Assessing organizational project management maturity

Introduction

Human beings are truly magnificent and awe inspiring. We are capable of amazing accomplishments from Stonehenge and the Pyramids to inner and outer space exploration. We strive to excel. We are optimistic.

Even so, we are not in control. All too often, developments we initiate do not proceed as planned. We must take control. We must improve upon our work. We must mature. As nonsensical as this sounds, we must also slow down, if we are to finish faster.

There is so much work to be done. Corporations the world over are focused on efficiency and effectiveness. Business complexity is increasing as our work is more integrated, synthesized, yet, more modular than ever before. Demand is growing, requirements are more articulate and change is the only constant at a time when resources are scarce. If we are to accomplish more with less, then there is a need to focus even more on our work. We only have one chance to get it right the first time, so it's even more critical than before to devote extra attention to our constrained work. Simply put, this extra attention is none other than project management. We are currently witnessing the explosive growth of project management the world over. Enterprises large and small are organizing goal-oriented work into projects. By devoting more attention to the accomplishment of carefully established objectives, forward thinking organizations are improving at “getting it right the first time.” They are “maturing.” Or are they? How much are they maturing? In which key areas are they maturing? How much do they want to mature? Improving upon organizational project management maturity is a significant concern of many organizations. A fundamental requirement for improvement is the acquisition of knowledge regarding current performance. Assessing current performance, abilities and competence is much easier said than done. An organization is a complex, dynamic system influenced by internal and external subsystems. In fact, this is so difficult a task that we are forced to resort to modeling. Using a model we are able to simplify our interpretation of the corporate environment and its related competencies. Assessment is challenging, even when the most representative simulation (or model) is used. Furthermore, even though assessment itself is an integral process on the road to full maturity (perfective condition), more benefits can be realized when we consider the impact that the assessment process has on organizations. Can the assessment process influence organizational capabilities?

This paper aims to define OPM assessment in general, elaborate on numerous challenges associated with this type of assessment, introduce an assessment process, as well as set the stage for a new leading-edge, actionable assessment instrument currently under development. This potential assessment tool is a component of a new model being developed by PMI‘s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) program. At the time of this writing OPM3 is fast-tracking development and initial testing of this new model whereby the assessment tool has not yet been established. As such, many of the concepts and principles introduced in this paper do not represent the final outcome of OPM3. Rather, they present the author's perspective and a work in progress.

Let's begin by establishing a foundation. Before addressing assessment, we must agree upon an organizational environment and establish an OPM Framework.

Understanding Organizational Project Management Maturity

Establishing an OPM Framework

The Organizational Environment

A corporation is a system, made up of subsystems and dynamic interrelationships. Indeed, the environment (or system) within which we work has a profound effect on our performance. Peter Senge, often referred to as the father of systems theory, reminds us “When placed in the same system, people, however different, tend to produce similar results.” This is not a negative observation. It's human nature. There a numerous causes that creates this effect. To provide just one example, companies today are moving away from a “hero” mentality. It's very difficult and very expensive to replace an exceptional performer who has moved on. Thus, the “system” naturally evolves to what I call performance equilibrium. If one would plot performance within an organization along a control chart, one would realize that we all perform within a relatively narrow band (say ± 3 σ). Our performance tends to evolve toward a consistent level predominantly shaped by our environment. Performance equilibrium. This is why knowing the environment, and how to improve it is very important. Beyond this, the system dynamics created by a group of people working toward a common objective will eventually create performance equilibrium. This being true, if organizations learn how to change the system, the new and improved environment will create escalated levels of performance equilibrium. Changing the system involves assessing current performance, identifying opportunities for improvement, establishing performance objectives and developing realistic plans for attaining the new-targeted objectives. As such, a solid understanding of organizational system components is a prerequisite to improving upon performance equilibrium. For the purpose of this paper, five key organizational components, as they relate to OPM, are identified:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Business Alignment
  • Organizational Elasticity
  • Critical Success Factors/Metrics.
People

Namely, human resources who collectively contribute to the attainment of corporate objectives. Referring to the opening paragraph of this paper, human resources are highly capable and very skilled. Having said this, we have limitations and constraints. It's important to note this, especially since it is the collective contribution of people that satisfies corporate objectives. It is people who collectively mature; and who provide feedback during an assessment process. This feedback is often riddled with different perceptions and based upon past experiences.

