A quick measure of project maturity

Abstract

This paper presents an easily available approach on how to study project maturity in organizations. It makes possible an immediate feedback and discussion on the actual project maturity of the organization. The approach is not a commercial product; even if it is available, it is still part of ongoing research.

Project maturity is measured by using Project Maturity Form, which is a questionnaire consisting of 36 questions. It is based on that project maturity develops through a ladder. The steps are project management, program management, and portfolio management. Maturity is measured along three dimensions. They are knowledge (capability to carry out different tasks), attitudes (willingness to carry them out), and actions (actually doing them). The different dimensions of maturity are further divided into sub-concepts, which provide a good understanding of the project maturity of an organization.

When an organization takes the test, its maturity profile is compared to profiles from other organizations in the same and different cultures. The results clearly show how the organization should prioritize its resources to improve project maturity and achieve better project results.

The Challenge: Measuring Project Maturity

We are all familiar with the wide spread use of projects over the last years. At the same time we also know that not all projects are successes. Companies are not able to handle their projects equally well. It would be of strong interest to top management and to project support offices to know in advance how well their organization is prepared to use projects to address present and future endeavors.

During the last years the concept of project maturity has appeared and attracting increasing interest. Project maturity is meant to be an indication of the ability of the organization to master its projects. A company with a high degree of project maturity would be considered to have better chances of project success than companies with a lower degree of project maturity. Consequently, companies should be interested in learning about their level of project maturity.

PMI's OPM3 has greatly contributed to the increased attention to project maturity. However, using OPM3 is a large effort for a company, especially for smaller companies. Could there be easier alternatives to try out first and then maybe later, go for the more extensive investigation?

This paper presents an easily available approach on how to study project maturity in an organization. It makes possible an immediate feedback and discussion on the actual project maturity of the organization. The approach is not a commercial product; even if it is available, it is still part of ongoing research. Project maturity is measured by using Project Maturity Form, which is a questionnaire consisting of 36 questions.

The paper discusses the concept of project maturity and our interpretation of it. We show how it could be measured and show some early results from our use of the questionnaire in several companies in China and Norway. Results from other countries are not presented here.

Project Maturity

Webster (1988), p.617, defines “mature” as being ripe or having reached the state of full natural or maximum development. Maturity is the quality or state of being mature. If we apply the concept of maturity to an organisation it might refer to a state where the organisation is in a perfect condition to achieve its objectives. Project maturity would then mean that the organisation is perfectly conditioned to deal with its projects.

In the real world we will not find the fully matured organisation; no one has reached the stage of maximum development and no one will. Therefore it makes sense to talk about a certain degree of maturity and make an effort to measure or characterize the maturity of the organisation.

Measuring maturity will perhaps always be more subjective than objective. Some of the most important works on project maturity seems to focus primarily on what organizations and project people are doing operationally (Ibbs & Kwak, 2000). To us this appears as a rather narrow interpretation of what maturity should mean.

We adopt a broad definition of maturity, including both behaviour and competence. Our view is that maturity within the business community is best explained as the sum of action (ability to act and decide), attitude (willingness to be involved), and knowledge (an understanding of the impact of willingness and action). The triangle (action, attitude, knowledge) is originally based on research in consumer behaviour (Simon, 1955), later enhanced by March (1989) and empirically debated by Helgesen (1992). The different dimensions of maturity are further divided into sub-concepts, which provide a good understanding of the project maturity of an organization.

The traditional view was that knowledge comes first, then attitude, and finally action. Today it is clear evidence that many people in the market place do not start with knowledge. They start with action, for instance buying shares in the stock market, then becomes interested in shares, and then in time accumulate knowledge on how the stock market operates. A third approach known today from the open market place, is that attitude comes first, followed by knowledge, and where the later action is just mechanical follow ups.

