OPM3's knowledge foundation and implementation of OPM3

Lisa Marie Kruszewski Project Management Institute

Tina Slankas, PMP International Network Services

Chris Beautement, PMP Visby Consultants LTD


PMI standards have provided, and continue to make a significant contribution to the project management profession worldwide. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) soon to be published in its Third Edition, has become the de facto global standard for the management of individual projects. The Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCD Framework) defines the standard for developing the competencies of project managers and those aspiring to be project managers. In December 2003, PMI proudly released the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model, OPM3™, the project management standard developed to help organizations deliver their strategic goals consistently and successfully through projects. OPM3 complements the PMBOK® Guide and the PMCD Framework to provide a framework through which organizations can assess their project management capabilities against Best Practices, identify areas for improvement, and put plans in place to continually improve their organizational project management performance.

Organizations of all kinds devote significant effort to defining their objectives, and to designing strategies to help them achieve these goals. Yet, as has been well documented, strategies often fail to deliver the successful outcomes they were devised to produce. Sometimes strategies fail because they are unrealistic, sometimes organizations cannot achieve the internal alignment required to move the strategy forward, but often, strategies fail because organizations have not acquired or developed the capabilities to successfully implement these strategies at the detailed, tactical level.

In a global economy, we compete with organizations about which we know very little, in parts of the world with which we may not be at all familiar, it is clear that one critical competitive advantage is the ability to translate strategy into organizational success through projects. This means developing not only the facility to accomplish individual projects—as important as this is—but developing an overall organizational orientation toward treating as many endeavours as appropriate as projects, and managing them individually and collectively in such a way as to support the organization's strategic goals. This approach is what is meant by the term “organizational project management,” which we define as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to organizational and project activities to achieve the aims of an organization through projects.” (PMI, 2003. p5) While individual projects may be considered tactical, organizational project management is, by definition, strategic because, used properly, it reflects an organization's business strategy and provides a high-level perspective and regulation of critical resources that directly impact financial results. Seen in this light, organizational project management is a strategic advantage in this highly competitive economy.

How, then, does an organization improve in the area of organizational project management?

  • An organization needs to know what specific best practices—knowledge, skills, tools, techniques—that have been proven consistently useful in other organizations;
  • An organization needs a method to assess its current competence state of maturity against the body of OPM3 Best Practices; and
  • An organization, if it so chooses to embark upon improvement, needs to know how to improve the specific capabilities it identifies as requiring improvement.

In attempting to address these needs, individuals and organizations have developed various models and methodologies to assist in the pursuit of maturity. In 1998, the Project Management Institute (PMI®)—a global membership organization serving over 125,000 members in the project management profession—entered this important arena by chartering the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) Project Team.

Among the OPM3 elements of Knowledge, Assessment, and Improvement, OPM3 contains:

  • Best Practices associated with organizational project management;
  • Capabilities that are prerequisite or that aggregate to each Best Practice (see Exhibit 1);
  • the observable Outcomes that signify the existence of a given Capability (see Exhibit 1) in the organization;
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) (Exhibit1) that provide a means to measure the Outcomes;
  • the pathways, or dependencies, that identify the Capabilities aggregating to the Best Practice(s) being reviewed (Exhibit 2);
  • A high level tool to allow organizations to self-assess against the body of Best Practices identified for OPM3; and
  • Searchable, interactive databases containing data pertaining to the OPM3 Best Practices, constituent Capabilities, measurable Outcomes and Key Performance Indicators.
Graphical representation of a Best Practice, Capability, Outcome and KPI within

Exhibit 1: Graphical representation of a Best Practice, Capability, Outcome and KPI within

Together, the Best Practices, Capabilities, Outcomes, and KPIs—along with necessary narrative explanations, navigational guidelines explaining capability aggregation, self-assessment, and description of the organizational project management process—constitute PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model. OPM3 is designed to help organizations assess the state of their organizational project management maturity by assisting them in understanding organizational project management, organizational project management maturity, and how to assess their current organizational project management maturity. Assuming an organization wishes to improve, OPM3 will also help them determine what specific Capabilities they need in order to achieve the desired Best Practices, so they can advance their agenda while setting priorities for using or applying limited organizational resources.

