Project Management Institute

Down, but not out


A decline in project management maturity doesn't spell certain doom.


The numbers are in, and your organization's most recent project management maturity assessment reveals bad news: There's been a decline.

Don't panic. First, take stock of the assessment by checking if:

1. The assessment process was objective.

2. There are enough data points to indicate a declining trend.

3. The decline is outside acceptable bounds, usually determined by a comparison with peer organizations.

If you checked all of the above, you might be in trouble. But even then, your objective remains the same: to determine how or if to react to the decline.

Retrace your steps during the maturity assessment process from the beginning. Ask whether your organization considered foundational standards—such as Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—when designing and implementing the maturity process. You may need to look at whether these standards were embedded in the maturity process and, once written, whether it was reviewed and approved by the key stakeholders. This exercise will help you determine if you have faulty data, based on a lack of applicable standards and objective input. If that is the case, you will need to revisit the process.


The next question is whether or not your business objectives changed since the initial assessment or at the start of the decline. If so, review the assessment questions—these must align with the organization's objectives and business strategy at all times. The assessment process should periodically take into account shifts in objectives and adjust assessment questions accordingly.

Then review the level of management and executive support for project management within your organization. Did the organizational structure change? Has the message on the need for project management methods and tools been lost on practitioners? Communicating the relevance of project management to the organization ensures focus and support until the portfolio reaches the desired degree of maturity initially set as the objective. Work on building a communications plan among all stakeholders—from executives on down—to address the decline.


If there is proper alignment and management support of the value of project management, we must look into possible problems with benchmarking. A strong correlation exists between an organization's project management maturity and the degree of maturity across the related industry. Ask yourself: Does the decline reflect a need to revisit your project management processes and tools to remain competitive? Has something changed in your competitive landscape? Finally, remember that organizational attitudes toward project management, in general, ebb and flow over time.

External influences are usually not in your control, but understanding these factors can shape your action plans.


If you decide to take action and turn around the decline after reviewing the elements described above, be specific in your planning. Establish checkpoints for these actions and set realistic expectations and measurements. Maturity grows over time, not overnight. PM



Deborah (Debi) A. Dell, PMP, is manager of the Project Management Center of Excellence at IBM, a PMI Global Executive Council member, in Boca Raton, Florida, USA.

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