Maturity model implementation and use

a case study

Christian Rosenstock, Vice President, BNY Clearing Services LLC

Robert S. Johnston, PMP, Senior Manager, Whittman-Hart, Inc.

Larry M. Anderson, PMP, Principal, Whittman-Hart, Inc.


Recent years have brought two separate, but related trends that are now positioning themselves to become a significant influence on the financial services industry. These trends, the growing acceptance of formal project management and the increased use of maturity models for organizational development, can be leveraged to help organizations manage the challenges of rapid technology changes, mergers and acquisitions, and increasing globalization. However, there is much to understand about implementing project management practices and the use of a maturity model to guide and assess such an implementation. A great deal has already been written on the implementation of project management practices. The focus of this paper, then, is to shed some light on the use of a maturity model to help guide the continued implementation of those practices.

Maturity models are not a new concept, despite their recent rise in popularity. The most famous of these models, the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) from the Software Engineering Institute (SEI)—a model that was first developed to measure the maturity of software development practices—first emerged in 1987 (see Exhibit 1). The CMM model has become the standard for measuring capabilities in the software development industry, which generally embraces standards quickly, and the structure of the CMM has been reused for the development of many other maturity models, including Project Management Maturity Models. But the field of project management has not settled on a standard, and the future for such a standard is uncertain.

A further challenge facing project management professionals is that there are some common pitfalls that can keep users of such models from achieving the desired result. One common mistake in using maturity models is attempting to create the model and conduct assessments without the proper level of executive commitment. The process of conducting an assessment—which should span across many or all divisions of the company, rather than just the project office—will require time of resources that report to management outside the project office, and it is important to have someone with significant clout backing the consumption of resources.

Another trap is to misunderstand the role a maturity model plays, and what can be expected from the use of one. A maturity model, by itself, does not ensure organizational improvement. It is a measuring stick, an indicator of progress. A maturity model can help to identify weaknesses, but not fix them. The results of an assessment against a maturity model can help generate an improvement plan, but not execute the plan. It is important to understand the role of a maturity model and communicate that function throughout the organization, especially at higher executive levels.

In addition to understanding the role a maturity model plays, it is important to clearly define the scope of the assessment. Through the research conducted in this engagement, both BNYCS and Whittman-Hart were convinced that—based on program goals, which were measured across the organization—it was essential that the scope of the assessment parallel the breadth of the goals and expectations. The focus remained strictly on project management practices, while the scope of the assessment was designed to include all the elements of the organization that participate in or are influenced by project management. Therefore, this paper focuses on the use of a Project Management Maturity Model applied across the organization.

Exhibit 1. CMM


Exhibit 2. PM and Maturity Model Research List

PM and Maturity Model Research List

Presently, there are many versions of maturity models being used and or discussed in project management, all of which are attempting to tie organizational goals to project management practices. Additionally, the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3), which is pending from the Project Management Institute (PMI®), is currently under development and offers hope to many that it will provide a much sought after standard. At the same time, there is a mounting sentiment that a single standard may not be the best solution. Especially in the financial services industry, where organizations must continually reinvent and adapt, a maturity model would be more valuable if it were shaped around the organizational structure, culture, goals, and strategy. Thus, there are two opposing trends in regards to project management—one toward a maturity model standard, and one toward custom developed maturity models. The goal for anyone looking to use a maturity model at this stage should be to find an approach that accommodates both trends—which was the goal of BNY Clearing Services LLC (BNYCS) as it looked to partner with Whittman-Hart to create a project management maturity model. BNYCS wanted to benefit today from the use of a custom-tailored maturity model, but didn’t want to be at risk of overhauling the methodology and training if the OPM3 became a recognized standard. “Our intention was to position ourselves to do well with the OPM3 standard, if it should evolve to be a standard,” indicated Joe Topinka, CIO of BNYCS, “but we couldn’t delay our progress in anticipation of that model.”

