Context is worth 20 IQ points


by Greg Hutchins, Contributing Editor

A FRIEND OF MINE says that context is worth 20 IQ points. So, I'll give you some context and perspective on the hottest thing in project management.

At a recent meeting, the chair of the PMI® Puget Sound Chapter asked, “How many people are involved in project management Offices (PMOs)?” About one-third of the audience raised their hands. PMOs are spreading like winter colds. What's going on? And, is there a better way?

Why are PMOs so popular? We all know the number of projects that don't meet budget, schedule, or customer requirements. The Standish folks say one-half to three-quarters of software projects don't meet the requirements for some reason or other. The numbers are similar in other project disciplines.

Using standards well requires a certain amount of knowledge and wisdom.

So, the solution is to standardize projects as much as possible through consistent processes. The thinking goes like this. A single project is a one-off. Three or more projects make a portfolio where economies of scale allow for processed projects.

The desire for consistent project outcomes is now driving the ideas of PMOs, process management, and capability maturity models (CMMs), which are all interrelated. See if the following PMO logic makes sense? If project processes are repeatable, the outcomes are known and consistent, specifically on budget, on time, on scope projects that satisfy stakeholders.

SEI Five Levels of Maturity. The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon popularized many of the ideas of process management and organizational process maturity [Mark C. Paulk, Charles V.Weber, Bill Curtis, Mary Beth Chrissis, The Capability Maturity Model: Guidelines for Improving the Software Process, 1995, Addison-Wesley]. The SEI methodology was primarily introduced to facilitate software development. But, the SEI's five levels fairly well summarize most of the existing CMMs, specifically:

Level 1: Initial. Formal project processes often don't exist. Projects are done through informal relationships and understood protocols. Work is often ad hoc or even chaotic.

Level 2: Repeatable. There are a few formal, documented project processes. In a project management environment, there are a few methods to track quality, schedule, and cost.


Greg Hutchins, PE, is a principal with QPE, a program, process, and project management advisory firm in Portland, Ore. QPE's core competency is leading/coaching project teams to do the right things right on time. He can be reached at +800-COMPETE or [email protected]. Comments on this column should be directed to [email protected].

Level 3: Defined. Most projects follow documented, standardized, and integrated processes.

Level 4: Managed. Project processes are documented detailed, quantified, and controlled.

Level 5: Optimized. Continuous process improvement (CPI) is widely used to improve an organization's projects.

The Tip for Those Additional 20 IQ Points. There are a number of CMMs out there. Some are based on the PMBOK® Guide while others are proprietary. PMI® is even developing its own CMM, the OPM3, which will be an ANSI standard in two years or so. Even though SEI is trying to expand beyond its core software franchise, their CMMs mainly address software organizations.

What does a company with multiple projects do if it doesn't produce software but wants to develop a PMO? For organizations that don't have or use a CMM model, take a look at the new ISO 9001 (2000) standard that came out recently. You can use the ISO 9001 (2000) as a baseline or benchmark for your tailored CMM.

More than 350,000 companies worldwide have registered to the ISO 9000 standards. This is a phenomenal number and reflects its wide acceptance and value. However, many companies and quality gurus insisted that it was a static quality system, did not emphasize process improvement, and was needlessly document intensive. Well, this has been fixed. ISO 9000 (2000) is a major revision of the 1987 and 1994 editions. The standard developers reorganized the Quality Management System standard into a system of linked business processes. The standard can be obtained through the American Society for Quality (ASQ) at +800-248-1946.

This is a Dangerous Stunt—Use Professional Forethought. I've used the ISO 9001 standard a number of times as a baseline and benchmark model for PMOs as well as for determining CMM levels quickly. Many companies develop intensive and extensive checklists to determine their CMMs to the first or even second decimal point (1.12). Huh? I think this level of detail can hide the purpose and value of CMMs. I can use the ISO 9001 (2000) standard to determine a CMM within a quarter point (1.25 or 1.00) where an organization generally stands.

In general, ISO 9001 (2000) compliance would be approximately a Level 2.75 to 3.0 CMM organization. But users beware: ISO 9001 (2000), CMM models, and even the PMBOK® Guide are generic standards and models. They must be used wisely. Cement life preservers can be registered to ISO 9001. A Level 4 CMM organization can develop DOS-based software. Whatever the tool or process, it requires the knowledge and wisdom of an educated user. img

March 2001 PM Network



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