What does it take to turn a PMO into a Lean-Agile Portfolio Management group?

Every large portfolio has some kind of PMO. It’s the central governance body that assists alignment of projects to the organisation’s goals and supports reporting from projects to the executive who have invested in these outcomes.

When people start their agile journey, though, what becomes of the PMO, and how do you use SAFe’s® LACE to support the enterprise on its journey?

Where to start.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) [1] minimises the challenges of cultural change in an agile transformation by establishing a LACE dedicated to the leading change. This helps translate executive support for agile into action – critical support that’s needed to reduce the risk of failure of agile product management. 

What is a LACE?

The LACE – the Lean Agile Centre of Excellence – is a small, dedicated team of leaders and change agents who are responsible for driving real and lasting organisational change. Importantly, as the enterprise scales its agile practices, it is a critical success factor differentiating organisations fully committed to adopting Lean-Agile practices and achieving significant business results from those practicing Agile in name only.

SAFe® aligns the LACE’s first activities with John Kotter’s guiding coalition [2] responsible for driving change from the perspective of:

  • Helping people understand the “burning platform” for change.
  • Establishing the LACE as change agents, supporting changes to people, process and tools so that the whole system of work becomes “agile”.
  • Extending SAFe® and the role of the LACE to transition from the traditional PMO to Lean Portfolio Management.

Challenges of the LACE

ZXM’s recent work with WA Police has highlighted some of the challenges and benefits of bringing together lean-agile change agents and leadership into a LACE. We chartered the LACE as an agile team, utilising Scrum and few other complimentary agile practices. Most challenging for the LACE was the need to be primarily dedicated to the SAFe® change.

The challenge is that most of the people qualified to drive change have full-time responsibilities in their current roles.
- Dean Leffingwell, Cofounder and Chief Methodologist at Scaled Agile, Inc.

The LACE team members were concurrently engaged in vital business-as-usual and operational work that supports critical frontline policing activities. That said, they brought the continuous motivated energy their LACE role needed, and the agile practices of the team helped them keep focus on their LACE goals, and somewhat balance their workload. Their ability to pivot in the face of late changing requirements was also a godsend as curve-balls came their way more than once

Leadership alignment to the cause

Organisational readiness for any cultural change is significantly strengthened when leadership is on board, and the WA Police LACE team benefited from strong sponsorship with their Deputy Commissioner and CIO.

Early work focussed on early training and engagement of leadership across the whole enterprise. ZXM worked closely with the LACE to identify the appropriate practices from SAFe® and other Agile frameworks aligns to their needs, but (importantly) not their current way of working. Through the LACE’s engagement activities it became that clear that patterns from Portfolio SAFe® in addition to Essential SAFe® would be required to help them drive strategic alignment across the organisation.

Active LACE engagement benefits Portfolio governance

The WA Police LACE team supported Business and IT executives in identifying their big initiatives and building out their light business cases as Epics. They launched their scaled agile framework with executives coming together to prioritise these strategic initiatives based on economic value, kicking off their Portfolio Backlog.

Looking forward, WA Police are working steadily to support the whole enterprise to evolve from traditional project to agile product management, establishing Lean-Agile practices to shepherd Epics and Features from ideation through to delivery of value.

[1] Scaled Agile, Inc. https://www.scaledagileframework.com
[2] John P. Kotter, Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press, 1996

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