In context of permanent change, 2020 has been a paradoxical year. We have spent much of this year adapting to challenges posed by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The PMO community is an area deeply affected by those challenges, and we find ourselves connected to a new way of working. Technology and virtual communications methods have grown exponentially and are here to stay, whilst our ability to maintain human connection continues to prove difficult at the best of times. At Agile Management Office we have taken the opportunity to reflect on our journey throughout 2020 and to reposition ourselves to reap the opportunities, which await PMOs in the dawn of a new era centred around ‘change’ as a fact of life.

As we transition into 2021, we highly recommend you take some time to reflect and embrace change because PMOs are not immune to the challenges at hand. We all have a choice of either ‘throwing in the towel’ or seizing the opportunity to grow and thrive. It is equally important to tread carefully and strike a balance between prioritising strategy measures, redirecting focus on the complexities of a new PMO environment, and ensuring build of a resilient workforce that is adaptable and comfortable with many degrees of uncertainty.

How do we reflect on 2020 and redirect our focus towards 2021? What has been achieved and what can PMO’s expect more of in 2021? Here is our list of top 4 trends for PMO’s in 2021:

  1. Rise of Agile Governance
  2. Rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  3. Digital Transformation Skills
  4. Remote Working & Resilience

It is understandable that emphasis has been on digital transformation and alternative ways of working split across traditional (work from the office), remote (work from home) and hybrid (split between office and home) models, just like much of 2019 was the year of digitalisation. Let us delve a little deeper into each of these trends.

#1 – Rise of Agile Governance

Agile has rapidly crept out from the software development world into almost all product and service industries. Combined with the increased uptake of Agile, as a “self-governing” approach to Project Management, PMOs are trying to find ways in which they can retain oversight and control of how projects are managed. Agile (capital A) functions as a delivery framework whilst agile (lowercase a) refers to the organisational culture framework and mindset. Whether or not Agile is a prerequisite for PMOs, good behaviour in process and mindset will enable positive continual change.

Many Agile transitioning or transitioned organisations would argue that this is already the case for PMOs, whereby visibility, transparency, governance, and oversight are often left behind. To ensure good governance, many aspects of business must be considered. This means being built to adapt and embracing frequent change. It means having simple yet valuable software for delivery oversight with motivated teams that are self-organising with high levels of communication and collaboration.

Despite Agile being around for more than 20 years (we have been saying for the last 5 years that despite Agile delivery becoming the preferred delivery approach, that foresight and oversight is still necessary), interestingly in the last 12-18 months we have seen even one the world’s leading Agile delivery methodologies introduce Agile governance into their model. This is not too dissimilar to what we have been saying around integrated governance. There is increased activity by PMOs, who are trying to align old ways of governing with new ways of working.

“Agile makes you nimble but to be agile you have to be fit. Agile is two letters away from ‘fragile’. So, get fit before you get nimble. Let us embrace agility and all that it offers us. Let us not fear failure, lets disrupt and drive value. And remember Use Agile Responsibly.”

#2 – Rise of Artificial Intelligence

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can been said to represent our time’s industrial revolution, meaning revolutionary change to how we think, design, work and produce. AI is already prevalent and getting a stronger foothold by the day as we witness the rapid rise and impact it has on many industries globally. Just look at your phone! It recognises your face to unlock your screen, search and detection algorithms help you navigate online, and something as simple as autocorrect allows you to type emails faster than ever.

When it comes to Project Management, the increase of AI reporting can simplify the delivery of performance indicators to empower decision making processes. We have also seen AI provide more targeted insights on how project managers are feeling through feedback provided in their status reports.

When considering what to do in terms of implementing AI in your business, it is important to learn as much as you can by researching, watching, and experiencing AI in practice. Investigate how others utilise different solutions in their own organisations and collate information on cost, features, value-adds. Many new and existing Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solutions will likely have artificial intelligence built in.

Artificial intelligence has proven to be a valuable tool to not only support project management but also in many other interesting ways. For instance, AI has already played an integral part in the financial risk management space for the financial services industry, which is largely centred around payment services. However, there are risks to implementing or building systems that are smarter than we are. Will AI replace the human element in the PMO and project delivery? Although we do not believe it will, we do think that AI can help expedite the automation within PMOs and allow for focus to be placed in areas of higher importance.

#3 – Digital Transformation Skills

Digital transformation is nothing new. The classical assumption that people tend to assume is that digital transformation is an IT transformation initiative only. That could be an organisational transformation from non-digital driven to digital driven, or perhaps the incentive to transform your digital experience with better and more efficient solutions. One of the most important things to understand is that it is essentially business transformation, supported by investments in new technology, not new technology in search of opportunities.

Consumer requirements constantly evolve, and companies are keeping up with varying degrees of success. Delivery methods are adapting and being customised to keep pace with accelerated development across many industries. Shareholders and board members maintain more traditional requirements within these disruptive landscapes. ROI and sensible decision making around strategic synergy, risk exposure and asset utilisation still need to be demonstrated. Internal/external audit and governing body requirements continue. We need to plan to support this creativity in our own unique way. As PMO professionals how do we bring this together?

