, and then leverage the experience and learnings from the first set for more effective execution on the next three.

Minimizing multitasking

Multitasking often creates a false sense of productivity, Labban says. In practice, multitasking can diminish quality and team morale and should be reduced with sprint rules and work-in-progress (WIP) limits.

Adopting a servant leadership approach

In the spirit of Agile, PMOs should take a supporting role, avoiding micromanaging at an individual level and controlling project management, which can spur conflict and damage the experience of Agile implementation. Leadership has to embrace Agile approaches as well, Labban says, in order to cultivate an Agile organization.  

PMOs in an Evolving Landscape

Agility is critical in the sprint for better technology, faster service and more innovation. With the PMO at the helm of this change, it is much more likely to succeed, PMI’s Achieving Greater Agility report advises. Instead of scattering transformation across small groups within the organization, leading with the PMO enables a more coordinated effort throughout the business, technology and infrastructure sectors within the organization, an effort the PMO is adept at navigating.

When the PMO leads the charge for transformation, it can:

  • Consistently communicate C-suite messaging
  • Better enable cross-functional collaboration
  • Update existing approaches first, then introduce new methods
  • Manage friction during the transition
  • Address and support the full value chain

Even when PMOs champion this transformation, they should remember that teams will mature at different rates, according to the Achieving Greater Agility report. At an individual team level, PMOs can identify teams that need barriers removed and those that may need further support, by recommending the assignment of an Agile Coach to provide additional guidance.

PMOs helping their organization embrace agility must also do so themselves. Evolving in this landscape means accepting multiple delivery approaches, keeping senior leaders informed regardless of the approach, a willingness to learn new skills and a strategic understanding of the full business value chain. When the PMO embraces agility, cultivates an Agile culture, and equips teams to operate with Agile, organizational strategy is much more likely to become reality.