PMI's organizational project management maturity model

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Since the beginning of recorded history, organizations of all kinds—governments, the military, corporations, not-for-profits, charitable institutions—have devoted significant effort to defining their long- and short-term goals and objectives, and to designing strategies to help them achieve these goals. Yet, as we all know, strategies often fail to produce the successful outcomes they were devised to produce. There are many reasons for this disconnect: sometimes strategies 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 implement these strategies at the detailed, tactical level.

In our increasingly global economy, in which we are all competing with organizations about which we know very little, in parts of the world with which we may not be at all familiar, it is becoming 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 endeavors 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.” 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.

The question, then, becomes: How does an organization go about improving itself in this area of organizational project management?

  • First, an organization needs to know what specific organizational project management-related practices—knowledge, skills, tools, techniques—that have been proven consistently useful in other organizations;
  • second, an organization needs a method to assess its current state of organizational project management against these desired practices;
  • and third, if an organization wishes to, in fact, traverse down the road of improvement, the organization needs to know how to improve itself against the specific capabilities it identifies as requiring improvement.

In striving to address these needs, numerous individuals and organizations have developed various models and methodologies to assist organizations with an interest in pursuing this idea of maturity. In 1998, the Project Management Institute—a global membership organization serving over 100,000 members in the project management profession—entered this important arena by chartering the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3™) Project Team.

Since that time, through extensive research and the input of a significant number of project management practitioners, the OPM3 Project Team has accomplished a number of critical objectives. For example, it has determined:

  • 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) (Exhibit 1) and Metrics that provide the means to measure the Outcomes;
  • and the pathways that identify the Capabilities aggregating to the Best Practice(s) being reviewed (Exhibit 2).
Graphical Representation of a Best Practice, a Capability, an Outcome and a KPI

Exhibit 1: Graphical Representation of a Best Practice, a Capability, an Outcome and a KPI

Together, these 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. The PMI Model is designed to help organizations assess the state of their organizational project management maturity by assisting them in understanding organizational project management, its maturity, and how to assess themselves. Assuming an organization wishes to improve, OPM3 will also help them determine what specific Capabilities they need 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 It 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.
  • OPM3 is also a merging of Best Practices from the constituent domains of organizational project management, including portfolio management, program management, and project management.

However, because PMI is, among many things, a standard-setting organization, we would say, above all else, that OPM3 has been designed from the beginning to be 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 the model would need to fulfill, 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.

Physically, OPM3 is organized as a book presented via a CDROM—containing the background explanatory information on the model, 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 A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), and a glossary. In addition, it details the cataloging 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: it 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. OPM3 is not intended to be simply read cover-to-cover. While it can be a powerful reference and development tool, its effective use will require significant thought, digestion, application, analysis, and evaluation—not possible through just reading the narrative text.

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 Model Architecture

Basic Model Components

As indicated earlier, the basic components of the OPM3 model 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:
  • 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

Moving down the list of model components, we see Outcomes and Key Performance Indicators. The purpose of incorporating Outcomes in the model 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. For example, if a Capability were “Regular maintenance of a Master Project Schedule,” an Outcome would be the physical existence of an up-to-date Master Project Schedule. 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. In the case of our example, it would not be difficult to ascertain whether the Master Project Schedule represented a sufficient number of the organization's projects or just some of them, or whether or not it was truly being maintained frequently enough to provide the most value to project stakeholders. Therefore, KPIs might consist of a combination of hard metrics and expert assessment.


An additional unique feature of the model 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 as you see here:

Relationships among Best Practices

Exhibit 2: Relationships among Best Practices

In the example shown (see Exhibit 2), 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. As depicted in Exhibit 2, 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. The OPM3 project team has devoted a huge effort to determining the nature of these complex interdependencies, to be able to create a model that provides maximum practical information and value to the user. To date, OMP3 has identified in excess of 600 Best Practices, 3,000 Capabilities, and 4,000 relationships between Capabilities.

In simplest terms, an organization using OPM3—either assessing itself against the standard, or developing its plan to attain an Organizational Project Management Best Practice—would have the tools to understand what Capabilities they currently had 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 Practices. The organization would also have the information needed to plan for the improvement processes that would be necessary to achieve these Best Practices.

How the Model 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 Management as a basis for organizing and presenting their content. The Stages of Process Improvement, listed from most basic to most advanced, consist of the following:

  • Standardize
  • Measure
  • Control
  • continuously Improve

The OPM3 model, 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 and Portfolio management. This framework permits further refinement of the model 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
  • Closing Processes

Shown in terms of their interrelationships and the normal flow of information, these process groups look like this:

Project Management Process Groups

Exhibit 3: Project Management Process Groups

These same processes may be extended to apply to program management and portfolio management, as well. Placed within the context of the three domains, we can see how these same process groups take on the added dimension of strategic importance.

Organizational Project Management Processes

Exhibit 4: Organizational Project Management Processes

Finally, with the OPM3 Process Construct (Exhibit 5), we can see everything combined: The five Project Management Process Groups, within each of the three domains, interacting with and progressing through the four stages of Process Improvement.

The OPM3 Construct

Exhibit 5: The OPM3 Construct

Every Best Practice within OPM3 is mapped to one or more locations within two-dimensions of the model. In other words, OPM3 will tell the user where a Best Practice falls within the domains of Project, Program, or Portfolio management and at what stage(s) of organizational process improvement (Standardize, Measure, Control, or continuously Improve).

Model 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 Process Construct, mapping them to the project management domains and to the stages of process management.

How Organizations Will Use The OPM3 Model

The OPM3 gives users the knowledge to understand organizational project management, a tool to assess themselves against the Standard, 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 to understand the concepts behind the model as thoroughly as possible. Those involved in applying the standard on behalf of an organization should take time to study the contents of the standard, 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 the model. The OPM3 Self-Assessment methodology gives users a top-level tool to make this comparison. Through this 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, then, 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.

  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 steps of the model 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 worldwide 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.

We encourage you to watch for the release of OPM3, 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.

Proceedings of PMI® Global Congress 2003 – North America
Baltimore, Maryland, USA ● 20-23 September 2003



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