Re-thinking project management maturity

perspectives gained from explorations of fit and value

Mark E. Mullaly, PMP

President, Interthink Consulting Incorporated

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Janice Thomas, PhD

Professor, Athabasca University,

Project Management Specialization

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Abstract

Project management maturity models have become prevalent as tools for understanding capabilities and identifying improvement opportunities. Maturity models have many advocates (Cooke-Davies & Arzymanow, 2003; Ibbs & Kwak, 2000; Kwak & Ibbs, 2000). However research has failed to demonstrate the relevance of maturity models as tools for performance assessment or capability development (Jugdev & Thomas, 2002; Mullaly, 2006). There are also numerous detractors who suggest that they are limited in scope (Skulmoski, 2001), do not sufficiently take into account the link between process and performance (Mullaly, 2006) and provide overly universal and prescriptive guidelines that ignore the principles of strategic and competitive advantage (Jugdev & Thomas, 2002).

In the research project, Understanding the Value of Project Management, the findings suggested that increasing levels of maturity resulted in greater levels of intangible value even while there was no similar influence on the realization of tangible value (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008). The research also drew on contingency theory to explore the degree to which project management implementations are appropriate for or ‘fit’ their context and the desired improvements in organizational results. The findings of the research advanced conceptual theories regarding those aspects of context and implementation that contribute to or detract from the attainment of the types of value observed by organizations participating in the study.

This paper builds upon the Value of Project Management research to explore the relevance of maturity models as a means of evaluating organizational effectiveness and predicting performance when compared with those insights gained through the exploration of ‘fit’. The literature of maturity models and contingency theories of ‘fit’ and the alignments between them are explored. The insights gained from each approach during the Value of Project Management are introduced through a re-examination of the quantitative analysis conducted during this study. Drawing on a sample of 65 organizations, this involved a variety of exploratory analysis techniques including multi-coder analytics, principal components analysis, and regression analysis to understand the correlations between context, implementation, and value.

We demonstrate that the maturity of project management implementations is a useful construct in understanding overall correlations of process capability with value, particularly as they related to the consistency and formality of implemented practices. However, we also show that maturity alone does not include an appreciation of the context within which practices are implemented, and that therefore any recommendations derived from maturity models, as they currently exist today must, of necessity, be suspect. We show that it was only through the application of contingency approaches to understanding fit that appropriate judgements of implementation and context can be made to realize a specific valuable outcome.

Our results support strategic management literature into contingency theories of fit that suggest a systems approach to understand contingency is most appropriate in understanding micro-level implementation and context options. It is important to note that fit and maturity as they are currently defined and understood were both able to provide useful guidance and insight, but that the most useful insights were obtained when both approaches were adopted. Finally, observations are offered regarding how maturity models could evolve to enhance their relevance and contribution to improving organizational effectiveness.

Introduction

The idea of assessment is one that has been central to the literatures of organizational development and organizational behaviour for some time (Nielsen & Kimberly, 1976). Maturity models are one form of assessment that has become increasingly popularized in recent years. While maturity models have many advocates (Cooke-Davies & Arzymanow, 2003; Ibbs & Kwak, 2000; Kwak & Ibbs, 2000), there are also numerous detractors who suggest that they are limited in scope (Skulmoski, 2001), do not sufficiently take into account the link between process and performance (Mullaly, 2006) and provide overly universal and prescriptive guidelines that ignore the principles of strategic and competitive advantage (Jugdev & Thomas, 2002).

In the project management field, maturity models have become prevalent as a tool for understanding capabilities and identifying improvement opportunities. Maturity models are also used as a tool for research, and a number of studies and papers have attempted to demonstrate both the relevance of maturity models as tools for assessment, and the linkage between improvements in maturity and increases in organizational performance. In the research project “Understanding the Value of Project Management,” the findings suggested that increasing levels of maturity resulted in greater levels of intangible value, although there was not a corresponding correlation observed between increased maturity and greater levels of intangible value. (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008) The research also drew on contingency theory to explore the degree to which project management implementations are appropriate for or ‘fit’ their context and the desired improvements in organizational results. The findings of the research advanced conceptual theories regarding those aspects of context and implementation that contribute to or detract from the attainment of the types of value realized by organizations participating in the study.