Today all three elements may well happen at the same time, thus leaving away the old notion that people preferable should act in a strict sequence of operations one following the other in order to ensure success. This “time-creep” option has come with the information society, where one is given new information so fast that one do not need to use the old paradigm where data had to be collected first, then analyzed, then elaborated, then conclusions drawn about findings, and then perhaps publication, information and action. Each step very time consuming. Due to modern technology, the Internet, the mobile telephone, modern media, data can today be analyzed just when they arrive, conclusions drawn on the spot, and actions taken immediately.

Transformed to testing project maturity, the idea is to ask questions about project management knowledge, project management attitude, and actual project practice. The purpose of the questions is to investigate whether there are differences among central project stakeholders on the willingness, the knowledge, and the actual use of projects at their level in the organization. In this way a more complete picture of the way project management is adopted in organizations could come forth. This way of investigating a phenomenon complies also with the way “corporate identity” is measured, in the sense that such identity can only be understood as a mix of communicated symbolism, behaviour and action.

The Attitude, Knowledge and Action Dimensions

We will investigate in more depth the three different dimensions of maturity: attitude, knowledge and action.

An attitude is the mental position of an individual or a group of people. We need concepts to characterise the different positions. We rely on the work of Hofstede (1982). He has developed concepts, which are extremely useful in understanding national cultures, and his four cultural dimensions can very well be used to describe attitudes towards project work too:

  • Attitudes towards risk and insecurity (“uncertainty avoidance”)
  • Attitudes towards power and responsibility sharing (“power distance”)
  • Attitudes towards hard and soft values (“masculinity and femininity”)
  • Attitudes towards co-operation (“individualism and collectivism”)

We use the concepts to study the attitudes towards project and phrase our questions in such a way that if given a high score, one would assume this to be a result of a high degree of project maturity in the organization. Positive attitudes towards risk and uncertainty, power sharing and responsibility, combining hard and soft values and co-operation are taken as indications of mental willingness to undertake project work.

We might regard a project as a production process. Based on certain resources (the inputs), certain ways of working (the work processes), results (the outputs) are created. A project-oriented organisation should have knowledge of each of the elements of the production model as well as an understanding of the whole picture. That this model seems to fit the project management approach well is positively confirmed (Antilla, Artto, & Wallèn, 1998). Our model studies four categories of knowledge:

  • Knowledge about suppositions (“the inputs”)
  • Knowledge about ways of working (“the work processes”)
  • Knowledge about desirable results (“the outputs”)
  • Knowledge about totality (“the holism”)

The purpose of the questions are the same as for attitudes above, in the sense that if all four kinds of dimensions are given high score, one would assume this to be a result of a high degree of project maturity in the organization.

The action dimension is investigated by using the traditional hierarchical model for organizational systems. Four dimensions are used:

  • Action taken at strategic level (top management level, CEO level)
  • Action taken at tactical level (line management, program management, portfolio management)
  • Action taken at administrative level (administrative support functions)
  • Action taken at operational level (project management, project participants)

Again, a high score is taken as a verification of a high degree of project maturity.

The Ladder of Maturity

The concept of maturity indicates that there might be a development from one level of capability to a higher one. The notion of a ladder of stages follows the logic that maturity develops in time, and that it also can be recognized through certain steps or stages. The ladder construction is also used in other maturity models, for instance in the maturity model at Software Engineering Institute Capability Maturity Model for Software, IPMA Competency Baseline and PMIs OPM3. Our research has such a ladder of project maturity as its starting-point.

Our ladder of maturity consists of three steps. The basic “layer”, or level, is Project Management, or the management of individual projects. At this level project managers can concentrate on individual team efforts in order to achieve predefined project goals with predetermined constraints to time and resources.

The next level is Program Management. The most common and cogent definition is that a program is a collection of projects related to some extent to a common objective (APM, 2000). A program could be a new product development, an organisational restructuring of the company or the implementation of an advanced software package in different departments of the company. Program management is the effective management of all the projects under the umbrella of the program.

