Many agile enthusiasts are completely sold to the idea of self-directing teams.
In an agile team, there is a continuous search for process improvement and reduction of wasteful activities. It is logical that they see many of the old project management procedures as waste. Take the project board for instance. Why would a product owner and scrum master want to spend 2 hours in a meeting reporting about planning, budget, scope and risks? They manage this almost every day, during their standups, planning meetings, demos and retrospectives. It feels like they don’t need a project board to get things done. While in a traditional project, the project board was important to get an update on the project status, in an agile project, you can get this every day by looking at the task board or product backlog.
A project board is often highly politically. A project manager explaining why things got delayed by reasons out of their control, stakeholders discussing priorities and resources.
In an agile organization, the PMO has to organize project boards differently. Why would an agile team need a project board and how can they benefit from it?
Most importantly to have a forum to discuss issues out of their control. For instance when the agile team has a dependency on another team which suddenly has shifted priorities and is no longer able to provide their piece of software in time. Because the PO and SM roles are project specific, they have no hierarchical power in the organization and cannot negotiate the shifted priority. In a project board, you will have the necessary management present to resolve this issue, or at least get the discussion started.
Secondly to manage expectations. Each project starts with certain expectations concerning time, scope and budget. When we have determined the major constraint, we know how to manage changes. But even with this agreement at the start of your project, you still have to keep your management informed. Each and every project board you show them what has changed. If you have a fixed scope, show the changes in timing and budget. If timing is fixed, show the changes in scope and budget. If budget is fixed, show the changes in scope and time. Of course the product owner has a mandate to manage these constraints, but only to a certain degree. The PMO can help him to find a suitable way to report about these changes in the project board, for instance by using visual aids such as a product burn-up chart.
Third is to openly discuss risks. These are risks which the PO and SM see for the future which can endanger the success of the project. If the right people are present in your project board, you will automatically feel the value of discussing risks. Management will help you find solutions or at least mediations.
So from a PMO perspective you have 2 important responsibilities when organizing a project board for an Agile team:
- Provide a structure for reporting about the 3 main focus areas: issues, change and risks.
- Select the appropriate audience. Every impacted department should be represented, as well as external suppliers.
What is a good frequency to host a project board? I prefer once every month and a half. So if your project progresses in iterations of 2 weeks, you will have the history of 3 iterations to discuss, each project board. In most cases this is a good rhythm, but it may vary according to your situation.
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