The pathway to OPM3

a busy project manager's guide to advancing organizational maturity

Introduction of Concept

Imagine you are the director of a newly chartered Project Management Office. Or perhaps, you don't have to imagine! And in your charter is a directive to improve the way projects are initiated and executed within your organization. Where do you begin? This paper will provide you an approach to using PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) as a tool in that improvement initiative. I will discuss the application of OPM3 to improvements in the three components of project management: People, Process and Technology.

Project Management Maturity Background

Influence of the Software Engineering Institute

The current concepts of appraising organizational process maturity as a means of identifying where an organization should improve process execution in support of business achievement emerged in the early 1990's within the Software Engineering Institute (SEISM), a US Defense Department funded non-profit housed at Carnegie-Mellon University. Under the guidance of Watts Humphrey and other software engineering process researchers, the SEISM published the Capability Maturity Model for Software (Paulk, 1993). This model identified those “key practice areas” of knowledge, and the best practices that demonstrate that knowledge, as they apply to software development efforts. Two of these knowledge areas focused specifically on project management disciplines: project planning and project controlling.

The initial CMM-SW® was published as a “Staged” model; that is, it recognized stages, or levels, of maturity, as shown in the Exhibit 1. An organization was assessed as possessing a maturity level set at its lowest level of assessed capability.


Exhibit 1: CMM-SW Model, SEISM

The family of Capability Maturity Models continued to evolve through the 1990's, with the introduction of a continuous model. This model differed from the staged model in that this revised model recognizes that an organization can possess differing levels of maturity across the various knowledge areas.

The current models used within the systems engineering domain are now called the Capability Maturity Model Integrated. Both the staged and continuous versions are in use, with the staged model still the more common of the two.

Emergence of Project Management Focused Maturity Models

Late in the 1990's, project management consultants recognized the value of maturity models in support of process improvement initiatives. As a result, a number of project management maturity models emerged. I will address only a couple of them within the context of this paper, to demonstrate to the reader tools that are available to support the application of OPM3.

In 2000, PM Solutions published one of the initial commercially available Project Management Maturity Models. Developed in alignment with the premises of the CMMI family of models, the Project Management Maturity Model (Crawford, 2002) currently focuses on measuring the capabilities of an organization as related to the nine knowledge areas within PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) Guide. As with the CMMI, this continuous model allows an organization the flexibility to improve capabilities within those knowledge areas that are of primary benefit to the organization's business objectives.

PM Maturity Model, PM Solutions

Exhibit 2: PM Maturity Model, PM Solutions

Other commercially available project management maturity models include

  • Certain aspects of PRINCE2,
  • Project Management Maturity Model – a five-level project management maturity model, with levels ranging from a Common Language to Continuous Improvement, developed by Dr. Harold Kerzner, International Institute for Learning, Inc. (Kerzner, 2001)
  • The Berkley Project Management Process Maturity (PM)2 ModelSM – a five-level project management maturity model developed by Dr. William Ibbs, Ibbs Consulting Group (Ibbs, 2004)
  • ProjectFRAMEWORK® - a five-level maturity model developed by ESI International (ESI, 2004)
  • PMMP – model developed by IPS Associates (Suares, 1998)

The Birth of OPM3™

The Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3™) was published in 2003 by the Project Management Institute (PMI) to assist in the education of project management practitioners and laymen on the influential affects of applying project management principles at the organizational level (PMI, 2003). Consisting of three directories, the OPM3™ model provides nearly six hundred best practices as related to the project management field, including portfolio management.

OPM3™ (PMI, 2003 p.28)

Exhibit 3: OPM3™ (PMI, 2003 p.28)

OPM3 differs from the other models in its application of the Deming model of continuous improvement and its progression: Standardize, Measure, Control, Continuous Improvement. When applying this model, an organization would initially develop standardized processes in support of those best practices that apply to the organization's stated goals and objectives.

The Project Management Propeller

Project management in today's world can be viewed as integrated system of people, applying processes and technology to fulfill project objectives.

Note that I say “integrated system.” This means that all three aspects need to stay synchronized with each other in order for the whole system to succeed.

Let me give you an example … remember when PC's were first commercially available and the use of word processing software started catching on? Earlier adopters of that technology were not proficient in the processes associated with opening and saving electronic files. Perhaps you recall the first time you typed up a report and saved it somewhere, but could not find it afterwards? That was a people/technology mis-alignment. Now, add to it the concept of teams working together on a proposal document. Without well-defined processes describing how to name and where to save that particular file, the team would be potentially trashing each other's documents.

