The Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) is making a resurgence in the agile-dominated scene, blending traditional and modern methodologies for optimal project management. 

Recently the traditional enterprise project management office (EPMO) has developed a somewhat difficult reputation in some corners of the business world. We’ve seen many organisations scaling back or even eliminating entirely their centralised portfolio management functions, as agile and iterative project delivery methodologies gained traction beyond the IT department.  

However, in the post-COVID landscape, times may be changing. Lately we’ve noticed that an increasing number of organisations that moved away from EPMO delivery over the past five years are now adjusting their course and taking steps back in the other direction.  

Yes, strategic, centralised portfolio management is back on the corporate agenda.  

But why is that happening now, and what are the implications for project professionals? 

Agile v EPMO – strengths and weaknesses 

Whether their difficult reputation is justified or not, it’s easy to see why many EPMOs attracted scrutiny, with their roots steeped in a command-and-control style of investment in projects across the business. In extreme cases, they were perceived as playing a “compliance and policeman role, making sure boxes are checked, standards are followed and no one in project land is breaking too many rules” (as Michael Knapp so eloquently wrote in our earlier article – Transforming the EPMO) 

As organisations started to embrace agile methodology across the broader project portfolio, there was a trend towards breaking down larger-scale projects into smaller pieces, with responsibility for oversight and execution falling to the relevant business unit. Teams that may have previously felt over-governed by the EPMO suddenly had much more freedom. It was truly a decentralised “choose your own adventure” story.  

The arrival of COVID threw a spanner in the works for agile teams. Many found team collaboration particularly challenging while adjusting to the realities of remote work.    

Meanwhile, agile often presented even greater challenges at the enterprise level. While decentralisation may have reduced spend on portfolio management and governance, many noted a loss of strategic alignment and connectivity. The rise of agile teams required their leaders to build a pipeline of projects to keep them funded. Sometimes, if teams lacked strategic projects, they sought to solve lower-priority business challenges.   

Solving lower-value problems is one issue. At worst, agile teams may have even found themselves crossing over each other – solving the same problem. This resulted in repetition and a waste of capital expenditure, often without even realising it.  

It’s little wonder that many organisations are now asking the question: is there a better way to deliver my projects, maintaining flexibility and agility, without losing strategic alignment and oversight? 

Are you being pushed or setting the pace? 

The answer to this question has much to do with organisational structure and dynamics, which both often resemble the movement of a pendulum. At one end of the arc, you have an operating model that favours centralised, “command and control” structure (with a Big Brother-style EPMO being a feature of this).  

Then there is a change or series of changes in the environment, and the tendency is to swing all the way back to the other end of the arc, to something resembling complete decentralisation and autonomous teams. In project land, that materialises as no or minimised EPMO or centralised portfolio oversight.  

Which approach is correct?  

We would argue neither has more intrinsic value, as both models have their strengths and weaknesses. What is worth careful consideration, however, is how you’re moving through your particular arc.  

Are you being driven by the movement of the pendulum, with little control over the rhythm and consistency, in a way that is reactive to your environment? Or are you moving more like a metronome, with control and purpose over the pace?   

The difference may seem like semantics at first glance, but it’s a useful analogy when it comes to thinking about reactive versus proactive behaviour. It’s an undeniable issue if you’re suffering from a lack of overall visibility and strategic co-ordination across your project portfolio. However, what will be the outcome if you submit to the pressure to swing all the way back to the other side of your particular arc as a corrective measure? 

Our closing piece of advice is to focus on breaking this cycle of endless swinging based on environmental shifts. Become the metronome and set the pace that’s right for you. You can have the best of both worlds – decentralised teams with a level of independence, leveraging agile delivery methodology; with the best bits of the traditional EPMO (and more).  

The end result is an organisation that is solving the right problems in an efficient way – with the right amount of governance and oversight. To find out more, discover some of our practical strategies to achieve the perfect balance.  

Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team or reach out to have a discussion today. 

About Quay

Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...