This paper builds upon this research to explore the relevance of maturity models as a means of evaluating organizational effectiveness and predicting performance when compared with those insights gained through the exploration of ‘fit’. The literature of maturity models and contingency theories of ‘fit’ and the alignments between them are explored. The insights gained from each approach during the research project “Understanding the Value of Project Management” are introduced. Finally, observations are offered regarding how maturity models could evolve to enhance their relevance and contribution to improving organizational effectiveness.

Evaluating Organizational Effectiveness

Assessment is a central means of supporting organizational improvement, enabling organizations to rationally identify opportunities to continue to improve, prioritize those improvements, and make decisions (Nielsen & Kimberly, 1976). The assessment process must address both what is explored and examined, and how these results are shared and reflected back to the organization under investigation to support improvement (Conlon & Short, 1984). What to assess and how to conduct the assessment becomes increasingly complicated as the nature of the work becomes more intangible and increasingly knowledge-based (Tuttle & Romanowski, 1985).

The majority of assessment frameworks in place draw on the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle of Deming (1993). In addition, they can typically be divided into two different approaches: audits and self-assessments (Karapetrovic & Willborn, 2001). Inherently, all assessments are seen as tools for organizational learning (Hellsten & Wiklund, 1999). Their promise is the ability to be able to evaluate and understand current capabilities, strategically identify desired capabilities, and determine the improvement activities that will enable realization of those capabilities (Duncan, Ginter, & Swayne, 1998).

The first challenge in developing or adopting an assessment approach is to determine what is to be examined (Conlon & Short, 1984; Schraeder, 2004); the second is to establish a means of effectively introducing those results to the organization in a way that both positive and effective outcomes are not only possible, but in fact occur (Conlon & Short, 1984). Early efforts to develop meaningful assessment approaches that could evaluate effectiveness included an understanding of organizational size, environment, and technology (Ford, 1979; Ford & Slocum, 1977) as well as introducing the importance of controlling for context in understanding measures of organizational capabilities and their impact on performance (Ford, 1979). Another important dimension of assessment is understanding the organizational dimensions of performance that the assessment approach seeks to influence; the work of Ford and Schellenberg (1982) suggested that these could include an understanding of an organizations ability to attain its goals, secure scarce resources, or control the behaviours and processes of organizational participants.

Maturity Models as a Means of Assessing Process

The understanding of organizational functioning is central to the purpose of maturity models, and it has been argued that these can be evaluated through an exploration of process, structure, consistency, and discretion (Van De Ven, 1976). Their overall development stemmed from a desire to understand the discrete distinctions that existed between defined stages of organizational development, and their principles can be found in explorations of corporate lifecycles (Miller & Friesen, 1983), organizational goals and structures (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983), and the political influences within the organization that are the ultimate determinants of adopted strategy (Gray & Ariss, 1985).

One of the earliest and most widely recognized maturity models was the Capability Maturity Model for Software (CMM-SW), developed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA. It popularized the idea that maturity could be reflected by a number of levels assessed across a number of capability areas (Humphreys, 1992; Paulk, Curtis, Chrissis, & Weber, 1993). Since that time, a number of other maturity models have been developed that enable assessment of organizations against a range of practices and topics, including strategic management (De Vries & Margaret, 2003), innovation (Aiman-Smith, Goodrich, Roberts, & Scinta, 2005), contract management (Garrett & Rendon, 2005), and leadership (Hogan, 2008).

In the field of project management, there has been a significant amount of effort and research conducted in the fields of maturity and the development of various maturity models (Cooke-Davies & Arzymanow, 2003; Hillson, 2003; Ibbs & Kwak, 2000; Jachimowicz, 2003; Mullaly, 2006; Project Management Institute, 2003; Sawaya & Trapanese, 2004; Skulmoski, 2001). Many of these have adopted a similar framework to that of the Capability Maturity Model, with five assessed levels of maturity and a number of capability areas across which the practices of each level are described.

