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Agile expert advises on agile transition snags, PMO problems

Recently, I spoke with Alex Adamopoulos, CEO and founder of emergn about his company’s new agile development transition consultancy program, AgilePMO. In these remarks from our interview, Adamopoulos offers advice on agile development process adoption and his views on agile.

Emergn, is a new company, but Adamopoulos’ experience in the software service field is extensive. He is a 20-year veteran and an active blogger.

What is your agile philosophy?

Adamopoulos: A transformation program. If I think about the guiding principles of an agile engagement, they’re the same fundamental principles of a well-run global company.

What are some common problems within PMOs (Project Management Offices)?

Adamopoulos: Even when I was embedded in the outsourcing community, I thought that large enterprises had a methodical process for why they’d select a vendor, manage a project, etc. I discovered that not only did a lot of them not have them, but the ones that do have them are typically by line of business.

Could you offer a hypothetical example of a company with a PMO problem?

Adamopoulos: A good example would be a top bank, in the top three. Their investment banking side, which drives more than half of the revenue, has a PMO, and that PMO is only operated by three people. It’s fragmented across two geographies. Then, if you go to asset management side, you discover that they have one-person shops or half-person shops. That is common for eight out of 10 of our clients.

Usually, they have no metrics or measurements in place. The metrics that exist are rudimentary project metrics that do not even translate into economic numbers or business value that a CIO can sit with his boss and say, “Here’s why we are making these decisions and how they are affecting our company.”

So, it would make sense for them to explore a way to drive it more efficiently. Right?

Adamopoulos: Clearly the largest problem we see is that there is no single project or program governance in place. There is no methodology for how programs should be governed. There is a lot of waste. We see morale being affected.

What are common snags that occur in transitions to agile?

Adamopoulos: Typically, it becomes a land grab. it is very difficult for some organizations to change their existing behavior and their business psychology. Asking them to collaborate and communicate, and be more dependent upon the business in several areas [is a big deal].

The biggest risk is the psychological impact that agile can have on an organization. Right or wrong, many have already settled into their comfort zones. Agile is a very disruptive methodology, not just at the software level but at the cultural level as well. The larger risks are people asking, “How are you going to impact my job, and why? What does it mean to me in terms of the responsibilities I might have?” There needs to be a lot of coaching in the transitioning people out of their current working mindsets and into something new.

Who are emergn’s target customers?

Adamopoulos: Today, the traditional customer for us is in the application development areas of IT; but we are starting to branch out with the AgilePMO product. Our primary target is the enterprise client, meaning the tier-one enterprise, the $1 billion-plus players. That is where the majority where our business is today. Is it likely that we’ll do things below that? Probably, but it would have to be very specific, because agile enablement reshapes a company’s sourcing strategy. Those are pretty important programs, ones that aren’t taken lightly, and we’ve found that the larger companies are more ready to do those than the smaller players.

The economy has been a help for us as opposed to a hurt; the whole drive of saving money, reorganizing, efficiency has supported our model. So, organizations that have very fragmented sourcing programs are the primary focus for us.

How long do you customers need emergn’s consulting services?

Adamopoulos: I am pretty sensitive to the consulting side. I have been a customer. I don’t believe in having people from the B-team or sit there for one, two years and billing against my company.

Maybe I sound old-fashioned, but we definitely want to drive value. For some companies that may take one year or even half. We are currently doing one large scale agile transfer program for one of the UK’s largest utilities that is a 24-month roadmap, but that is something we defined up front.

British Airways is a great example. We did an entire agile transformation for them. Since they are an airline, they have a gazillion projects going on. We have begun applying a number of initial successes into some points of business. How long they’ll take? I don’t know, but in their case they want to see their entire organization become as agile as possible.

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