The third level, Portfolio Management, is the management of a number of projects and programs that do not necessarily share a common objective. The issue is to undertake these simultaneously. Only by relating the total effort to an overall strategy can this level be mastered professionally. At this level the managerial approach must be wider, and include a balanced view on how to distribute scarce resources between competing desires.

The ladder proposition does not mean that all companies have a distinct opinion about step differences. In most companies projects may be used for operational, tactical and strategic purposes at the same time. This does not prevent a ladder concept in the sense that some companies may be more developed (action-, knowledge- and attitude-wise) than other companies on advanced use of projects.

We will hypothesise that an organisation in general is weaker – or less capable - on a higher stage of the ladder than a lower. An organisation should be more capable on project management than program management. Further it should be more capable on program management than portfolio management.

Project Maturity Form (PMF)

The questionnaire is called Project Maturity Form (PMF). It is based on the theoretical framework outlined above and has 36 questions. All questions, or statements, are assumed to have the same weight. A scale of six choices, ranging from “disagree completely” (1) to “agree completely” (6), was adopted to measure the responses. Project Maturity Form is shown as appendix. We also show how the different dimensions of project maturity are calculated.

Initial Surveys

The questionnaire has been tested in small surveys in different countries. Here we will focus on results from Norway and China. In Norway a survey was taken on 59 middle managers and project managers attending the Master of Management program in Project Management at the Norwegian School of Management BI. The informants represent a generous cross-section of both small and large companies, based in different locations, and from a wide range of industries. In China the survey was done on 56 managers taking part in the MBA program run in cooperation by Norwegian School of Management BI and Fudan University in Shanghai. These managers came primarily from large companies in China. Below we show some results from the surveys.

The results are based on rather few observations and cannot be taken as a proof of the actual project maturities in the two countries. The respondents are not drawn from a randomly selected population, but are from companies, which are focused on training and educating their people in project management. The scores in China and Norway are surprisingly equal. The relatively high score on all factors point to a professional attitude in using the project approach.

Project maturity: project, program and portfolio management

Exhibit 1 Project maturity: project, program and portfolio management

Project maturity: attitude, knowledge and action

Exhibit 2 Project maturity: attitude, knowledge and action

Project maturity: different detailed dimensions

Exhibit 3 Project maturity: different detailed dimensions

Practical Use of Project Maturity Form

We would advice organizations to take the test as a first approach to measuring their project maturity level. The organization's results should be compared with the average scores presented above. Scores below average should be further studied. The statements from the questionnaire behind the scores should be located, and means for improvement of them discussed.

One approach would be to focus on areas where improvements could happen immediately. If no fast improvement could be found for the lowest score, other low scores should be discussed, and improvement processes initiated. In such a way one does not go for complete or overall improvement, but start with those that could bring immediate results and thus motivate an incremental maturity process within the companies.