This concept is similar to that of a propeller on an airplane. Without a balanced distribution of forces on all 3 blades, the plane would not remain in the air very long. A project management improvement plan that does not address the forces in each of the “blades” will not stay funded very long.

The Project Management Propeller

Exhibit 4: The Project Management Propeller

Today's Reality

The first step in improving an organization's “project propeller” performance is to identify what needs improving and the value that will be received through the improvement.

The purpose of a project management maturity assessment, or an appraisal as it is sometimes called, is to establish a common understanding of an organization's strengths and weaknesses in the application of project management discipline as well as the organization's willingness to apply the discipline.

The assessment establishes a solid baseline against which improvements and adoption of best practices can be measured. Therefore, it is important that the assessment activities result in an open, honest appraisal of the organization's current capability and change readiness. The change readiness of your organization to act on the recommendations from the assessment is something to be carefully considered when crafting your improvement plan.

Recognizing the need for candor, it has become an industry best practice to use outside consulting organizations to conduct a realistic review of your organization's capabilities. The use of outside resources for this crucial activity permits an honest assessment, unfettered by internal politics or misperceptions. Through the use of trained interviewers conducting confidential interviews, blind web surveys and expert review of project artifacts, the assessment team will be able to determine the true state of your organization.

If the use of an external consultant is not feasible, there are self-assessments that can be conducted. Within the OPM3 toolset, there is a self-assessment tool that can be used to review which best practices are used within the organization. This tool, which consists of 151 yes/no questions, provides you with graphical representations of the organizations' maturity. I recommend that if you are applying this self-assessment that you actually print the survey and ask your peers, users and others within your organization that are affected by projects to provide their inputs to the practices. Your understanding of the practice of project management across the organization might differ from theirs, and as previously mentioned, it is important with an improvement initiative that it address the organization's needs, not the needs of an individual or an individual group.

Tomorrow's Aspirations

The next step in improving an organization's performance should be to identify how much improvement is warranted, how much of an investment should be made. Let's not forget that … you are making an investment when embarking on a process improvement initiative. Corporate resources will be consumed. Treat it as a project; determine the objectives, the critical success factors, the benefits needed to make the business case.

This is an often-overlooked step. By discussing your organization's three to five year strategic plan and by analyzing your organization's competitive space, you will be able to determine how far up the maturity ladder your organization needs to go to achieve a maximum return on the investment.

One note of caution. It is my personal experience that it can be difficult in today's short-term business economy to sustain funding for improvement initiatives that might not yield results for several years. It is my recommendation that you clearly set expectations when thinking about that future benefit. You need to determine some improvements that can yield near-term results, albeit small when compared to the overall benefit, and establish performance measurements towards demonstration of those smaller returns. Set interim milestones of improvement, aligned with a measurable demonstration of the value achieved.

I recommend use of maturity models in determining the future state. By reviewing the requirements of a Level 3 organization, as identified in PM Solutions' Project Management Maturity Model or within the SEI's CMMI® model (CMMI, 2002), or one of the other models, you can have a discussion as to whether that level is appropriate for your organization to have as a goal. I also recommend you evaluate that future state within each of the various knowledge areas. It is quite possible for your organization to desire a higher level of maturity in matters related to time and cost management, and a lower level of maturity in matters related to risk management, because you are a naturally risk-averse organization and your projects tend to be conservatively approved. Or maybe the converse situation exists – you are a risk-seeking corporation where management to a schedule is more important than cost management. The point is, you should determine a maturity profile that is aligned to your organization.

Developing an Executable Plan

Maturity Models – Maps of all Possible Routes

Once you have determined what needs to be improved, and how much improvement is needed, you can apply a maturity model to assist in determining the changes that are needed. You will also apply the maturity model in the development of a supportable improvement plan.

Which model should you choose? Choose the model that makes the most sense for your organization, one with which you and your executive sponsors are comfortable. You should be able to communicate the maturity model in business terms to your project user community, to your staff, and to others with a vested interest in your improvement plan. If you do not understand the model or do not believe in the model, then you are handicapping yourself. If you are applying that industry best practice of hiring an outsider to assist with the assessment, you still own the responsibility of the internal marketing and communications; be sure you understand the model they are applying.

The maturity model is a map of all possible routes, from which you will determine your improvement itinerary. The assessment you just completed identifies where your organization is today with regards to the maturity of its people, processes and technologies. It is important to realize that these three “blades” might not all be in the same starting position. Your initial improvement activities should address any misalignment, so that all the blades are at the same starting point when the actual full-press improvement starts.