Processes

The structures, workflows and controls within which people act to accomplish established objectives. Acting upon system inputs, these processes produce corporate outputs. Therefore, the processes themselves as well as the manner in which they are executed are critical to the attainment of organizational goals. It is the refinement of these processes by people that leads to increased maturity.

Business Alignment

A vision and corporate strategy that may be translated into successful projects. This includes the prioritization of all projects based upon absolute contribution to corporate objectives. The alignment of people and processes to corporate strategy is paramount to maturing toward a perfected state or condition.

Organizational Elasticity

The nurtured ability of an organization to change and evolve. Continuous improvement predicates change. People, processes and often business orientation and alignment must change. People must be receptive to change for maturation to occur. This type of change, though, is easier to effect if a structure for continuous improvement is in place and understood. The ability of an organization to adjust its structure as a response to specific stimuli is critical to organizational improvement.

Critical Success Factors (CSF)/Metrics

Artifacts, which represent corporate objectives and provide a means of measurement. There are different levels of artifacts. One hierarchy calls for Key Performance Indicators, which are made up of CSFs and metrics. Typically, there is a parent/child relationship between metrics, which allows for the summation or rolling-up of performance related data. Certainly, these metrics and the processes that capture them, must be well defined and consistently (re)generated if they are to represent corporate reality. The discipline of systematic measurement is a vast topic on its own. Simply identifying what to measure, how often to measure and when to measure is a great challenge. I‘m sure you'll agree that most metrics in place today inform us of past performance. This has some value, however, if we strive to “get it right the first time,” we must develop metrics that will forewarn us if our current performance will not produce the desired result. This is what will enable us to initiate corrective action to navigate back on course. After all, this is the primary purpose of this type of measurement. To identify a variance early enough so that we have an opportunity to eliminate it before it leads to failure. Difficult as this is, we must change our thinking and approach regarding measurement; we must develop metanoia or a shift of mind.

The above five organizational components come together in the attainment of corporate objectives. People work within control boundaries defined by corporate processes. The organizational environment is further defined through effective business alignment, and enhanced elasticity. Finally, critical success factors and metrics provide milestone objectives and statutory point-in-time performance indicators. These provide the organization with triggers and stimuli that lead to corporate adjustments (strategic and tactical changes which impact business alignment). The ability of an organization to effectively make these adjustments is driven by its elasticity. These components are inter-dependent and cyclical.

An Organizational Project Management Framework

Project Management versus Organizational Project Management (OPM)

This paper opened with a tribute to the growing influence and global success of project management. We are experiencing a project management renaissance; a rebirth of what we know is “the right thing to do.” If a project is a business-within-a-business, organizations may realize impressive benefits and performance gains through the extrapolation of PM to the enterprise-wide level. Manage the organization with the extra focus and attention that one would devote to a project. Develop process, quality, schedule and cost predictability at the organizational level. Translate strategy into projects in a dynamic web of priorities and corporate expectations. There's more. Completing one project successfully is one matter. Repeatable successful execution is another entirely (for the sake of brevity, the definition of success is yours).

Organizational project management is more than one project; more than a multiproject environment. It concerns the achievement of corporate objectives through the effective translation of strategic plans into constrained work. Here, the level of performance equilibrium is represented by the degree to which corporate objectives are attained. Organizational project management refers to the systematic planning, leading and organizing of processes and people through effective business alignment and distinctive performance measurement, with the goal of accomplishing corporate objectives.

Organizational Project Management Maturity

There is nothing innate regarding this definition of OPM. As a classical orchestra ensemble rehearses time and again to create perfect harmony and synthesis, so must an organization practice and improve upon its ability to perform at the enterprise level. Improve upon its ability to systematically plan, lead and organize the totality of work it executes. Improve upon its organizational maturity. Behold a continuum, a progression from immature to perfected condition, which we may refer to as the enterprise project management continuum (or Enterprise-PMC). A young organization needs time to synthesize, to mature. At its infancy performance equilibrium levels are low; a relatively immature organization. Organizational objectives begin to be realized when the enterprise learns how to collectively mature or move along this progression in a positive manner.

