Ma·tu·ri·ty noun, 21st century. synonym: survival



Immature adolescents learn from their mistakes and grow into fine, upstanding citizens of the world. Immature businesses might not be as lucky.

The concept of maturity, or adapting and refining business processes to ensure success, has taken root in the global business community and with good reason. Of almost 6.2 million establishments in the United States between 1998 and 1999, 713,000 were startups and 652,840 establishments didn't survive, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In other terms, 10.6 percent of business establishments “died”—that's only almost one percent fewer than were “born.”

Successful global businesses increasingly take survival and growth into their own hands by assessing their overall process maturity. Project management maturity is more specific: Think of it as your firm's sophistication in terms of consistent methods and repeatable delivery of project goals.

Measuring Up

While an eye toward project management can help most organizations, the required maturity depends on the type of business. Efficient processes are critical to project-driven organizations, but for creative organizations, tight processes may not be a priority, according to J. Kent Crawford, PMP, CEO and founder of Project Management Solutions Inc., a Havertown, Pa., USA-based consultancy. However, even companies focused on processes must continuously improve through new product development or business re-engineering.

Companies often invest in project management tools, thinking they are making strides toward an organized methodology, according to Crawford. “They spend money on software and think that project management must exist because they have tools,” he says. “They spend money on training and think project management must exist because staff went through a workshop. But without a grasp of maturity, they miss so much, such as portfolio management, integration of the methodology with corporate strategy and broad-scale enterprise integration.”


At Chicago, Ill., USA-based Boeing Co., projects operating at maturity level 3 increased productivity by 62 percent and cycle times improved 36 percent.



Fair Assessment

When should an organization start looking to advance? “You can prevent problems now or repair stuff later,” says William Ibbs, a management professor at University of California–Berkeley, Berkeley, Calif., USA. “And ‘later’ always costs more.”

Ibbs studied project management maturity at 54 Fortune 500 firms across five different industries and found a strong association between advanced maturity and better schedule performance. “In my experience, companies can reduce schedules by 20 percent when they move from one step to another,” Ibbs says.

Further, the research shows that companies with higher levels of maturity deliver portfolios with more efficiency. “Companies who improve their maturity by one step can improve portfolio predictability by at least one third,” Ibbs says.

Research by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., USA, reinforces these claims. In SEI's study of six sample organizations, companies that measured maturity achieved a 35 percent increase in productivity, a 19 percent decrease in time to market and a 39 percent reduction in post-release defects, says Mike Phillips, program manager for Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), the latest release in SEI's suite of capability maturity models. While focused around the broader concept of business maturity, SEI's various software-based models have influenced creation of project management-specific models.

The U.S. Department of Defense helped finance the development of SEI's initial CMM and uses it as a standard for selecting business partners. More large corporations are expecting suppliers and service providers to strive for continuous improvement.

Model Behavior

Most managers who are “maturity savvy” were turned on to the concept by models, which serve as objective scorecards to measure and track progress. Essentially, a project management maturity model allows you to look at your strengths and weaknesses, where you are and where you want to be.

In a maturity assessment, a company uses a model to review how well processes are performed, controlled and managed. A number of models exist—proprietary and public-access, general to specific—but they all function around the same idea: gauge the company's current maturity and detail requirements to advance.

At the lower end of most models, maturity is about consistent and repeatable processes. As you move forward, you want to link strategies with projects. The SEI model was the first to establish “levels,” but other models today use scoring or other equally valid assessments.

At the bottom end of maturity, levels make sense, but at the top end, a continuous rating system is ideal, says Terry Cooke-Davies, managing director of Human Systems International, Folkestone, U.K.

The better maturity models provide scales of measurement and/or “conditions of satisfaction” that can be assessed with a minimum of variability between different assessors, says Cooke-Davies. “If you design the scoring system correctly, it won't really matter because you can use fuzzy logic,” he says. “You can design ranges across a topic to get a more coherent picture.”

The best plan of attack? Trained internal assessors can lead the maturity process, and external assessors can help gain accreditation or refine processes, essentially validating what you've achieved. In the end, companies realize both the benefits and limitations of maturity. “A brilliant practitioner throws away the rules when dealing with specific situations,” says Cooke-Davies. “Flexible responses can deliver the best benefits.”

Start at the Beginning

Because strategic planning resides in the executive suite, management should drive the maturity process from the top down. “Executives are now recognizing the existence of the benefits and they want these benefits for their firm now, not later,” says Harold Kerzner, senior executive director for the International Institute for Learning Inc., New York, N.Y., USA. “Therefore, these models provide the executives with guidance rather than asking the executive to do it on their own by trial and fire.”

Start by choosing a model, or parts of different models, that will guide your maturity efforts. Because there are so many approaches, this is no easy task. The model must be easily understood across the organization, and without clear objectives, you'll never truly gain buy-in.

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By examining multiple models (see chart “Starter Kit”), you can look at the various approaches and cull the parts that are most appropriate to your unique business. “All models are wrong, some are useful,” says Phillips. “Models are an imitation of life, an approximation of what's going on that sometimes should be taken with a grain of salt. Models are guidance to get past some of the stumbling blocks for improvement.”

Don't short-change the assessment process. You'll need these results to validate your progress. By interviewing business customers and those actually doing projects, you can begin to see what your organization does now, including success project rates, executives' ability to roll-up projects and the ability to share knowledge across projects. You may be surprised at what you find: Your business case and what was actually delivered may not align.

Once you have an accurate picture of where you fit into a maturity model, you're ready to determine a reasonable range for improvement. Maturity shouldn't progress in steps that are trivial or complex. “It's like a 10-step program,” says Ken Robertson, principal of KLR Consulting Inc., a Vancouver, B.C., Canada-based project management consulting practice. “You have to admit where you are today before you can move on.”

Reasonable Goals

While a maturity effort is a step in the right direction, change won't happen overnight. “If you're looking for an immediate hit on the bottom line—it's not going to happen,” says Robertson. “The whole idea of repositioning a company on the maturity scale is a long-term effort.”

Incremental changes are your best bet—you can't just jump from ad hoc methods to project management mastery. First, determine if the expected maturity is realistic and then determine how to get there. There should be milestones and expectations as the organization proceeds along the path toward maturity. Trying to advance to peak maturity too quickly could be too much of a good thing. “A lot of organizations push toward the top end of a maturity model,” Robertson says. “There is no best position—it's the level that best services the strategy of the organization.”

If you want to reach only basic capability and stop there, you may be missing opportunities for market advantage. Many organizations can lose sight of strategic goals as people get caught up in the minimum they need to advance. “They've lost focus on what this is all about: improving business value,” says SEI's Phillips.

What's more, maturity means continuous improvement. “Any company that believes maturity can be reached at a single point in time is a fool,” says Kerzner. “Maturity is an ongoing process. Companies must be willing to stay abreast of changes in the field of project management, seek out best practices in other firms and implement those changes.” PM




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