For example, it might be necessary to provide some intensive Project Management Essentials training to individuals acting as project managers prior to introducing a standard methodology. If individuals do not understand how to develop a work breakdown structure, imposing a methodology that says they need to have one in their project plan will only frustrate them and potentially provide you the first “bump” in your itinerary.

Your conversations with the executives regarding the desired future state have identified the destination that is desired, based on today's knowledge. More on that later… You should also have insight into other “change initiatives” underway within the organization, initiatives that could potentially impact your plans.

You now have the task of selecting the route(s) you will use to develop your itinerary and to achieve that destination.

Responding to an Organization's Change Readiness

One aspect often overlooked in developing improvement plans is an organization's change readiness profile. The first factor to consider in selecting your routes is indeed considering your organizations' change readiness.

If you are in an organizational culture where change is slow to be accepted or where there is a tendency to have committee-based consensus decisions, your implementation plan needs to proceed slowly. You should include an intensive communications and internal marketing program as part of the improvement activities, recognizing the need of the organization to fully understand and appreciate a process change before that change can begin to become part of the corporate processes. You will need to be more inclusive in your decision-making, involving a wider audience in any review and comment activities. You will probably need to demonstrate value more often, to openly share and highlight the “goodness” being achieved through the smallest of changes. Your “route to improvement” should be centered on activities of shorter durations, with lots of milestones and validation points.

If the organization, on the other hand, is one that recognizes and embraces change as a “good thing,” you will need to temper your improvement plan with doses of reality, to resist undertaking too much change at one time. This becomes especially true if there are multiple change initiatives underway within the organization. I know you have all heard the “paralysis by analysis” phrase; an organization can equally grind to a halt with too much change occurring at one time. Your “route to improvement” should be centered on completion of one or two key activities at a time.

Planning the Route

After considering your organization's change readiness profile, you are ready to start your planning.

Step 1: Address Any Initial Misalignments

I mentioned earlier the need to align your current capabilities. Review the data provided to you in the assessment report. If you have a misalignment, such as the one used as an example, your initial improvement activities should address that. Typically these misalignments are based on knowledge deficiency and are readily addressed through some basic training. Another often misalignment is between technology and process. Organizations will purchase advanced software packages such as an enterprise project management tool and then announce that all projects must be loaded into the tool and all status reports generated from it. When the first projects are loaded and executive dashboards generated, it quickly becomes evident that project managers are managing projects at varying levels, some with fixed date milestones, others with resource loaded schedules at the 5th level of WBS, and the dashboard reports are not providing the information that was hoped for. My recommendation in these situations is to establish some basic processes and pilot those processes on the projects that really matter, to achieve some alignment while working on the more comprehensive process/technology alignment activities.

Step 2: Identify Improvement Activities

Once you have addressed any misalignment concerns, you should brainstorm your improvement activities. What things can be done to address the improvement needs highlighted in the assessment results? At this point, we recommend just doing a total brainstorm on the activities; do not filter them with reality yet. The maturity models, especially OPM3's Capabilities Directory, are assets to draw on while conducting this activity. By identifying the Best Practices areas in which improvement is desired, you can review the Capabilities that are needed and determine what activities you should undertake to develop those capabilities. You can perform a similar activity with the other models, again focusing on those areas that require improvement.

Your list will include items from purchasing tools, to developing processes, to conducting training. And your list should not look at just the project managers as recipients. Consider the entire organization, from executive team members who might benefit from training on project governance to project business sponsors who could benefit from coaching in the development of business cases.

For example, let's say your assessment results show a weakness in time management, in particular the use of resource-loaded schedules is a “best practice” not demonstrated. In OPM3, that would relate to Best Practice 1080: Project Schedule Development Process Standardization. A review of the capabilities associated with that Best Practice, as it applies to project management, shows there is a capability 1080.020 that addresses Project Schedule Development Process Development, which has an identified outcome which calls for a documented project schedule development process that is communicated to all project stakeholders (Outcome 1080.020.10). Applying the PM Solutions Project Management Maturity Model, you would realize you are Level 1 in this capability, in that it is not performed. The development of resource-loaded schedules is a standard activity within the Time Management Knowledge Area, so you would look in that portion of the model to determine actions needed to correct the situation. You would note that a maturity improvement would be achieved if you could require “large, visible projects” to produce resource loaded schedules using basic documented processes. So, applying this model, your initial improvement actions might be limited to establishing some ground rules and requiring certain projects apply them.

Step 3: Establish your Improvement Timeline and Metrics

Once you have your list, consider the timeframes required for each improvement activity. Sort the activities by “quick-hits” that can be accomplished in 60 to 90 days, short-term initiatives that will show value in less than 6 months, and then activities that might need a year or more before they yield results.