BNYCS recognized the importance of securing its maturity level ranking and wanted to minimize the probability of a downgrade in ranking in the event of a shift from a customized model to a standard one. BNYCS saw several key steps that should ensure proper strategic positioning. The first of these was to align the customized maturity model with the OPM3 committee at PMI. To accomplish this first step, BNYCS partnered with Whittman-Hart, who had a representative on the OPM3 committee. This partnership opened up a link between BNYCS and the pending standard. The next key step was to conduct research on project management standards, practices, methodologies etc. That research, which included a long list of existing maturity models (see Exhibit 2), in addition to the organizational research done at BNYCS, would create the blend of input required to develop the model. The last key step was to employ a highly interactive approach to the development of the model, bringing BNYCS employees and Whittman-Hart consultants together as partners on the development of the model. With these elements secured, the partnership was ready to proceed, and the remainder of this paper outlines the engagement between BNYCS and Whittman-Hart in general tasks and activities that apply to any company interested in embarking on such an initiative.

Looking into the Organization

One of the first elements of the engagement was a thorough review of the business drivers behind the development of a maturity model. The expectations of the organization, the degree to which the model would be used, and the scope of the organization to be assessed by the model were important elements. Additionally, because the purpose of project management in the organization was to help it successfully complete strategic initiatives and achieve its goals, the model had to have a direct link to the strategy, mission and vision of the organization. To accomplish this task, BNYCS and Whittman-Hart reviewed the strategic documents of the organization, the organization history, goals, and structure. These documents not only provided information about the company’s goals, but they also gave clues to how the it planned to execute the initiatives—which provides information on the organization’s need and expectation of project management. For example, at BNYCS, growth and product development were central to the strategy and mission of the company, which indicates that timely delivery of products is one of the highest priorities and should be reflected in the maturity model.

Following the high-level review of the strategy and the business drivers for the organization, the next step was to review the goals from the individual executives in the firm. Through a series of interviews, the Whittman-Hart consultants were able to develop a sense of the anticipated outcome that these executives hoped to see as a result of implementing project management practices. The individuals, in some cases, represent areas of process focus in the maturity model. For example, the interview with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) offered insight into the specific elements of cost management that are desired at BNYCS. According to the CFO, it was not enough to prepare ROI and cost/benefit analysis. Project managers needed to track the performance of departments to the projected ROI months and years after the completion of a project. In such an example, the expectations of the individual indicated the need for specific processes and activities, which can be elements in a maturity model. The goals of these individuals translated into descriptions of activities and processes reflected at various levels of maturity.

At this point in the process, the general structure of the maturity model began to take shape. The model was constructed with five levels, following a common practice among maturity models. Additionally, process and functional areas were added as cross-reference categories for the five levels. The result was a matrix, the cells of which could be completed with descriptions of the process performing at various levels of maturity. The Human Resource Development subprocess category, for example, would have descriptions for team selection processes characteristic of each level of maturity. The matrix, once complete, would become the scale against which the organization would be scored. The assessment questions would be developed based on the content of this matrix, and the results of the assessment could be graphically represented on the matrix. The sum of these ratings could represent the composite score for an organization.

However, simply gathering goals from the organization and its individual leaders would not be enough to secure a successful finish to this type of engagement. As with any engagement, the ROI expectations needed to be understood and met. Of course, there are many ways to approach ROI for such an initiative. Generally, the ROI can be considered in two ways. Most commonly, ROI can be considered as a measurement of the performance of the specific engagement at hand. Alternatively, ROI can be viewed as a facet of another, perhaps larger project. In this engagement; for example, the ROI calculations were based on the scope of the overall implementation of project management practices. The development and use of a maturity model were considered elements of a larger project. In fact, they were designed to support the implementation and help ensure that the ROI targets were met by identifying gaps or weaknesses in processes that impact the bottom line.