While each of these models supports the identification of process capabilities as suggested by Ford and Schellenberg (1982) what they do not support is the linkage of these process capabilities with an understanding of their influence on organizational performance. The most widely known maturity study to date is that conducted by Kwak and Ibbs (2000), which asserted a correlation between maturity and performance but demonstrated no statistically significant correlations. A review and evaluation of the effectiveness of project management maturity models as a means of supporting improvements of project success suggests that this correlation is still elusive, and while maturity models have raised the awareness and visibility of project management there is no empirically sound research supporting the use of maturity models as an improvement tool or any theoretical basis for asserting that maturity models in their current form could lead to strategic advantage (Jugdev & Thomas, 2002). Certainly, the larger goal of establishing differentiation and using assessment to attain competitive advantage, as advocated for by Duncan et al (1998), has not been realized.

The Perspective of Contingency Theory & ‘Fit’

An alternative perspective regarding the assessment of organizational capabilities can be found in contingency theory and the understanding of ‘fit’ (see for example Burns & Stalker, 1961; Woodward, 1958). The need to explore fit emerged as a result of the belief that traditional views of strategy research did not properly reflect the actual challenges being observed by organizations (Miles, Snow, Meyer, & Coleman, 1978). Contingency theory suggests that different strategies are appropriate for different organizational structures, environmental factors, and market situations (Ginsberg & Venkatraman, 1985; Venkatraman & Camillus, 1984).

Contingency theory and ‘fit’ differs from traditional viewpoints reflected within maturity models. While maturity models suggest that improvements in process correlate directly with improvements in performance, the essential principle of contingency theory is that it requires a relationship between two distinct variables in order to predict a third variable (Schoonhoven, 1981). All models of contingency theory “share in common an underlying premise that context and structure must somehow fit together if the organization is to perform well” (Drazin & Van de Ven, 1985, p. 514). In other words, in addition to an understanding of the process and capabilities that are adopted by an organization, performance is also influenced by the context and environment in which an organization finds itself.

This expansion of understanding has some broader implications for understanding the influences of organizational practices on performance. If performance is a product of both context and structure (or process), then changes in one will necessitate changes to the other. It was suggested by Jelinek & Burstein (1982) that fit was dynamic, as well as being a product of an appropriate level of flexibility and a match between long-term strategy and administrative structure. Research not only provided support for the dynamic and adaptive nature of fit, but suggested that fit is not an ‘event’ or a ‘place’, but an on-going reflective process of change (Henderson & Venkatraman, 1993).

Subsequent research suggests that fit itself is not a fixed idea, but has multiple perspectives by which it can be evaluated. Drazin and Van de Ven (1985) identified and critiqued three distinct approaches to assessing fit: selection, interaction, and systems:

  • The selection approach suggests that there are specific structural or process capabilities that directly correlated with the context of the organization, and for the most part ignored the resulting impact or influence on performance. A key criticism was that research simply did not test for a link with performance, and that a selection approach was more a theory of congruence than it was of contingency.
  • The interaction approach explains variations in organizational approach as a product of the interactions between organizational structure and context. A number of challenges have been cited, however, that suggest methodological issues result in insufficient levels of significance to demonstrate the validity of the interaction approach in many studies.
  • The systems approach to understanding fit is one that emerged in reaction to reductionist efforts to correlate single dimensions of structure and context with specific performance outcomes, and instead adopts a more holistic understanding of these interactions at an overall level. The systems approach suggests that fit is a product of various different but equally viable potential designs that must be matched to the different contingencies that face an organization.

The results of the Drazin and Van de Ven research were that both congruence and contingency fit were observed, but only contingency fit had a demonstrable link to performance. The researchers suggest that studies should be designed to support evaluation of multiple perspectives of fit, where each type serves a specific purpose and each is not mutually exclusive of the other. This would enable the development of mid-range theories of fit that demonstrated the relationship and interdependencies among congruence (selection) and contingency (interaction and systems) theories of fit. (Drazin & Van de Ven, 1985)

Criticisms of Maturity Models Suggested By Fit

As already noted, contingency theory and the concept of fit suggests an additional dimension of assessment than what is traditionally presumed in adopting and using maturity models. While maturity models purport to link improvements in process directly with better delivery of project results (see for example Ibbs & Kwak, 2000; Kwak & Ibbs, 2000), contingency theory suggests that it is necessary to understand both context and structure/process to establish a link with performance (Ginsberg & Venkatraman, 1985; Henderson & Venkatraman, 1993; Newport, Dess, & Rasheed, 1991; Venkatraman & Camillus, 1984).

