Project Management Institute

Implementing OPM3--the challenges and next steps


Since the introduction of the Organization Project Management Maturity Model or OPM3®, there has been an attempt to introduce it in many organizations. Any new product goes through various stages of adoption. Likewise this model is now at the first stage i.e. awareness. While organizations in some parts of the world have shown interest, in others it is has met with resistance. This paper presents a brief overview of the model with some of the difficulties encountered in introducing the model to organizations in India. The feedback from representatives of various organizations can be used to help in ongoing development of the model in its future versions. It will also serve as an eye-opener for those intending to use the model in their organizations.


The content presented in this paper is based on published information from the OPM3® standard or elsewhere and experiences during workshops. The views and opinions expressed are the author's personal views and not that of either the Project Management Institute (PMI®) or as a member of the Core Team for the OPM3® SE Update project.

Introducing OPM3®

Why OPM3®?

OPM3® was developed because there was a need to have a standard that embraces project management to meet objectives of an organization as compared to a single project. Volunteers from all over the world have been involved in developing this standard and have based it on extensive market research and surveys.

Some salient points of the research were:

  • A number of existing models in project management maturity were studied. The study indicated gaps in the existing models in structure and content in terms of requirements for organizational project management.
  • This was particularly true with regard to the treatment of organizational maturity as an incremental process in terms of best practices and capabilities.

Strategy and Projects – the missing link

The formulation of strategy and related exercises for planning is well documented and researched. There is also considerable literature and focus in the practice of using strategic management for competitive advantage. But are we successful in implementing strategic plans?

One of key issues has been the disconnect between the results achieved at the operating level to those at the strategic or organizational level. This may be surprising to some as often the question asked is, “Why would anybody implement projects that are not meeting organizational objectives”? While it seems improbable that this should happen in practice, it has shown to be true in many cases.

Some of the reasons for this disconnect are:
  • Differences in objectives at the project level compared to that of the organization;
  • The dynamic nature of the marketplace and the environment and the fact that organizations have to constantly adapt to changing situations;
  • Differences in sharing of knowledge and understanding at operating and organizational levels.

Challenge # 1 Understanding the Knowledge

Emphasis wrongly placed on Tools instead of Knowledge

While developing the model, the customer survey showed a need for a tool that can help in assessing the maturity of an organization. This tool is intended for use after sufficient knowledge is acquired based on the Knowledge Foundation. However, prospective users tend to start using the tool directly without adequately studying the Knowledge Foundation. This approach will not bear fruit as the knowledge is an essential part of the model and the tool is only an aid in the process. The tendency to start the whole process with the tool as the first step should be avoided.

Organizational Project Management

The concept of Organizational Project Management is itself new and is hardly found in literature and as a practice has just started to find acceptance. Sufficient dissemination of knowledge in the project management community in this area is required. This knowledge is also a prerequisite for using the tool.

Improvement in Organizational Maturity

Participants in seminars indicated that their organizations were currently not thinking of a methodology for measured improvement towards meeting the business strategy of their organizations. Many were content with process and project maturity rather than the overall maturity across the domains of project, program and portfolio management. This can be seen partly due to lack of understanding of the concept of Organizational Project Management.

What is Organizational Project Management?

The OPM3® Knowledge Foundation defines Organizational Project Management as the ‘systematic management of projects, programs and portfolios in alignment with the achievement of strategic goals.’ The essence of this concept is that the projects, programs and portfolios are related and their interrelationships need to be considered in a holistic way in order to successfully meet organizational objectives. This applies to all organizations big, small and in any industry or sector.

Elements of the Model

The model consists of three elements:
OPM3® Elements

Exhibit 1
OPM3® Elements

The OPM3® Knowledge Foundation is the first part and is a perquisite for the other two elements. The Assessment needs to be done with the help of the tool that accompanies the Knowledge Foundation.

The Knowledge Foundation contains the complete list of Best Practices. It also has the list of questions for Self Assessment. The Capabilities Directory and the Improvement Directory are present in the tool that also helps to navigate through the model.

Best Practices and Capabilities

The OPM3® Knowledge Foundation gives the following definitions: (PMI, 203, p 171)

Best Practice: Optimal way currently recognized by industry to achieve a stated goal or objective

Capability: Specific competency that must exist in an organization in order for it to execute project management processes and deliver project management service and products

More than 600 best practices have been documented in the model. These are related to organizational project management, i.e., in the domains of Project, Program and Portfolio management (PPP)

The model also takes into account a stepwise progression of capabilities in terms of stages of Standardization, Measurement, Control and Improvement or SMCI.