The Webster's New World Dictionary defines maturity as the state of being mature. “State” implies periodicity, thus maturity exists as of a point in time. According to the same dictionary, a process that is mature is “highly developed” or “perfected.” In terms of Organizational Project Management, maturity may be defined as the level of performance equilibrium that represents an organization's current capability to meet or exceed corporate objectives through the use of systematic project management processes. OPM maturity is measurable as of a point in time and can be represented along the enterprise project management continuum.

I prefer to view OPM maturity as a reflection of capability and not a representation of level of sophistication. We must focus on our collective capabilities as an organization, as opposed to the degree of sophistication of processes. Sophistication is often associated with complexity, whereby increased complexity does not always enable improved process capability—on the contrary. A healthy balance is necessary among clearly defined processes that are nurtured to a degree of sophistication that enables an optimum performance level. Continuously increasing upon the level of sophistication on its own will not yield better performance.

There is also a direct positive relationship between maturity and capability. As an organization matures it becomes more capable at meeting or exceeding corporate objectives. Important observations regarding OPM maturity:

• It represents a level of performance equilibrium as of a point in time.

• It is dynamic. Ideally, OPM Maturity will change, improve, over time.

• It may be measured in qualitative and quantitative terms.

• It provides a set of excellent goals and objectives.

This paper elaborates upon OPM Maturity assessment; however, it must be viewed in the context of the OPM framework established above. Thus far, we've defined an organizational project management framework and the concept of maturity as it relates to enterprisewide performance. We identified the importance of acquiring knowledge regarding current performance (assessment). How does this assessment take place? What should be assessed? Of all the processes that go on in our organizations today, which ones should we improve upon to increase our collective maturity? Which processes impact our ability to meet or exceed objectives? What is the progression or steps that organizations must evolve through to approach perfected condition? Finally, what is perfected condition? The answers to these questions (and others) must be encapsulated in an instrument that “models” this progression. Organizations require a model that represents the enterprise project management continuum. One that not only identifies the progression from immature to perfected condition, but also accounts for all the interrelationships between critical organizational artifacts. This leads us to PMI‘s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model.

Organizational Project Management Maturity Model

Organizations today are very complex and dynamic entities. If we are to assess organizational project management maturity with realistic results we must simplify our perspective and concentrate on the critical few elements that essentially represent the critical path of our organization. There is a need to identify those processes and artifacts that are critical to organizational project management improvement. This corporate critical path is what organizations must focus on to improve holistic performance. These key processes and their relationships are modeled along a progression. This model is known as an organizational project management maturity model. A good number of such models exist today, however, not one of them has been able to mirror the impact and breadth that the PMBOK® Guide continues to have regarding singular project standards. There is a great need and opportunity for a model that builds upon proven project management practices with a breadth that spans the enterprise. This model must be simplistic in use yet granular enough to ensure realistic representation of the enterprise project management continuum. As mentioned earlier PMI is currently developing a model, which will potentially span the enterprise. Under the guise of the OPM3 program, this model and associated assessment instrument promise to be a significant contribution to organizations the world over. This is leading edge work, years in the making, from an international group of energized experts with real-world hands-on experience. As the model itself is not the subject of this paper, I will not devote a lot of narrative to its development and potential construction. Schlichter 2001, Cooke-Davies, Schlichter and Bredillet 2001, and Ed Mechler 2001address the PMI OPM3 program.