I like to use a graphic, such as the one below, (Exhibit 5) to visualize the improvements and their interdependencies over time. Using a color-code on the boxes allows me to see the alignment across people, process and technology, supporting the need to maintain a balance.

Sample Improvement Chart

Exhibit 5: Sample Improvement Chart

As you are sorting through your improvement activities, consider how you will measure the impact each has on the organization, how you will “justify” the investment in that particular activity. Recall that at the beginning of this paper, I suggested that you treat this overall initiative as a program. Each of these improvement activities should be a project unto itself, with a business case that it supports. Metrics should be established against which each project will be managed.

Step 4: Continuously Validate Your Itinerary

No organization can afford to sustain a static environment in which to implement improvements, not in today's' economic environment. Therefore, it is important to the success of your overall improvement initiative to periodically call “time out” and reassess where you are heading. Validate that the work performed to date is continuing to demonstrate value and that the milestones you have in front of you are still appropriate. Confirm that the final maturity destination point is still aligned with corporate strategies, objectives and vision. If it is not, then resynchronize. Determine the new endpoint and re-address your improvement initiative. This becomes especially crucial in year two of the improvement initiative. What you thought possible twelve to eighteen months ago might no longer be so.

Avoiding Derailments

The best way to ensure continued progress in advancing your organization's project management maturity is to communicate, communicate, communicate. And I mean, communicate as in both telling and listening in all directions. As previously discussed, you need to ensure that your improvement plans remain aligned with the overall corporate vision and goals, and be prepared to shift direction when it is called for.

Plan for the change resistance you will encounter. Implement activities specifically aimed at the resistance, disarming it before it becomes a “bump” in your itinerary. These activities typically run from deliberate inclusion of potential “nay-sayers” in the improvement activities, to incentives related to changed performance, to contests that encourage positive participation. Also, provide a forum for the resistors to express themselves. Consider an anonymous feedback site that allows them to communicate their negativity in a way that might be positive (you might obtain insights that you would not otherwise have) and deflects from the sour grapevine. Encourage use of this feedback site by associating incentives with it.

Plan for the successes. Consider what budget and support you might need to celebrate the launch of a new methodology. One of the best methodology launches in which I have participated included the issuance, to every staff member who attended an introductory program, a “tri-lighter” with the key concepts of the methodology printed on it. The tri-lighter was only available in the program, and because it was a highly coveted office tool, folks attended. Another launch entailed a training program, the culmination of which was a formal “graduation” program, with guest speakers and hats. Don't discredit the “tchotchkes” as motivation tools when planning your change enablement activities. While this might be just “another project” to you, you are affecting the way your co-workers and staff perform their jobs. Celebrate when the performance change happens, no matter how small the change is.


You are a busy project manager and you have just been asked to lead your organization's project management maturity improvement program, or perhaps manage a part of the program. Remember, this is a project like all others. Do your planning before you start. The following 10 items are provided to help you get started on that improvement project work breakdown structure.

  • ✓   Hire an outside consultant to be “your expert voice”.
  • ✓   Select a maturity model.
  • ✓   Conduct the maturity assessment.
  • ✓   Determine your organization's change readiness.
  • ✓   Determine the desired future state.
  • ✓   Achieve alignment across people, process, technology, bringing all three “blades” to a common level of maturity in knowledge areas that are important.
  • ✓   Develop the itinerary for overall improvements – specific tasks, with measurable interim milestones
  • ✓   Address your change resistors, develop plans to address them head-on.
  • ✓   Conduct period reassessments – are you still on the right road? Did the end destination change while you were flying?
  • ✓   Above all, communicate, communicate, communicate – and encourage participation and celebration!

It will be a fun flight!


CMMI Product Team (2002). Capability maturity model integration, version 1.1. Pittsburgh: Software Engineering Institute/Carnegie Mellon University.

Crawford, J.K. (2002). Project management maturity model. New York: Marcel Dekker.

ESI (2004). Project FRAMEWORK®, retrieved 081504,

Ibbs, W. (2004). Flagship product, retrieved 081504,

Kerzner, H. (2001). Strategic planning for project management using a project management maturity model. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Paulk, M.C., Curtis, B., Chrissis, M.B., & Weber, C. (1993). Capability maturity model for software, version 1.1. Pittsburgh: Software Engineering Institute/Carnegie Mellon University.

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

Suares, I. (1998). A real world look at achieving project management maturity, 29th Annual Project Management Institute Conference, 1998 Seminars and Symposium, Long Beach, CA, Project Management Institute

©2004, Bruce Miller, PMP
Originally published as part of the 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Anaheim, California



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