Introducing principles of fit and contingency theory into the exploration of maturity could potentially address a number of inherent challenges that have long bedevilled maturity research and the development of effective and relevant maturity models. In particular, there is an expressed concern that assessment models like those used in evaluating maturity result in a long list of strengths and weaknesses that do not support identifying or prioritizing specific strategies that will lead to the attainment of competitive advantage (Duncan, et al., 1998). Inherent in this criticism is the challenge of identifying what implementations are appropriate for a particular context, typically requiring researchers to predict (or prescribe) the factors that will enable the attainment of fit (Zajac, Kraatz, & Bresser, 2000). Moreover, being able to appropriately model or allow for the full range of potential structural and process elements that could describe an organization would require the definition of a universally applicable set of strategic choices on which to draw (Ginsberg & Venkatraman, 1985). This has led to many maturity models being prescriptive and narrowly focussed in nature, which directly contradicts the observation from studies employing contingency theory that organizations can be successful based upon different capabilities, provided that the strategy, structure, and process of that organization is internally and externally consistent (Miles & Snow, 1984).

The other inherent challenge typically associated with maturity models is that they describe one specific way of managing, and presume a universal set of practices that must be adopted by all organizations. They ignore the external factors and contingent variables that different organizations encounter in different situations, economies, and environments (Duncan, et al., 1998). Maturity models by their nature are abstractions, and as such are simplified representations of a complex reality and will inevitable need to change as reality changes (Conti, 2002). As abstractions, maturity models typically describe a specific place or static representation, ignoring the dynamic nature of fit and the fact that “sustained competitive advantage is more a product of movement and an ability to change than it is of location or position” (Duncan, et al., 1998, p.7). Possibly most significant is that maturity models represent an increasing continuum of formality, consistency, and systemization, while the research into fit suggests that systemization is actually most prevalent only at middle levels of complexity, while both very simple levels of complexity and very high levels of complexity are much more likely to see more adaptive, dynamic, and flexible approaches being adopted (Drazin & Van de Ven, 1985; Ford & Schellenberg, 1982).

Insights from a Major Research Study

The “Understanding the Value of Project Management” research project represents a comprehensive view of project management practices, and the impacts and influences of those practices on various aspects of organizational performance. Perhaps uniquely, it also incorporated assessments of both maturity and fit, and in doing so offers a perspective by which to evaluate the relevance of each approach and the understanding of organizational capabilities and impacts that each approach enables.

The project involved a comprehensive examination of 65 organizations internationally. A significant amount of quantitative and qualitative data, in the form of researcher evaluations, interview transcripts, survey responses, and document and project file reviews, was collected by 18 research teams. This data set includes descriptions of what was implemented as project management within the organization; comprehensive contextual and demographic information about each organization; and the nature, types, and degrees of value that were attributable to the implementations within each organization. This mixed methods study applied a wide range of exploratory quantitative and qualitative analytic techniques (including textual analysis, grounded theory coding, principal components, and correlation and regression analysis to name a few). All of the methods used and analysis conducted are described in detail in Thomas and Mullaly (2008) and will not be described in detail here.

Exploring Project Management Maturity

At the outset of the research project, the lead investigators made a conscious decision not to assess and evaluate maturity as part of the investigative approach. This was in response to a number of the challenges cited previously, including the static nature of the models as reflected by Duncan et al (1998), the unwillingness to predict or prescribe the practices that would be observed that was suggested by Ginsberg & Venkatraman (1985) and the near universal set of potential practices that would need to be defined in advance in order to be comprehensive and exhaustive as identified by Zajac et al (2000). Instead, the study adopted a grounded theory approach where the research teams sought to understand how project management was defined and implemented by the participant organizations.