What OPM3 Is, and What OPM3 Is Not

What are some other ways we can describe what OPM3 is?

  • Certainly, OPM3 is a means to understand and assess the ability of an organization to implement its high-level strategic planning by managing its portfolio or portfolio's and then delivering at the tactical level by successfully, consistently, and predictably managing programs and individual projects.
  • OPM3 is also a tool that can help businesses drive improvement in an organization.

However, because PMI is, among many things, a standard-setting organization, we would say, above all else, OPM3 is a standard. PMI believes the project management profession and organizations in general will embrace OPM3, as the global standard for organizational project management. In the effort to achieve this result, the OPM3 project team conducted the research that would ensure that the end product would reflect true end-user requirements. This was done through the process known as Quality Function Deployment (QFD), which resulted in what is called a House of Quality (HoQ). The HoQ illustrates the consensus-derived requirements that knowledgeable people indicated OPM3 would need to fulfil, in order to meet the needs it is designed to address. Throughout the OPM3 development process, large numbers of volunteers from the global project management community were involved, bringing highly diverse backgrounds from many geographies, industries, organizations, and levels within those organizations. As a result of this research, QFD, HoQ, and the global breadth of input, OPM3 is a comprehensive model, satisfying important identified customer requirements, such as practicality, scalability, and flexibility, as well as design requirements, such as the use of specific Capabilities, Outcomes, and KPIs. OPM3 also includes the incorporation of all three-project management domains and a process improvement construct.

In fulfilling the chartered objectives for OPM3, the OPM3 Project Team conducted extensive research of many maturity models, surveyed many executives and garnered input from many project management professionals. They received input from large and small organizations, from virtually all industries, and from many countries around the world. The result is a standard that is applicable to most organizations, in most industries, in most locations, most of the time.

Physically, OPM3 is organized on a CD-ROM—containing the background explanatory information of OPM3, a master listing of relevant organizational project management Best Practices, a means to self-assess the state of organizational project management maturity within the organization, a process construct for portfolio, program, and project management consistent with PMI's PMBOK® Guide, and a glossary. In addition, it details the cataloguing of the Capabilities leading to their Best Practices, and the information needed to help the user travel the pathways of data to develop an improvement plan for their organization.

Some things that OPM3 is not

  • OPM3 is not a tool for developing an individual project manager's Capabilities, which would be a repeat of material already existing in PMI's Project Manager Competency Development Framework.
  • OPM3 is not a duplicate or variation on other existing maturity models. The OPM3 Project Team carefully studied twenty-seven contemporary maturity models while developing OPM3, to determine what the remaining needs were and to see where PMI could make an additive, unique contribution to this subject.

The remainder of this paper will be devoted to a presentation of OPM3 itself, its components, its architecture, and the basic concept of its operation at the organizational level.

Basic OPM3 Architecture

Basic OPM3 Components

As indicated earlier, the basic components of OPM3 are the following:

  • Best Practices in organizational project management;
  • the constituent Capabilities (see Exhibit 1) that are necessary for the existence or attainment of Best Practices;
  • observable Outcomes signifying the existence or attainment of each relevant Capability;
  • Key Performance Indicators, which are the means of measuring each Outcome;
  • model context, including the Organizational Project Management Process and the stages of process improvement; and
  • the pathways that identify the Capabilities aggregating to Best Practices being reviewed (see Exhibit 2) including both intra-relationships or capability dependencies within one Best Practice and inter-relationships or capability dependencies across Best Practices.

Outcomes and Key Performance Indicators

The purpose of incorporating Outcomes into OPM3 is that these Outcomes are the evidence that a given Capability exists or has been achieved in the organization. In other words, if you have a certain Capability, there must be some objective evidence that this is the case.

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI), then, is a metric that can tell us, either quantitatively or qualitatively, the degree to which the Outcome exists. A KPI can be a direct measurement or an expert assessment.