The key focus should be how you support organisations on their digital transformation journey and leveraging technology to improve existing business processes, uplift culture, and the overall user experience. All with the purpose to meet changing market and business requirements. When it comes to undertaking new digital initiatives, critical thinking should be a part of driving that transformation.

Many think that PMOs, along with other more traditional support functions, will vanish as digital transformation takes hold. However, I feel the opposite. PMOs will become leaner as they flourish and will benefit from opportunities presented by digital transformation because PMOs are not only the recipient but also the promoter of change. Whether that PMO is placed at the practitioners’ level or all the way at CEO level is irrelevant.

PMOs are uniquely positioned within an organisation and cannot only function as a catalyst for digital transformation throughout the business. They are also a transformation of current practices within the PMO itself, benefitting from digitalisation. The PMO could be the custodian of change as many of our digital tools, platforms and processes pass from projects into the customers hands.

Also, when we think of Digital and the PMO, there can be an assumption that this means the PMO has a complete understanding of programming and development, digital business analysis, and digital (product) management to name a few. Though instead it is about having digital literacy and soft skills which are fundamentally more important than technical skills, especially when it comes to the PMO. PMOs are not expected to be IT experts, but rather should engage with heightened levels of understanding and curiosity.

Digital PMOs need to utilise new technologies to improve the way we deliver, and facilitate greater collaboration and information sharing inside and outside of the project team. From a strategic point of view, the digital PMO aims to enable business and project people with project data, and enable project teams to measure and monitor non-physical project elements alongside human resources in real-time.

With digital transformation, processes simplify and resource capacity is released. More people want to do more things in new and exciting ways. New governance models need to be developed that monitor the increasingly alternative methods of achieving the end game. So, is your PMO embracing digital transformation?

#4 – Remote Working & Resilience

With the recent pandemic, we have seen entire workforces sent home to remote work. We cannot pretend this is not having material impacts on team collaboration and productivity. There are no guidelines for how to do this well. In true Agile fashion we are learning as we go.

As remote working reshapes the future of the workforce, integrating changes and employee management is a balance that requires transparent communication and engagement initiatives, even if employees are back in the office, are remote-working or are in an office-home hybrid. Managing employee transitions is often difficult as organisational changes can be un-planned and beyond the line manager’s control. Many new employees have struggled to integrate effectively.

However, there are several areas in which increased focus can show a positive difference in employee transitions including central communication, decision making processes and human resource processes. Creating a transition/return to work program can be quite helpful. For example…

  • Setting up a task force, tracking the workforce though change, and regular conversations provide stability.
  • Enabling a well-targeted re-training program and using project professionals to support HR in managing the employee transition and change management.
  • Providing an opportunity for PMOs to spread their ‘project wings’ and extend their office management experience further.

While keeping up with professional procedures, we have also learned new ways to socially engage with co-workers in a more intimate setting as you are virtually invited to someone’s private sphere with cats casually walking on keyboards and noisy children demanding attention in the background. This remote working practice also comes with higher levels of responsibility placed on employees.

Integrating these changes with already stressful project management & governance activities is a balance that requires transparent communication and new engagement initiatives with constant feedback loops to ensure responsiveness. Here are some ways we have seen changes emerging with our clients:

  • Showcases have had to go online after accessibility was impacted
  • Video facilities for some clients is limited to relying on voice only
  • Stand ups became sit downs and became very long
  • Introduction of collaboration ideas such as Ted Talks Tuesdays
  • Giving access to systems and tools for access in place of onsite demonstrations
  • Creating smaller teams for greater collaboration
  • Being aware that response times increased compared to normal response times

As PMOs, we can track and measure how our teams are feeling by developing out the playbook that will guide us into the ‘new normal’, to focus on helping rather than hindering and being open to change. Our focus should be on building to adapt, which essentially helps us build to last. If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us, it is that life is unpredictable, and we need to keep going by learning and adapting.

In Summary

These are tasters of what we think are the key focus areas that will be targeted in 2021. At Agile Management Office we focus on uplifting the PMO and project capabilities, and not assuming existing PMOs have the necessary skills, tools, or capacity to take on tasks in organisations. Assessing and reviewing PMOs frequently is essential for being up-to-date and resilient.

In light of a testing year, embracing change means redefining the PMO value proposition and strategy, so that we can still justify our existence and be the partner of choice for your delivery teams. PMOs either face the challenge of surviving or seizing the opportunity to thrive if they can achieve the right balance of prioritising and redirecting focus onto ‘new ways of working.’ This will facilitate and provide transformation direction in organisations and within the PMO itself, bringing value to all fields in business.

Being resilient to change is key to staying relevant and becoming determined to thrive. 2020 has been the year of rethinking internal processes to keep up with the rapid pace expected for 2021. It is more important than ever that PMOs focus on how to drive value for their organisations and stakeholders, and to learn to adapt to processes that will motivate internal progress from within the PMO itself.

As we close out 2020, we implore you to ask yourself the following 5 questions for your reflection:


What are your thoughts? Do you agree? What are some of the other trends that you think will be coming for PMOs in 2021?