Given the scope and detail of information collected regarding the implementations within each of the case study organizations, it was possible to infer the relative project management maturity associated with each organization's implementation. Given that an explicit choice of a single maturity model did not occur at the outset of the study, it was not reasonable or possible to retroactively apply a specific maturity assessment framework. Instead, recognizing that the vast majority of current maturity models associate with project management draw from the same constructs as that of the Capability Maturity Model, (see for example Humphreys, 1992; Paulk, et al., 1993) a generic five-level structure was developed, as outlined in Table 1.

Table 1. – Assessed levels of project management maturity (from Thomas & Mullaly, 2008)

Level Description Details
1 Ad hoc This level is associated with an informal and inconsistent approach to project management. In essence, Level 1 implies that there is no organizational implementation of project management; instead the processes that are utilized and the effectiveness of the results are the product of the experience and expertise of the individual project manager and teams.
2 Some Practices Level 2 suggests that there are some practices and capabilities defined and utilized at an organizational level, but that they are not complete or they are not consistently adhered to throughout the organization. While there is some level of organizational formality, it is not comprehensive nor is it fully applied.
3 Consistent Practices Level 3 represents a consistent and adhered-to project management implementation. It suggests that there is a complete project management process in place, and that it is consistently utilized on all projects within the organization. For many organizations, this level of maturity is the target level they seek to attain.
4 Integrated Practices A level 4 implementation would be one where there is not only a consistently defined and adhered-to project management process, but that it is fully integrated into the management capabilities of the organization. This does not presume only a project-driven organizational model, but does imply that the operational or functional management processes are aware of and integrated with those of project management and vice versa. Project management at this level becomes an integral management capability that is fully integrated within the organizational lifecycle.
5 Continually Improving Practices The final level of maturity would be one where there is a holistic, fully integrated approach to managing projects that exists within an ongoing cycle of continuous improvement. The idea of continuous improvement is one where there is a formal and consistently adhered-to process of continually learning from, evaluating, assessing, and improving the project management implementation.

While a full discussion of observed maturity can be found in the research monograph (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008), a brief overview of the findings relative to maturity have been summarized in the following points:

  • There does not appear to be any correlation between the observed maturity of an organization and the degree of tangible value observed within organizations.
  • There was an apparent correlation between observed maturity and the degree of intangible value observed within an organization, with greater degrees of maturity typically evidencing greater levels of intangible value.
  • The organizations realizing high levels of both maturity and intangible value demonstrated different contexts and adopted different implementations, reinforcing the observations of Miles and Snow (1984) that different organizations can be successful based upon different capabilities. Conversely, there was no correlation between either context or implementation that suggested that organizations would attain a specific level of maturity or realize specific value from its implementation.
  • Only maturity levels of 1 through 3 were observed by the case study organizations, with no organizations evaluated at level 4 or level 5. While not conclusive, this may suggest a correlation with the findings suggested by Drazin and Van de Ven (1985) that only those organizations with mid-levels of complexity would demonstrate a high level of systemization and therefore consistency.
  • The identification of maturity associated within individual organizational implementations was largely a product of the degree to which formalized processes were in place, the degree of consistency by which practices were applied, the level of formality associated with observed capabilities, and the degree to which formalized processes of on-going improvement and process refinement were in place.

Exploring Fit

The concept of fit was one that was central to the investigative strategy of the “Understanding the Value of Project Management” research project from the outset. In the initial development of the conceptual model, fit was interpreted as the degree to which the implementation of project management was appropriate given the environmental factors (context) and business orientation (contingent variables) that the organization found itself in. In the context of the analysis by Drazin and Van de Ven (1985), this would associate with the selection approach to the evaluation of fit: the presumed relationship was between context and structure/process, without any specific correlation and consideration of performance. In the context of the original conceptual model, the realization of fit was considered to be the performance that was intended to be observed.