Appendix: Project Maturity Form

1. Project workers are positive towards the demands their projects may place on them
2. The organisation has a positive attitude to developing steadily better internal project management competence
3. There is a positive attitude to the well-planning of all sides of project work, both technical and human
4. There is a good understanding in the organisation of the benefits of working across disciplinary borders when running projects
5. The organisation has a clear picture of how to map resource requirements and risks in its projects
6. The organisation has a good understanding of the way effective project work must be organised and executed
7. The organisation has a good understanding of the complexity and difficulty in defining good project goals
8. The organisation has a good general competence in initiating and executing projects
9. The organisation has an approved Project Handbook or manual for the way internal projects should be initiated and run
10. There is a good interplay between the projects, the functional line managers, and stakeholders outside the project organisation
11. All projects have access to good IT support
12. All projects are executed in a professional manner, and they achieve their goals within the planned time and budget
13. There is a positive will to attach organisational challenges through the use of simultaneous or successive projects
14. There is a great will amongst managers to avoid bureaucratic structures in executing project programs
15. The organisation puts a lot of effort into combining technical projects with projects that enhance organisational development and competence building for individuals
16. Project managers and sub-project managers are not occupied by “ territorial” fights, but concerned with working across projects and support other projects when appropriate
17. The organisation has a good knowledge of the way development work and can be better executed through project programs, i.e. several projects building on each other
18. The organisation has a good understanding for the need for ongoing projects to be supplied by new projects, or being terminated, when new and better projects ideas come up
19. There is a mutual understanding that own organisations often can achieve even better goals and missions through establishing good project programs, i.e. combinations of projects that depend and support each other
20. There is a good understanding of the benefits of having functional line work and project work integrated in order to better achieve intentions behind larger R&D efforts
21. The organisation has one or several project programs that are clearly defined and well aligned towards the achievement of specific aims within the organisation's overall mission
22. The project programs in the organisation are executed in close co-operation between project management and line management
23. The organisation has an effective administrative support system for the execution of project programs
24. The organisation has introduced working methods that effectively support the execution of its project programs
25. There is willingness in the organisation to create a project portfolio that include both high-risk and low-risk projects
26. There is willingness in the organisation to involve all staff in the development of new project ideas
27. There is willingness in organisation to involve all competent staff in the creation of both “hard” (technical) and “soft” (organisational development or HRM) projects
28. There is willingness in the organisation to create a project portfolio with projects across functional disciplines
29. The management has a good understanding of how to select projects for the organisation's project portfolio
30. The organisation has a good knowledge in how to prioritise resources between projects within a project portfolio
31. The management has a good picture of how the project portfolio supports the current and future goals of the organisation
32. The management has a good perspective of which projects the organisation currently are dealing with, and how they are connected
33. The organisation has a clear strategy for the selection and control of the project portfolio
34. The organisation has good routines for both terminating current projects and including new ones in their project portfolio if conditions so demand
35. The organisation has good methods and systems for reporting and communicating between all projects within the project portfolio
36. The organisation has a Project Office, a Project Co-ordinator, or similar, who tracks and overviews all ongoing projects in the organisation
Dimension Questions
Project management 1-12
Program management 13-24
Portfolio management 25-36
Attitude 1-4,13-16,25-28
Knowledge 5-8,17-20,29-32
Action 9-12,21-24,33-36
Attitudes towards risk and insecurity 1,13,25
Attitudes towards power and responsibility sharing 2,14,26
Attitudes towards hard and soft values 3,15,27
Attitudes towards co-operation 4,16,28
Knowledge about the suppositions 5,17,29
Knowledge about ways of working 6,18,30
Knowledge about desirable results 7,19,31
Knowledge about the totality 8,20,32
Action taken at strategic level 9,21,33
Action taken at tactical level 10,22,34
Action taken at administrative level 11,23,35
Action taken at operational level 12,24,36

References

Antilla, V., Artto, K. A., & Wallèn, G. (1998). Project Management by Results. Project Management, 4(1), 40-45.

APM. (2000). Project Management Body of Knowledge (Fourth edition ed.). High Wycombe: Association for Project Management.

Helgesen, T. (1992). The Rationality of Advertising Decisions - Conceptual Issues. Journal of Advertising Research, 32(6), 22-30.

Hofstede, G. (1982). Culture's Consequences. International differences in Work-Related Values. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

Ibbs, C. W., & Kwak, Y. H. (2000). Assessing Project Management Maturity. Project Management Journal, 31(1), 32-43.

March, J. G. (1989). Introduction: A Chronicle of Speculations About Decision-Making in Organizations. In J. G. March (Ed.), Decisions and Organizations. Oxford and NY: Basil Blackwood.

Simon, H. A. (1955). A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 69(1), 99-118.

Webster. (1988). The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary of the English Llanguage (1988 ed.). New York: Lexicon Publications.

© 2007, Erling S. Andersen & Svein Arne Jessen
Originally published as part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Hong Kong

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