As project management evolves, a hybrid approach that combines the strategic oversight of EPMO with the flexibility of Agile is increasingly favored, effectively balancing innovation within clear strategic boundaries.

In recent times, we’ve observed an interesting shift in the realm of project management: Enterprise Project Management Offices (EPMO) are making a comeback. But why now?

It appears businesses are recognising that there’s a growing need for a more strategic hand to guide complex projects towards alignment with broader organisational goals.

The decentralisation and dissolution of traditional EPMO roles in favour of agile practices has led to some unintended consequences such as lack of cohesion, strategic misalignment and resourcing challenges.  

Now, we aren’t saying that the move to agile is problematic – on the contrary, there are a range of benefits (both well-known and lesser-known). However, there are always going to be trade-offs.

If you’re thinking about a return to EPMO to bridge some of the strategic gaps, that doesn’t necessarily have to mean a return to rigid project management. It’s possible to preserve the benefits of decentralised agile teams within a cohesive strategic framework.

We like to think of it as building a “delivery DNA” into your company’s way of doing things – one that is fit-for-purpose for the business and helps to close the critical gap in project management; particularly where a lack of cohesive oversight is leading to strategic misalignment. 

Agile and EPMO: Finding the balance 

As organisations have embraced agile methodologies, they’ve enjoyed the rapid flexibility and team autonomy that comes with it.  

However, many have encountered a significant challenge: the absence of cohesion across various decentralised teams; duplicated efforts across teams ‘solving the same problem’ but in different ways or platforms; and misaligned projects that didn’t always hit the strategic mark. 

While agile methods empower individual teams and the ability to solve the challenges in front of them, they can come at the cost of strategic oversight and comprehensive governance. This can result in projects that, while individually successful in terms of speed and innovation, may not deliver the broader business objectives. Even worse, there can be a duplication of efforts, and the resulting waste of resources.  

It’s not easy to consistently strike the right balance between being flexible and innovative; and remaining strategically aligned. This is especially true when those projects don’t appear to be delivering the expected outcomes. Thankfully, an appropriate level of governance can support both objectives.  

Governance within agile frameworks 

Let’s be clear – agile isn’t the villain here. It’s been a transformative force that has rightfully shifted how we approach project execution. However, it needs to be harnessed correctly.

The champions of centralisation and the advocates of decentralisation are engaged in a nuanced debate.

On one side, there’s a compelling argument for the agile model, empowering teams to run with their projects and innovate freely. On the other side, there’s an undeniable need for some level of centralised coordination to reduce occurrences of agile teams unintentionally overlapping or solving issues of limited value.

Governance is at the heart of the issue. How do we ensure that we embrace the agility and innovation of decentralised teams, with a degree of consistency that aligns with the organisation’s objectives? 

The solution might lie in a hybrid model – where agile methodologies live within a structured governance framework that fosters innovation within clearly defined strategic boundaries.  

Hybrid models: The best of both worlds 

So, what does this all mean for businesses looking to navigate this complex landscape? First, it’s about understanding that while agile methodologies allow for rapid adaptation and are excellent for project execution, they will benefit greatly from the strategic alignment that a centralised EPMO can provide. 

A successful EPMO can add considerable value to scalable agile delivery. It will support alignment between enterprise strategy and agile teams, facilitate collaboration and coordination across the portfolio by enabling stronger sponsorship engagement, and support agile teams with the right resources and funding. 

The EPMO also has a critical role to play in governance of the portfolio, as it provides clearer visibility into which projects are happening where. This will reduce duplication and limit the opportunity for “passion projects” to supersede strategic ones. The outcome is the right people focusing on the right projects, at the right time.

As a critical first step towards a hybrid model, organisations need to assess their project management frameworks and determine the right mix of agility and oversight. This can be a challenging exercise to manage from within an organisation, particularly one that has been through significant change or where teams may have been able to operate relatively independently.  

An external perspective can help set up the right framework for building a new delivery DNA that offers the best of both worlds. That is, meeting the strategic needs of the business whilst bridging the gaps between strategic alignment and agile execution.  

Strategic oversight and operational independence  

Finding the perfect operational and strategic balance is the holy grail here. For most organisations, that means allowing teams the space to explore and innovate; while ensuring there’s a strategic hand gently guiding these efforts in a direction that benefits the overall business objectives. It’s a delicate balancethat requires a keen understanding of when to step in and when to step back.

In our experience, a continuous dialogue between project teams and strategic leaders is essential; as well as a shift from a command-and-control style EPMO to a more consultative role. The EPMO provides the framework and lets the teams innovate within it.  

In a nutshell, it’s about setting up guardrails – not roadblocks. 

Embracing EPMO in agile practices 

As your business evolves, so must your approach to project management. The reintroduction of EPMO in an agile context isn’t about turning back the clock; rather, it’s about creating a new synergy that leverages the best of both worlds.  

 You can achieve a dynamic yet disciplined approach to project management by marrying the rapid execution capabilities of agile with the strategic oversight of EPMO and embedding it in your delivery DNA.

The right delivery DNA can help to not only solve your immediate project challenges; it also  sets the stage for long-term strategic success. Projects are not only delivered on-time and budget, they are also meaningful in the context of the overarching strategy and contribute significantly to the overarching goals of the organisation. 

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 ...