In the early examination of the data, fit was expected to be evidenced by high levels of satisfaction by the stakeholders and high levels of alignment between espoused and actual practices. The expectation was that if stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the process, and there was a level of consistency and alignment with how practices were actually applied, then the implementation could be said to ‘fit’ the organization. In later analysis, it came to be appreciated that satisfaction and alignment were at best proxies for fit – it was empirically observed that organizations were able to demonstrate satisfaction (at least by some stakeholders) and even consistent and aligned adherence to practices, and still not have an appropriate implementation for that organization. To be truly able to answer fit, it was asserted that the research needed to be able to answer the question, ‘What implementations and context are associated with what value?’ (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008)

This question directly led to the essential insights that the research results from the “Understanding the Value of Project Management” research project did provide, namely the advancement of exploratory theories of those factors of context and implementation that contribute to the realization of the different types of value realized in the study. The dimensions of context, implementation, and value that were observed were based upon a grounded assessment of the case study data using exploratory statistical analysis techniques, and in particular Principal Components Analysis. This approach is discussed in detail in the research monograph (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008).

Further analysis included the conducting of regressions of the context and implementation components that emerged from the analysis on those components of value that were identified in the study. This analysis resulted in statistically significant identification of those context and implementation factors that either positively or negatively contributed to each component of value that emerged within the study. The results of this analysis represent the primary contribution of the research effort: namely, the identification for any given component of value of those contextual and implementation factors that are most likely to contribute to or detract from the realization of that value. These regression equations are summarized in the following table taken from Thomas and Mullaly (2008).

Table 2. – Regressions of context and implementation on value (from Thomas & Mullaly, 2008)

Regressions of context and implementation on value (from Thomas & Mullaly, 2008)

The insights from this analysis are significant when viewed in the context of both maturity models and contingency theories of fit. Firstly, the findings as a result of the regressions undermine the premises on which most maturity models are currently developed. While maturity models most typically define one path of implementation and progression, and predict or prescribe the capabilities associated within each level in the maturity model, as anticipated by Zajac et al (2000), the results of the Value of Project Management research project suggest that there is no one implementation of project management that delivers value. As well, while the analysis of different maturity model levels against observed value demonstrated that there were some correlations that appear to exist between levels of maturity and the realization of higher levels of intangible value, these maturity levels were realized with various different practices associated with the attainment of differing types of value. No specific set of contexts or practices in the Value of Project Management research project were universally associated with the delivery of value or the attainment of maturity overall. While maturity and value are correlated, this is only the case at a macro level, as suggested by Drazin and Van de Ven (1985), and these correlations appear to mostly demonstrate congruence, or what Drazin and Van de Ven identify as a selection approach to fit.

Secondly, the identified regressions support enhanced contingency approaches to fit as suggested by Drazin and Van de Ven (1985), and particularly those associated with a systems approach to understanding fit. The regressions of implementation and context on value provide a holistic view of those aspects of an organization's project management approach that influence the attainment of individual levels of value, and provide a suggestion of the degree to which each component makes a positive or negative contribution. Rather than a binary correlation of each context or implementation factor on value that would be suggested by an interactive approach, the results suggest the relative contribution that different aspects of what is implemented and the environment of an organization have on the ability of the organization to realize value from its project management implementation that are reflective of what Drazin and Van de Ven (1985) identify as a systems approach, and reflect the microlevel associations that they identify as being a product of a systems approach. “The focus here is not so much on understanding the congruence between context and structure as in the selection approach, but rather on explaining variations in organizational performance from the interaction of organizational structure and context” (Drazin & Van de Ven, 1985, p. 517). The regressions specifically identify those characteristics of context and implementation that produce specific dimensions of value, and help to “understand precisely how each competitively relevant strength and weakness has the potential for adding or subtracting value” (Duncan, et al., 1998, p. 6).

Implications for Maturity Models

The results of the research conducted through the Value of Project Management research project have significant implications for the continued development and future viability of maturity models. As identified by Drazin and Van de Ven (1985), multiple approaches to evaluating the relationship of implementation (or structure) and context to the attainment of performance results (or value) have demonstrated that both congruent and contingency forms of fit were operating. Where contingency theory departs is in through the allowance of multiple potential contingencies in the environment facing the organization, therefore potentially requiring different configurations of structure and context. This suggests that developing a satisfactory explanation of the impacts on performance of project management implementations “requires a more sophisticated approach to contingency theory than earlier efforts have used” (Drazin & Van de Ven, 1985, p. 535).