The corporate critical path, the heart of an OPM model, provides us with an important structure, which can be used for performance measurement. At its highest dimension, this structure includes chronologically based performance platforms (levels), low-level elements that integrate into a performance platform, relationships between these elements and finally a progression within elements that allows for maturation from one platform to the next. The synthesis of all of these creates an excellent structure, which allows for repeatable and consistent measurement. Earlier, it was identified that a prerequisite to organizational improvement is measurement of current performance. Imagine how difficult it will be to measure current performance and relate the results to previous measurements, or establish future performance targets if we evaluate different objects each time. Our model helps us identify what to measure, as well as associate a maturation level based upon actual performance. Establishing performance targets for corporate critical path elements is another benefit provided by an OPM model. The business alignment and/or domain of a corporation may require higher performance targets than one in another domain. A company that produces human heart monitoring equipment will demand a higher performance level regarding the quality of its products compared to a company that manufacturers paper. An OPM model identifies what to measure, what needs to be done to progress to the next performance platform, and helps develop corporate performance objectives.

Assessing Organizational Project Management Maturity

Asking the Right Questions

Remember the opening statement of this paper: Slow down to finish faster. One of the greatest challenges to improving upon organizational project management is taking the time to evaluate the current state-of-affairs. Taking or making the time to ask the right questions, and of course, to develop accurate and realistic responses to these questions. All too often, we find ourselves trapped in a vicious cycle of mediocrity. Average project performance leads to a fair amount of rework, production problems, escalating maintenance and support. We are too busy reworking the deliverables of previous projects that we don't have time to measure current performance. We are too busy taking care of our bread-and-butter. Or are we? If our bread-and-butter involves the present only, how much of a future do we have as a company? If this paper is to send one message only, let that message be: Slow down to finish faster. Slow down. Plan for measurement, measure, adjust course if necessary, plan for measurement again…. Naturally, I‘m not suggesting that we ignore our bread-and-butter. Plan for measurement. Build it into a cyclical process. Make measurement part of the corporate critical path.

Asking the right questions. How well are we doing? Have we attained our objectives? How did we perform during this cycle? How did we respond to unknown/unknowns (unidentifiable risks) that materialized? Has our environment (internal or external) changed? How do we want to respond to this change? These, and more, are very important questions that must be answered periodically. Additionally, these questions must be asked at a more granular level. How well are we doing as an organization regarding our ability to predict project schedule? The answer to this question is a clear, tangible quantifiable metric that represents our current ability to predict when a project will complete. Go back for a moment, to the components of our OPM Model (performance platforms, elements, relationships and a progression). An OPM model provides us with all the right questions. Therefore, slow down, use the model and develop responses. To provide an example in a more familiar context, the PMBOK® Guide sends a very clear and appropriate message regarding the value of a project plan. Organizations new to project management (low level of maturation) will typically develop a project plan but neglect to use it. The plan is developed, approved, archived and often put aside. A project plan must be used throughout the life cycle of the project. It must be built to expect and manage change; to direct and manage the project. Well, why wouldn't the same apply at the organizational level? Use the OPM model throughout the life of the organization. Just like one would compare actuals to baseline for a singular project, one is to measure actual corporate performance to planned/targeted objectives. Slow down to attain objectives faster. What's more, the results will be even more impressive.

A Common Language

Before progressing any further, let's agree on a definition for assessment within the context of organizational project management maturity. What if OPM measurement is to OPM assessment, what quality control is to quality assurance? In this light, OPM assessment is a management function that plans for, directs, and controls the periodic measurement of enterprise-wide project performance with the goal of identifying opportunities for improvement that will lead to enhanced capability. A few important key phrases in this definition:

Management function: Individuals with the authority and influence to enact change throughout the enterprise must require and support OPM assessment.

Periodic: For all the right reasons why a project should have frequent and appropriate milestones, so should an organization create periodic assessment cycles. Appropriately scheduled OPM assessments will allow for corrective action if necessary without significant impact to the desired outcome. Frequency depends upon the desired outcome (maturity level targeted), the amount of change/improvement required to reach the desired outcome, and the aggressiveness of the estimated schedule.

Measurement: This is the actual collection of data that represents current performance levels. Many tools are at our disposal today that standardize and simplify this type of measurement.

Enterprisewide: Once again, our focus here is not the singular project. Remember the concept of performance equilibrium defined earlier. Many benefits are realized through the escalation of the level of performance equilibrium. Therefore the breadth and scope of OPM assessment is enterprisewide.

