Measuring maturity




Banu Aysolmaz, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey

Project management maturity

within an organization can offer benefits that resemble a sure-fire recipe for business success: better cost control, improved strategic decision-making, sustainable growth and long-term profitability.

According to the 2012 PMI Pulse of the Profession survey of more than 1,000 project professionals, organizations whose employees reported high project management maturity were more likely to deliver projects on time, on budget and aligned with the original business goals.

One area where organizations particularly come up short is in measuring their own maturity. SPI Research's 2011 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark study of 214 global organizations found that only a quarter of organizations had created a set of standardized processes for managing projects, and only 15 percent use metrics and controls at the portfolio level.

Organizations can take several steps to effectively measure maturity—a proven influencer of a wide range of strategic business benefits, including improved cost control, strategic decision-making, sustainable growth and long-term profitability. These methods go beyond conducting interviews and compiling metrics to cultivating an organizational mindset that helps ensure meaningful results.


Before collecting a single metric, start with reasonable expectations about what maturity means within the context of the organization. “The main misconception about project management maturity is that companies and managers think they must achieve the highest degree of maturity in all measurement dimensions,” says Ralf Müller, PhD, professor of project management at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, Norway. Instead, he suggests organizations balance their efforts to increase project management maturity with the need for ROI. Organizations that have a relatively small percentage of their results coming from project work have different needs for project management maturity than those that are project-driven, says Dr. Müller.

By the same token, no universal formula for measuring maturity exists. Organizations almost always have projects with diverse patterns, and this requires significant tailoring work, says Banu Aysolmaz, a consultant and researcher in the information systems department of Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. “We frequently witness the misconception that a tailored process is seen as non-conformant,” she says. “On the contrary, an organization needs to define different sets of processes or define tailoring to achieve maturity.”

Teaching the 3 Ps

To improve maturity of project, program and portfolio management, executives must know how each works—the scope, role in the organization and impact on project success. Mark Mullaly, PMP, president of Interthink Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, offers these distinctions:


Projects are temporary endeavors undertaken to create unique products, services or results. The project is self-contained and intended to provide a single defined and realizable objective.


Programs are groups of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. “Programs are essentially tied to objectives that are too big to be accomplished through a specific objective and that have too many moving parts,” says Mr. Mullaly. So the objective is broken into smaller but related chunks that are managed separately and together deliver on the overall objective.


Portfolios are collections of projects or programs and other work that are grouped together to facilitate the effective management of that work to meet strategic business objectives. The projects don't necessarily deliver on a specific objective, however; they may just happen to be the same kind of project or represent all the projects owned or performed by a specific business unit.

Most methods for evaluating maturity follow similar steps:

  • Identify the scope of the assessment activities with respect to organizational strategies that determine which organizational units and personnel will be involved and the types of sample projects.
  • Plan the assessments, including data collection tools such as interviews, questionnaires, checklists, assessment team identification, meeting schedules and reporting plans.
  • Interview project teams and leaders to elicit information on project, program and portfolio management processes.
  • Observe organizational artifacts such as process descriptions and plans, infrastructures used, key performance indicators and other metrics. Fill in the checklist with direct and indirect evidences collected through interviews and observations.
  • Prepare the assessment report, identify the maturity level based on the gap and introduce improvement opportunities.

If planned and scheduled effectively, the entire assessment can be done in two to three weeks, says Dr. Ginger Levin, PMP, PgMP, OPM3 Professional, senior consultant at ESI International, Lighthouse Point, Florida, USA. The organization then needs to determine when it wants to conduct reassessments to see if gaps have been closed—or if others have opened. “Typically, reassessments are done annually or semi-annually, which means a metrics program should be put in place if one does not exist,” she says.


tip Banu Aysolmaz, a researcher in the information systems department of Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey, urges organizations to reconsider how they define project success during assessment. “Pulling the plug of a doomed project as early as possible should also be seen as success, just as finishing a project on time, on budget and meeting customer demands,” she says.


A number of pitfalls can skew the results of a maturity assessment, particularly those that emerge from both conscious and unconscious efforts on the part of those involved to paint as positive a picture as possible.

Ms. Aysolmaz warns organizations against racing to find near-perfect, low-risk, high-visibility projects within their portfolios to use in sampling for assessment. This can result in misleadingly high maturity measurements because the projects selected for the assessment already are running smoothly. To counteract this problem, high-level management needs to assure all the personnel that the assessment has one sole aim: to act as a baseline for improvement activities.

Executives should sell their project professionals on the valuable benefits of a maturity assessment, even though the process itself may feel uncomfortable. “Many times, project managers believe that failure is a unilaterally bad thing,” says Daniel Milstein, CEO of Gold Star Financial, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. “This is not the case, however. From a company perspective, it is just as beneficial to understand what products, services, processes and procedures don't work as it is to understand which ones do work.”

Too often, employees believe a maturity assessment is audit-focused on compliance, instead of a way to highlight strengths and potential improvements, Dr. Levin says. To address these misconceptions, transparency is critical. “The champion of the maturity assessment in the organization must explain to everyone why the assessment is being done,” she says. She recommends a kick-off meeting in which the assessment sponsor describes its purpose, its timetable, who will be involved and how the results will be used in the organization.


Once a company completes its maturity assessment, the rigorous work really begins. Organizations could face truly tough questions, says Mark Mullaly, PMP, president of Interthink Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: What should the improvement goal be in terms of maturity? What provides appropriate value, and what would be a step too far? When does the law of diminishing returns kick in, where any subsequent improvement in maturity costs a lot but produces proportionately little in result? He says there's not one answer for when further improvements might simply result in more bureaucracy, for example, so individual organizations must establish their own limits.

“Maturity models provide the perception of objectivity, in that the results are compared to a theoretically standard model, but determining an appropriate improvement objective still can be a judgment call,” says Mr. Mullaly. “Executives need to make informed choices based upon a real understanding of what's appropriate for their organization.”

Keeping employees informed remains an essential step after the assessment is completed. Executives should make sure the employees who participated learn about the assessment results and know the organization's plans to follow through on any recommendation. “Too often, those involved do not learn about the outcome of the assessment and wonder what happened,” says Dr. Levin. “They then feel the time they spent was not useful and question future involvement in any other assessments.”

By explaining the value of maturity metrics and addressing the results, organizations can both improve their project management processes and strengthen the outcomes of future assessments. PM



— Daniel Milstein, Gold Star Financial, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA




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