This is not to say that maturity models are necessarily irrelevant or inappropriate, but the results of the study certainly suggest that the recommendations of maturity models are limited to macro-level assertions of congruence and should not be relied upon for micro-level determinations of what structure and implementation may be appropriate for an organization, given the contingent variables it faces within its context and the values that it seeks to realize from implementing or improving its approach to project management.

For maturity models to continue to be relevant and for them to provide the level of insight from an assessment perspective and the appropriate recommendations in terms of improvement, a significant re-imaging of what maturity models are and the structure and approach by which they are utilized would be suggested, as reflected in the following points:

  • At a very minimum, maturity models would need to take into consideration an appreciation of context, and an understanding of the contingent variables that organizations face that influence both how they implement project management and the practices that they utilize, as outlined by the essential structure of contingency theory.
  • Adopting a systems approach as offered by a sophisticated application of contingency theory in order to address the two essential challenges that are faced by any organizational designer, namely the selection of patterns of structure and process that match the contingencies facing an organization, and the development of actual structures and processes that are internally consistent (as suggested by Drazin & Van de Ven, 1985).
  • Re-considering the degree to which consistency and conformity to practices are actually evaluated. As suggested by Newport, Dess, and Rasheed (1991) there is an opportunity to evaluate fit horizontally to assess the degree to which there is fit between units, and vertically to evaluate whether fit is aligned within a unit. One of the potential failings of maturity models is that they define consistency too broadly and deeply, expecting a consistent approach across all aspects of an organization and in all types of projects, where more adaptive approaches may be both warranted and capable of delivering greater value.
  • Maturity models need to explicitly recognize both the macro-level and micro-level specifications of organizational capability, as outlined by Drazin and Van de Ven (1985). While maturity models inherently appear to assess macro-level congruence, they ignore what may be appropriate or required at a micro-level. At the same time, it appears to be equally important to not abandon the understanding of congruence that a macro-level evaluation of fit provides while addressing the more micro-level challenges.
  • Most importantly, maturity models need to recognize that fit is dynamic and constantly in motion, and does not represent a static or Boolean capability, as suggested by Miles and Snow (1984). This may well be the greatest challenge to the evolution of maturity models from their current form, as they must recognize that changes in context must be reflected by changes in implementation to continue to ensure the realization of value, and that a static or prescriptive model of maturity cannot hope to provide the level of guidance that organizations require in making effective choices about their project management implementation.

Conclusions

This paper represents an initial attempt to relate the concepts of maturity and fit, as applied through the lens of a major investigation into how organizations implement project management and the value that these implementations deliver. It demonstrates that while the study did not consciously set out to assess the maturity of project management implementations, this nonetheless proved to be a useful construct in understanding overall correlations of process capability with value, particularly as they related to the consistency and formality of implemented practices. What is also clearly demonstrated, however, is that maturity alone does not incorporate an appreciation of the context within which practices are implemented, and that therefore any recommendations derived from a maturity model in its current state must of necessity be suspect.

While the application of maturity was useful in understanding the congruence of implementations with macro-level realizations of value, it was only through the application of contingency approaches to understanding fit that appropriate judgements of implementation and context could be made to realize a specific value. Moreover, the results of the regressions conducted within the study support other research into contingency theories of fit that suggest a systems approach to understand contingency is most appropriate in understanding micro-level implementation and context options. The regressions specifically suggest those capabilities that will positively or negatively contribute to different types of value, and advances exploratory theories that suggest a model of what future maturity models could look like.

Finally, it is important to note that fit and maturity as it is currently defined and understood were both able to provide useful guidance and insight, but they provided the most useful insights when both approaches were adopted. This suggests that it is not a question of choosing one approach over the other, as much as it is understanding the contributions that each makes to an overall understanding of organizational capabilities. By adopting the full spectrum of approaches associated with contingency theory, as suggested by Drazin and Van de Ven (1985) in calling for a more sophisticated approach to evaluating organizational performance, it is possible to gain a more comprehensive and meaningful means of enhancing organizational effectiveness. Incorporating the lessons of contingency theory into future approaches of organizational assessment may finally yield models that truly support the improvements in performance that the use of assessment and evaluation instruments has long promised.

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