The model has been developed in line with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) that is a well-accepted standard in project management. Therefore, it aligns with the process groups Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Closing (IPECC) as defined in it.

Outcomes, KPI and Metrics

How do we know if we have a capability? We can know by verifying if outcomes are present and measuring them in terms of metrics.

  • Capabilities produce Outcomes
  • Key Performance Indicators measure Outcomes using Metrics

Dependencies exist between best practices or between capabilities within a best practice. i.e. we can have intra and inter dependencies. There is also a sequential dependency relationship when we consider the stages of SMCI, the domains of PPP and the IPECC process groups. These dependencies have been considered in OPM3®.

Challenge # 2 – Comparison with other Models

During the research phase of the project, nearly 30 models were studied and a gap analysis done to determine the basis for developing the model. This included those of SEI based on capability maturity. In India, organizations in the IT/IS sector have embraced the CMM models to a great extent. This is borne by the fact that highest percentage of organizations assessed at Level 5 for CMM are in India.


Some of the terminology used in the two models (SEI and PMI) are similar, but have different meanings. For example, if we compare CMMI with continuous representation and OPM3®, we find this with regard to terms like best practice, capability, process, goals, practice and sub-practice, etc.

Since many are familiar with the terminology of the SEI models, there is a tendency to look at OPM3® from the viewpoint of CMM models. Unless explicitly explained, the differences are not easily perceived.


With some there is a mindset that with a level 5 assessment based on SEI models we have already ‘arrived’ and there is hardly any necessity to look at other models. For others who have a more open mind, the perception has been to evaluate if OPM3® can replace CMM rather than look at it as a complimentary model. This is largely due to a lack of understanding of the difference between project and process management

Project Versus Process Management

Since CMM models include some parts of project management along with process management, many in the IT/IS industry do not find the need to distinguish between the two. The fact that a generic project management methodology can support a process methodology specific to a particular industry or area is therefore lost. Frequently, this leads to questioning the use of a project management methodology or model as process management models are wrongly perceived as belonging to project management.

Structural differences

While the SEI models describe the processes (practices) required under each process area leading to the goal, OPM3® documents best practices that can be reached through a series of capabilities. Since the SEI models do not describe the domains of program or portfolio management, they are comparable to the PMBOK® Guide of PMI, which deals with a single project.

The OPM3® Cycle

Challenge # 3 – Assessment process

Use of Self-Assessment

The OPM3® provides a Self-assessment tool as a first cut analysis to establish the existence of best practices. This tool is intended to be only a method to get an approximate idea of maturity.

However, in actual practice we have found that prospective users assume the results of Self Assessment tool to be final in terms of maturity level. Many have not realized that this is only the first cut and in order to do the real assessment one needs to go into the details. Also, they may not appreciate the fact that the tool may be bypassed and instead one could go into detailed analysis for those best practices that they are interested in. The reason for this is that best practices are judged by capabilities which in turn are measured through outcomes and Key Performance Indicators. Unless the assessment is done at the micro level, i.e., at the level of measuring outcomes, Key Performance Indicators and metrics, one cannot clearly establish the existence of respective best practices.

So in essence the working method for establishing the existence of capabilities leading to a best practice is bottom up and not top down.

Approved Assessor Consultants

PMI® USA has not as yet set up a system to administer the process for assessment using lead assessors, consultants, etc. Organizations could still use the model without waiting for the formal system from PMI. For example, organizations that are interested in using OPM3®® can gauge the maturity in each PMBOK® Guide – 2000 Edition area with the help of OPM3® and report as a percentile (%) based on the outcomes, KPI and metrics. However, it seen that though users can use the model themselves through the assessment process outlined in the Knowledge Foundation that they seem to be reluctant to do so without approved assessors or consultants.

Steps in the OPM3® Cycle

Step # 1 Preparatory step and involves learning the concept of organizational project management and understanding the contents of OPM3® and how to use it.

Step # 2 consists of two parts

The first is the Self Assessment Tool. Based on this, one can arrive at a high-level understanding of where an organization stands in terms of maturity level (expressed as a percentage of continuum) and in terms of domain/stage of improvement.

The second is a comprehensive assessment that involves studying the chosen best practices and capabilities in detail to assess if indeed they do exist.

Step # 3 Planning for improvement. This will be dependent on resources, time available and strategic plans.