“goal…enhanced capability”: OPM assessment has one primary objective. It's not in the numbers. Not even in the scores or maturity level. It's to improve. It's all about continuous learning. An OPM assessment must result in action. Of course, an assessment will confirm (or not) whether we have attained a desired outcome, however, it will most inevitably identify opportunities for improvement. We should develop new plans and activities that will enable us to convert these opportunities for improvement into corporate strengths. Yes. There are benefits with attaining specific levels. The greatest value is realized though through the implementation of continuous improvement action plans.

Exhibit 1

images

An Assessment Process—The A4 Assessment Instrument

Thus far we have defined the scope of OPM, surfaced definitions for OPM, maturity and assessment, agreed upon the importance of evaluating OPM on a periodic basis. Within the limitations of this paper, we've also elaborated upon what to assess (this is provided to us by way of an OPM model), the scope and goals of an assessment, as well as the frequency and periodicity of an assessment process. All this sounds good, but how does one actually go about assessing OPM maturity? To be sure, assessment must be approached as another project. Assessment needs the extra focus and attention that can only be afforded to a project. It is not something to be done casually. Remember our definition of OPM Assessment above—it is an important management function.

Since OPM assessments are to occur repeatedly, it makes sense to standardize the assessment process (for many reasons which are not covered in this paper). Behold the A4 Assessment procedure (Exhibit 1). One that supports the definition of OPM Assessment offered above. Articulate a plan, Assess performance, Analyze findings, Act upon results. A4. This process assumes knowledge of, and the existence of, all the assessment prerequisites reviewed thus far (OPM framework, an OPM Model, and management support to name a few). A4 Assessment provides a standard, generic procedure that is repeatable and goal-oriented.

Articulate a Plan

As with any project, one must plan for the next assessment cycle. An excellent starting point is the last assessment executed. Review the previous assessment's plan and results. What were the specific results? What data collection methods were used? Who participated? What action items were identified? What challenges surfaced during the previous assessment? Furthermore, conduct a trend analysis of assessments five cycles back if the data is available. In the absence of dramatic change, past history is a good starting point for reviewing current performance.

Decide who is to conduct the assessment. There are benefits in having the same body execute the assessment time and again. Also, no matter how much we try to be realistic, it's often very difficult to objectively assess ourselves (very much like assigning our own grade at school for coursework). Remember our definition of OPM Assessment. It is a corporate management function to be designed and supported by the senior echelons of the enterprise. However, the actual measurement may objectively and realistically be conducted by a third party.

Decide who is to participate in this assessment. Do not assume the same players time and again. OPM maturity is very much a product of perceptions. Depending on an individual's immediate environment (be it upper management or technical staff) the same capability may be interpreted differently. Also, weigh the impact of individuals that have been with the organization for some time as opposed to those who have recently come on board.

Develop a communications plan for the OPM Assessment. Identify the various types, frequency and media to be used for assessment communications. Through the developed communication process ensure that everyone's expectations are managed. Open channels of communication will nurture trust and result in a more accurate representation of OPM performance.

Identify quality assurance procedures and data collection methods and repositories. Review the same from previous assessments. Develop classification methods for the data collected. Consider that data represents granular performance related objects. Strive to create meaningful data, which provides information. Finally nurture information into knowledge through the clever use of the participant's experience, wisdom, and contributions.

Ultimately considering the above will allow for the development of a time, cost, quality and resource constrained assessment plan. A communicated road map that will guide the organization through the assessment process.

Assess Performance

Data collection methods are plentiful and diverse. It is not within the scope of this paper to identify and analyze all of them. It is the author's goal to present food for thought in deciding which method to employ as well as identify those methods used effectively in the past. Keep in mind that the elements being assessed also determine the method to be used.

Consider the audience of the data collection method. Everyone's time is very valuable, therefore collection devices must be effective and efficient. If inquiries are to be presented to senior management, they are most appropriately poised as absolute, quick-answer questions. On the other hand, open-ended questions are more suitable for project management practitioners and direct stakeholders.

Know which data is quantifiable and which is of a more intangible nature. Instruments must be employed to translate “soft” data into absolute metric language. Frankly, data that is absolute and in numeric form from its origin is easy to deal with. The art of assessment (and it is as much an art as it is a science) is in the consistent and realistic interpretation of soft data.