Perhaps it is more common for an organization to consider the ROI as a metric for the project to develop and use a maturity model, not the overall use of project management. In such a scenario, the promise of ROI is based on the presumption that the assessment will identify areas for improvement, and that making those improvements will yield measurable results on the bottom line. Clearly, to come to a positive ROI in such a system requires that the benefits from the improvements be greater than the cost of creating and using the maturity model. Additionally, it is reasonable to presume that at the upper ends of maturity, there is a diminishing return for the effort. Therefore, before embarking on such a project, organizations must try to consider the room for improvement that exists. In essence, this amounts to a rough, self-assessment, prior to a proper assessment. An organization that is already quite advanced in its project management practices may not have enough room for improvement that the impact to the bottom line will cover the costs of creating the maturity model, depending on volume of activity, profit margins, costs, etc. Organizations that are young and lacking in process maturity are likely to benefit so significantly from such an assessment that the costs are easily covered. For example, at BNYCS, where the use of a maturity model was an element of an initiative to implement a project management office, the number of gaps in the processes provided the organization plenty of opportunity to impact the bottom line—resulting in a positive ROI.

Exhibit 3. BNYCS PM Maturity Model

BNYCS PM Maturity Model

As nice as it is to report a positive ROI, it is not always the measure of project success. As is true for all projects, in the development and use of a maturity model, it is important to identify the measures of success. Ideally, the measures of success can be derived from the business drivers and goals. It is particularly important to interview the executive sponsor of the engagement to identify the measures of success. These measures, whenever possible, should be tangible. A fuzzy or vague measure of success will leave both parties at risk. For the consulting group, the risk is that the customer will be left unsatisfied, even when the project appeared to be a success. For the contracting organization, the risk is that an important business deliverable will be missed, causing frustration with the engagement. To safeguard both parties, it is important to have clear and measurable goals that can be used as the ultimate measures of success.

For both parties, it is also beneficial if the measures of success are tied to the organizational strategy and goals, thus yielding the most value and impact to the organization. For the executive sponsor, the engagement for the maturity model should be viewed as a flagship project. The success of this project will impact the success of all projects that support the company mission, and having ownership of such a significant influence on the organization is both an awesome responsibility and a grand opportunity. An executive sponsor who is wary enough to link the ROI of this engagement to the ROI to all subsequent projects can leverage this success for significant political play. Similarly, for the consulting agency in the engagement, understanding the link between the maturity model engagement and the whole of strategic initiatives at the company brings its own benefit. The consulting agency can assist the executive sponsor in recognizing these links, thus enabling the executive sponsor to maximize recognition for the impact of the project. The consultants become closely aligned with the executive’s success. Additionally, by linking their work to the success of the other projects in the client organization, the consultants establish themselves as preferred providers—even though the ultimate goal of their work is to help the organization evolve to such a level of maturity that outside consultants are not needed for their knowledge. In situations where the client organization needs staff augmentation or has special needs, the consulting agency will have higher probability of winning new business as a result of having made such significant contribution to the client organization’s success in strategic initiatives.

The Model

With all of these considerations, combined with the results of the interviews throughout the organization, the Whittman-Hart consultants were able to develop the maturity model for BNYCS (see Exhibit 3). The five levels of the model, from Level 1 up to Level 5, were characterized as Ad Hoc/Informal, Reactive/ Tracked, Tactical/Defined, Strategic/Controlled and Continuous Improvement/Institutionalization. The major categories for evaluation were Project Processes, Management Processes, Supporting Processes and Organizational Processes. Within each of these categories are subprocesses that are evaluated. For each of these sub-processes, the model includes a description of the activities and procedures that are characteristic of an organization performing at each level of maturity.

To complete an assessment, a list of survey or audit questions should be constructed to serve as a tool for gathering information about the organization’s performance in project management. The development of the questions should be considered as important as the development of the model itself. If the questions are not properly reflective of the elements in the model, they will yield responses that skew the results. Furthermore, poor construction of the questions could confuse the interviewees who participate in the assessment. Not only is the content of the question important, but also the language selection for the questions should be consistent with the remainder of the questions, the maturity model, the project management methodology documents and organizational procedures. This consistency helps to ensure accurate reporting on the subject matter of the question.