Step # 4 Implementation. OPM3® does not provide information for this step and this needs to be implemented as a project for organizational improvement.

Step # 5 Review of implementation and gap analysis

Challenge # 4 – Case studies and Benchmarking

Since OPM3® has been introduced recently, we still do not have a database of case studies where the model has been implemented. This is a bottleneck for new users who are reluctant to use the model. Most users would like to have a reference list of users especially from India with feedback before attempting implementation. This barrier is significant and exists in spite of low costs in first use of the model.

It is our view that the model will find better acceptance if sufficient data is available on benchmarking in similar industries or across sectors. Further, customers need to use it for benchmarking and prescribe it as mandatory for organizations before outsourcing jobs to them.

Challenge # 5 Benefits


In many organizations we have found that the main driving force for use of a process methodology or maturity model is customer demand as they use it for benchmarking in terms of quality and capability when they outsource jobs. For example, this is visible in the interest in certifications like CMM for their organizations or getting their people PMP® certified. Therefore, while using models service oriented companies view benchmarking as an aid to getting more contracts as a primary aim as compared to the benefit of using the methodology or models to improve quality and maturity which is considered secondary. This difference in emphasis is relevant because a large number of organizations in India today belong to this category.


There is some difficulty in explaining the benefits that can accrue by using the model because prospective users tend to view in terms of existing models that they are used to within their organizations. The lack of knowledge based on the Knowledge Foundation and subject of organizational project management is also a barrier to understanding the benefits of the model. Also, the model requires some understanding of the concept and practice of Project Portfolio Management and this is a subject where there is very little exposure in organizations.

What OPM3® is and is not

OPM3® is

  • Basic knowledge foundation for organizational project management
  • Can assist in assessing gaps in reaching a best practice
  • Help prioritize and plan in implementing targeted best practices
  • Applies to any organization or section of people - small or big, profit or not for profit in any industry or part of the world.

OPM3® is not

  • Does not give an indication of Costs / Benefits Attainability
  • Strategic priority of alternatives in reaching a best practice
  • Does not guide in implementing improvements as a result of the OPM3® assessment

Feedback from participants in Workshops

Some of the salient observations from participants in workshops in India were:

  • Distinctive advantages should be presented for OPM3® as compared to other assessment models like ISO, CMM, etc. This comparison is required because organizations view OPM3® in terms of the models currently in use and as a possible replacement and not as an additional model.
  • Methodology on use of the tool should be presented. The working of the tool also needs to be made more user friendly.
  • Terminology used in OPM3® has to be explained, as many do not understand the implications due to lack of knowledge or due to similar terms being used in existing models.
  • The assessment process should be supported by lead assessors or consultants approved by PMI
  • The concept of levels (as is prevalent on some of the SEI models) is more easily understood and it is expected that OPM3® should also be modeled similarly. This makes it easier to benchmark with other organizations.
  • Case studies from users need to be presented showing benefits and returns by using the model. More so, they should be for organizations from India.

Next Steps

  • Educating prospective users on the subject of Organizational Project Management (OPM) and the knowledge content of OPM3®.

This is in fact a significant step. OPM as a subject and a discipline is new and does not find many references in literature. We need to still deliberate on the nature of OPM and how it fits in relation to other domains in an organization. Since the model rests on the conceptual understanding of OPM substantial time and effort has to be spent in educating prospective users of OPM3® on the same.

  • Steps to upgrade the tool to suit the requirements of the knowledge foundation and the user

Feedback has shown a need for a better tool that will replicate the results from the use of the model. So; on this front there is a need for up gradation

  • Revise the model content to reflect more clarity in presentation for easier understanding by the user

Since the subject of OPM is new and many prospective users may not have the opportunity to have studied in detail, it is felt that the knowledge foundation could explain the working of the model with more clarity

  • Understanding and communicating the usefulness of the model in improving the business value for organizations


Project Management Institute, (2003) Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®® – Knowledge Foundation. Project Management Institute, Inc Newtown Square, Pennsylvania USA

Schlichter, J., (2001) PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model: Emerging Standards. Proceedings of the Project Management institute Annual Seminars & Symposium, Nashville TN USA

Rao R, Jagathnarayanan A P (2004) The OPM3®® Workshop held in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore, India

OPM3®® and PMBOK® Guide and PMI®are marks of Project Management Institute, USA

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.

2005, Raju Rao
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Toronto, Canada



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