The Reluctant Project Manager and the xMO

Iain Elliott, 5 min read

Reluctant Project Manager

In a recent article by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the authors discussed the evolution of Project Management Offices (PMOs) to adopt value-based delivery approaches, the mindset of a value-focused PMO (referred to as xMO), and the role of culture and behaviours in driving delivery. A successful xMO nurtures supportive cultures, and enables flexibility and adaptability, whilst mainting constant focus on the strategy. So how is this new xMO approach any different to the PMO approach?

“It is the mindset of a value and outcomes-focused xMO that distinguishes it from budget and schedule-focused PMOs. The xMO mindset helps shift the focus to enabling value delivery, and it has an almost obsessive focus on how it supports the organization, empowering teams and decision makers to deliver value-based outcomes for customers.”

The Evolution of PMOs: Delivering Value Through xMOs (PMI)

The opportunity cost of the traditional PMO

For a modern team or enterprise, maintaining a competitive edge requires a shift in responsibilities. Companies that are not actively listening to their customers and innovating, or not adopting clear customer-centric goals, have come to rely on the PMO as an approach to repeat past success. This however does not fuel innovation or even improvement, and eventually leads to loss of market share to competition.

Other names for PMO

The role of a PMO is becoming increasingly commoditised. Functions such as Product, Portfolio, Program, Strategy, Change Management or CoEs primarily support delivery. Besides delivery and BAU, businesses need to foster innovation and quickly respond to changing demands. Therefore, realigning PMO approach to a value-based approach to both support and grow parts of the business.

To succeed in the constantly changing business world, companies should adopt a more flexible and cooperative method. Smartsheet’s Future of Work Management Report 2023 notes the emergence of Expected and Citizen project managers, as firms move away from conventional centralised project models and prioritise value delivery for better project outcomes. Since there are no structured roles to drive this change, the burden falls on a larger community or – as a recent TV show puts it – on the ‘The Reluctant Project Manager’.

“So-called citizen project managers fall into project management for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, it’s simply out of necessity – 65% say they adopt project management responsibilities because no one else steps into the PM role, team members leave the company, or they need to briefly fill-in for someone else. Additionally, 45% of citizen project managers say they manage projects simply because their supervisor asked them to, which points to the ad-hoc nature of this responsibility.”

Smartsheet Future of Work Management Report 2023

The missing focus on people & culture

The concept of xMO, an outcome-focused PMO, is introduced to augment the delivery of value to customers. The PMI study further emphasises the importance of culture and behaviours in driving value delivery, and how an xMO should be people and culture-focused, promoting a positive team environment and a servant-leadership approach. While nurturing a workforce is crucial for business success, it’s important to acknowledge and understand the societal changes that have swept the world in the last five years, and the post-Covid world of work. The new workforce not only needs a common goal, but expects a collaborative approach that supports sharing of ideas and creating value through tasks and outcomes. The future xMO will work to destigmatise failure and promote a culture of speaking up with constructive feedback, while ensuring alignment with the strategy.

Solution: The xMO approach

The Future of Work Management Report 2023 found that most organisations face project management challenges, ranging from employees being shuffled from project to project (45%), remote work (40%), extended time leave (34%), and various other reasons. Many of those facing these challenges feel overwhelmed by project pace and deadlines. How does the xMO address these issues?

The modern Project Management and the xMO methodology circumvent this outdated approach. They achieve agility by leveraging best practices and learnings from past projects. The xMO implements agile methodologies, allowing for flexibility and quick decision-making. It showcases successful initiatives to foster a culture of continuous improvement, establishing robust knowledge management practices to capture and share valuable insights, optimising decision-making processes to ensure informed and timely choices, and providing coaching and guidance to team members to enhance their skills and capabilities. This minimises the impact of resource reallocation and flexible working while removing single points of failure from projects.

Driving growth on the back of xMO

The future xMO paper further highlights the role of leadership in fostering a value-based culture. A global cohort of high-performing PMOs (referred to as the “Top 10 Percent”) is hailed as a benchmark for organisations in order to enhance their value delivery capabilities.

The reality of project-based management is that it’s defined by scope, budget, and timeframe. While these variables may change, the ability to quickly realign and deliver on the core goals of the project determines success. It’s worth considering whether these traditional metrics alone are sufficient to measure a company’s success in the long run. Perhaps it’s time to focus also on shorter-term strategic goals and consider other factors contributing to overall success, such as customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and adaptability to changing market conditions.

By adopting the xMO approach, businesses and teams can respond swiftly to change, drive innovation, and align with strategic objectives. This approach results in improved project outcomes with enhanced overall performance with a visible improvement in metrics like CSAT, NPS, and employee engagement. It’s time for leaders to look at xMO as a training ground for the PMs of the future, evaluating success through a broader lens and ensuring the business consistently creates and delivers value in the ever-evolving customer landscape.

About the Author

Iain Elliott is a technology leader with experience of managing teams across Europe, USA, Africa, and Australia for FTSE/Fortune/ASX companies. At Atturra he heads the Smartsheet practice, delivering successful Project Management solutions and services to clients across Defence, Federal Government and Mining among other industries. He can be reached at

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