Once the questions for the assessment have been constructed, another consideration is the audience of interviewees. For example, the scope of the assessment for BNYCS is organization-wide. Therefore, the list of interviewees should include representatives from across the organization. However, there is some latitude in the selection of which departments and teams should be represented in the group of interviewees. The selection of representatives can skew the results, so care should be taken to not select interviewees because they are the most likely to provide high scoring answers. Instead, the leadership of the organization should determine which areas of the company are involved in or affected by project management. It is these areas that should be represented for the assessment. This process of selecting the scope of the assessment and the corresponding interviewees is not uncommon to maturity assessments. With the CMM, it is possible to have a scope that includes the entire organization, a single department, or even a single project. Thus, the organization has some flexibility in determining the collection of interviewees. The only caveat to this statement is that a model that is developed for the overall organization might include questions on processes that reflect specific departments such as Human Resources. If the model includes such process categories, then the pool of interviewees should include representatives from those areas of the company.

For an organization that undertakes the initiative of developing and using a maturity model, the work does not end once the assessment is complete. Although it is true that an organization may have had a goal of achieving a particular level on the chosen model, and that may give cause for celebration. But to see that as the end would be to miss out on some of the opportunity. Here, the use of a maturity model should not be seen as a project, as much as a program. At this time, the organization can begin to embrace an ongoing process of assessments, analysis, improvement plans, assessments, analysis, improvement plans, etc. Although it is possible that an organization would make the decision that pursuit of higher levels is not worth the implementation cost, it is still valuable to the organization to use the model as a tool to monitor process maturity and ensure it has not slipped. Therefore, the maturity model becomes a tool for ongoing management of processes throughout the organization.

An additional comment should be made regarding the dynamic nature of custom maturity models, as opposed to the static nature of industry standard models. As was discussed earlier, the organization’s goals, strategy, mission and vision are important influences in the development of the custom maturity model. These elements are subject to change, making the model subject to change. Especially in the Financial Services Industry, or any other industry where change is so common and broad in scope, it is not uncommon for an organization to experience a merger or acquisition that dramatically changes the nature of the business. An organization that is basically a cost-center or department of a larger parent company can become an independent corporation almost overnight. The focus of the organization can shift from cost effective service to aggressive product development and marketing. In such a case, the expectations of project management will change, and the maturity model—if it is to help achieve organizational success—must accommodate the paradigm shift of the organization. Therefore, the long-term use of the maturity model should include a review process, designed to reaffirm the alignment with the organization and make any necessary modification.


The next steps in the process for any organization using a custom project management maturity model are much the same as they would be for using any maturity model. Following an assessment of the organization using the model, identify the gaps or areas for improvement, create a plan to implement changes and reassess after the changes were implemented. The organization should consider the continued use of the model, either for monitoring existing levels of maturity or continuing to advance toward new goals in maturity. These decisions should be based on the needs of the organization, the value that the subsequent changes have on the organization, and the ability of the organization to make the necessary changes.

Despite the lack of standard, more and more project management practitioners are beginning to embrace the value of maturity models. As a result of this interest, there is an increasing amount of text published on the subject every month, ranging from articles, to conference presentations, to books. The use of maturity models is growing in popularity, and this newfound attention benefits practitioners at all levels. For those who are already using maturity models, the new volume of opinions and theories provides a pool of information, from which best practices emerge. For those considering the use of maturity models, the documented experience of others paints a picture of what can be expected, thus helping to make a “go/no-go” decision. As this proliferation of knowledge about maturity models continues, it is perceivable that some day, the use of maturity models will be a common element of any project management office, thus making it required knowledge for all project managers.


Software Engineering Institute. (1994). The Capability Maturity Model: Guidelines for Improving the Software Process. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Topinka, Joseph. (2000). Interview. Milwaukee, WI: BNY Clearing Services LLC.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA



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