Surveys represent a very effective and efficient data collection method. Many different types of surveys exist, primarily classified by the size of the audience, the quality of data required, and the time allotted for data collection. Written surveys (which may or may not be anonymous) allow for anytime anyplace collaboration and generate an audit trail for historical purposes. A person-to-person interview is also extremely effective in ensuring that the correct message was delivered. Interviews allow for two-way communication and support same time, anyplace interaction. They also go a long way for mitigating the distortion of results due to individual perceptions.

Analyze Findings

Once the data is collected, conduct a review to ensure completeness, accuracy. Data collected may generate new needs for even more data. In this case, additional performance assessment may be required. This is to be expected and time for this should be predefined in the assessment plan (articulated in the first step of the A4 Assessment procedure).

Compile the results. Based upon the data classifications and hierarchy developed, organize the data so that it conveys meaning. Merge and summarize the data in the development of a scorecard.

The OPM model used will have a direct impact on the shape and form of the final scorecard. Ultimately, the data collected is rolled up to a representation of maturity (score) for each specific element on the corporate critical path. The maturity score assigned to an element will determine which performance platform or level it represents. You will inevitably find that performance across all elements is not localized around one performance level. The OPM model dictates calculation and derivation of the component elements as well as of collective maturity for the entire enterprise.

Act Upon Results

The aforementioned analysis will certainly identify areas requiring improvement. This is one of the primary reasons for assessment in the first place. These are OPM opportunities for an organization to improve upon its collective performance. They should not be viewed negatively as adverse problems. Performance issues to be sure, but definitely opportunities to improve upon critical competencies.

Develop action plans that will lead to new improvements. Initiate action! Not doing so, significantly minimizes the impact of conducting an assessment in the first place. The assessment process has collected valuable data and surfaced challenging areas. The OPM model used should also identify a progression of maturation for each respective critical element. This progression is a foundational component in identifying the activities to execute, the milestones to accomplish.

This new road map is also to include new targets. For those elements where previously established targets have been met (or exceeded), develop new maturity targets; raise the bar. There are few reasons why an organization may elect to not improve upon a certain capability. Cost is certainly one factor. If continued maturation for a specific capability includes increased complexity, an organization may elect to remain at current levels for a period of time. In this case, reevaluation should occur during the next assessment.

Finally, present the assessment findings. Include current performance levels, provide supporting documentation, and identify areas where the organization excels along with those capabilities that require improvement, identify new performance targets, recommend a course of action and seek its active support. Think ahead. Establish specific dates for the next assessment, as well as key milestones en route.

Provide closure to the assessment process by archiving and integrating the data collected along with previous assessment cycle data. Develop lessons-learned with key participants that will enable an even more effective and efficient assessment process the next time around.

A4 Assessment provides a standardized, repeatable and actionable structure that enables consistent measurement of current OPM performance. It represents a shell within which lower-level assessment activities may be defined.

OPM Assessment in general allows organizations to accomplish constrained work better, faster, cheaper. It identifies an organization's strengths as well as opportunities for improvement—an enterprisewide SWOT analysis if you will. Reaffirmation of commitment to organizational project management and continuous improvement is another benefit.

The future is very exciting with more developments on the horizon. PMI‘s OPM3 model under development aims to provide a sound OPM structure and assessment instrument based upon solid research and real-world experience.

In closing, Peter Senge reminds us “We tend to blame outside circumstances for our problems. Someone else—our competitors, the press, the changing mood of the marketplace, the government—did it to us.”

Yes, we have certainly come a long way. It's time for us to take charge. Let's take advantage of our own opportunities for improvement. Let us mature, lest we become even more capable.

References

Ibbs, C. William, & Kwak, Young-Hoon. 1997. The Benefits of Project Management—Financial and Organizational Rewards to Corporations. The Project Management Institute.

Senge, Peter M. 1994. The Fifth Discipline—The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency Doubleday.

Turban, Efraim, & Aronson, Jay E. 1998. Decision Support Systems and Intelligent Systems. Prentice Hall.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA

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