An additional unique feature of OPM3 is the dependencies existing between and among Capabilities. The attainment of each Best Practice depends on the attainment of Capabilities, many of which are dependent upon other Capabilities. Relationships also exist between Best Practices—and between the Capabilities associated with the Best Practices. These relationships can be illustrated in Exhibit 2

Relationships among Best Practices

Exhibit 2: Relationships among Best Practices

In Exhibit 2 shown, because Best Practice 42 depends on Best Practice 51, at least one of the capabilities in Best Practice 42 must be dependent upon one capability in Best Practice 51. Hence, Best Practice 42 depends on Capability 42C, which depends on Capability 42B, which depends on Capabilities 42A and 51A.

Understanding the various types of dependencies between Best Practices provides a more robust and comprehensive view of what an organization must accomplish in order to fully achieve a given Best Practice—and thus, a more realistic picture of what is needed to progress toward maturity in organizational project management. Specifically, understanding these dependencies will generally result in a “pathway”—a Capability-by-Capability path the user may follow in pursuing a given Best Practice. However, for some Best Practices, there may be more than one reasonable sequence in which to attain needed Capabilities, while conserving precious organizational resources. OMP3 contains 586 Best Practices; 2,109 Capabilities; and 2,259 relationships between Capabilities.

In simplest terms, an organization using OPM3—either assessing itself, or developing its plan to attain an organizational project management Best Practice—would have the tools to understand what Capabilities they had achieved and those they needed to achieve, as well as a recommended sequence in which to achieve them. The organization would be able to verify the Outcome or evidence indicating they had attained each Capability, and the metric to use to measure this Outcome. Once these factors were mapped out, the organization would know, to a full and comprehensive degree, exactly what they would need to do to achieve any Best Practice. The organization would also have the information needed to plan for the improvement processes that would be necessary to achieve the targeted Best Practices.

How OPM3 is Organized

Because maturity's constituent parts include improvement and the steps leading to improvement, many maturity models make use of the well-established stages of process improvement as a basis for organizing and presenting their content. The Stages of Process Improvement (SMCI), listed from most basic to most advanced, consist of the following:

  • Standardize
  • Measure
  • Control
  • continuously Improve

OPM3, too, uses the logic of these stages. Doing so allows an organization to see which Best Practices are specifically associated with organizational project management maturity, where the organization falls on the continuum of maturity, and how it might embark on the journey to organizational improvement. However, OPM3 does not use only the Process Improvement stages to organize its content. It also builds upon the process framework for Project Management, as defined in the PMBOK® Guide, and extends that framework to the additional domains of Program Management and Portfolio Management. This framework permits further refinement of OPM3 so users can understand the implications of every Best Practice in terms of its potential applications to any or all of these three domains that, as a whole, comprise organizational project management.

The basic Project Management Process Groups identified within the PMBOK® Guide are: Initiating Processes, Planning Processes, Executing Processes, Controlling Processes, and Closing Processes (PMI, 2000.

OPM3 postulates that these same processes may be extended to apply to Program Management as well as Portfolio Management. Placed within the context of the three domains, we can see how these same Process Groups take on the added dimension of strategic importance in the below diagram, Exhibit3:

Organizational Project Management Processes

Exhibit3: Organizational Project Management Processes

Finally, with the OPM3 Construct (Exhibit4), we can see these categories, Best Practices and Capabilities combined: The five Project Management Process Groups, within each of the three domains, interacting with and progressing through the four stages of Process Improvement.

OMP3 Construct (PMI2003, p28

Exhibit 4: OMP3 Construct (PMI2003, p28

Every Best Practice within OPM3 is mapped to one or more locations within domain and stage. In other words, OPM3 categorizes where a Best Practice falls within domain (Project, Program, or Portfolio Management) and at what stage(s) of organizational process improvement (Standardize, Measure, Control, or continuously Improve).

OPM3 Summary

To sum up, then, OPM3 identifies hundreds of Best Practices in organizational project management and determined which specific Capabilities are needed to achieve these Best Practices and how to establish when each Capability has been achieved. In turn, every Best Practice has been placed within a context called the OPM3 Construct, mapping them to project management domain and to process management stage.

How Organizations Will Use OPM3

OPM3 gives users the knowledge to understand organizational project management, a tool to assess themselves against the body of Best Practices contained within OPM3, the ability to determine their current state on a maturity continuum, and the information necessary for the organization to decide whether or not to pursue a plan of improvement. For those who choose to undertake improvements in maturity, it then provides guidelines to use OPM3 to determine an appropriate course of action while conserving organizational resources. In broad terms, the OPM3 Steps are as follows:

  1. Prepare for Assessment. The first step is for the organization is to understand the concepts behind OPM3 as thoroughly as possible. Those involved in applying OPM3 on behalf of an organization should take time to study the contents of OPM3, becoming familiar with organizational project management and with the components and operation of OPM3.
  2. Perform Assessment. The next step is to assess the organization's degree of maturity in organizational project management. To do this, an organization must be able to compare the characteristics of its current maturity state with those described by OPM3. The OPM3 Self-Assessment is one way to accomplish this assessment giving users a top-level tool to make this comparison. Through assessment, an organization can identify areas of strength and weakness, and locate its general position on the continuum of organizational project management maturity.

    The most common next step would be to conduct a rigorous, detailed assessment of the Best Practices’ constituent parts, to determine which of these currently exist in the organization. This would allow the organization to make final decisions regarding possible improvements and determine where to allocate resources. One possible approach to this process is outlined in OMP3.

    Following the assessment phase, an organization might take one of three paths: 1) continue into the improvement planning process, 2) repeat some part of the assessment, or 3) exit the process, if they are currently comfortable with their maturity in organizational project management. If an organization chooses to exit, they may want to revisit the assessment step periodically to monitor the effects of any changes.
    OPM3 Steps (PMI, 2003, p.36)

    Exhibit 5. OPM3 Steps (PMI, 2003, p.36)

  3. Plan for Improvements. For those organizations choosing to pursue an improvement plan, the results of the previous step will form the basis for beginning the development of the organization's improvement plan. The documentation of the Outcomes, which have not yet been observed--indicating Capabilities that have not been fully achieved--permits a ranking of needed Outcomes and Capabilities according to their priority for the organization. This information, combined with a determination of which Best Practices most merit the use of available resources, opens the way to develop a specific plan to achieve the Outcomes associated with the Capabilities within those Best Practices. Therefore, the organization may use the results of Step 2 in concert with its organizational priorities to determine the scope and sequence of improvement efforts.
  4. Implement Improvements. This step is where actual organizational change will take place. Once the plan has been established, the organization will have to implement the plan over time, i.e., execute requisite organizational development activities to attain the needed Capabilities and advance on the path to organizational project management maturity.
  5. Repeat the Process. Having completed some change activity, the organization will either reassess where it is currently on the continuum of organizational project management maturity or begin working on other Best Practices identified in an earlier assessment but not acted upon.


Clearly, embarking on the OPM3 journey represents a very serious commitment of organizational time and resources. It may take some organizations months or even years to implement the OPM3 Steps and to address the issues revealed by following OPM3's recommended process. OPM3 is not intended to be a quick fix, but rather a roadmap, a well-structured and detailed guide to the Best Practices an organization needs to implement to achieve its strategic goals through projects while conserving organizational resources. OPM3 is designed to be easy to understand and to use, for anyone interested in organizational project management maturity. It is also designed to be scalable, flexible, and customizable, to accommodate the wide range of individual needs and objectives of organizations of varying types and sizes.

PMI has great expectations for OPM3 as a global standard for organizational project management. To the degree that we have succeeded over these several years of its development in gathering input and consensus from a wide and diverse group of organizations and individuals, we believe we have produced a standard that will serve the needs of all types of users. We will monitor, with interest, the great variety of innovative applications of OPM3, which we expect to see throughout a wide range of industries, and will maintain ongoing communications with the global user community to hear about what they are doing. We will interact with them on questions that may arise, and ultimately learn from their experience. We expect that, like the PMBOK® Guide, OPM3 will evolve over time.

Now that OPM3 has been released, we encourage you to become engaged in investigating it and discussing it within your organization, and to look for unique and powerful ways to apply OPM3. If you put this work to the test on behalf of your organization, we will have accomplished a significant advancement toward helping organizations achieve their strategic goals more successfully, predictably and consistently, through the systematic use of the knowledge and proven practices of organizational project management.


PMI (2000) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

PMI (2003) Organizational project management maturity model,(OPM3)Knowledge foundation. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

©PMI, T. Slankas, C. Beautement
Originally published as part of 2004 Global Congress Proceedings - Prague



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