How to assess the maturity of a PMO
What is the difference between organizational project management maturity and the project management office (PMO) maturity? How can a PMO evolve and how can we measure this process of evolution? Should a PMO necessarily evolve from an operational level to a strategic level? Several models have been published to measure the maturity of organizations in project management, but little has been said about specific instruments to measure the maturity of a PMO. This paper presents an original model developed especially to assess the maturity of PMOs, grounded on academic research and in the practical work of experienced PMO leaders. More than 300 organizations in 12 countries have already used the proposed model, freely available on the Internet for the worldwide community of PMOs.
Since the 1990s, there has been a major movement worldwide toward the creation of PMOs, and this has increased during the last decade (Dai & Wells, 2004, p. 524; Hobbs & Aubry, 2007, p. 74). Despite the common perception that a large number of major companies have at least one PMO, Hurt and Thomas (2009, p. 55) indicated that “the sustainability of PMOs is a tenuous issue.”
In fact, PMOs arose because of different needs, but the vast majority had a greater objective in common: to obtain better results in those projects developed by the organization.
In recent years, while some of these initiatives have prospered, matured, and created noticeable value for the organization, others have lost their vigor, support, and have suffered cuts or have even been discontinued.
Successful PMOs are constantly being challenged to find the best way to ensure that their practices continuously fit organizational needs.
Renowned authors (Crawford, 2002; Hill, 2004; Kerzner, 2005), institutions (Software Engineering Institute, 2000), and even PMI (2008) have developed organizational maturity assessment models. Their objective is to facilitate the maturity process in organizations by providing a structured path based on best practices in order to foster continuous improvement. However, very few authors have investigated the phenomenon of PMO maturity. Despite this, there is a strong correlation between these two types of maturity, and experience shows that they are very different concepts and should be analyzed separately.
One of the findings of the first study that presented a “reliable portrait of the population of PMOs” (Hobbs & Aubry, 2007, p. 82) was that 50% of the PMOs investigated have the function of monitoring and controlling their own performance. In other words, PMOs are concerned with assessing and measuring their own performance. And considering the lack of knowledge that exists regarding the maturity of PMOs, this paper suggests a specific model to assess the PMO maturity. Its aim is to allow a PMO, based on its mission, to objectively assess its maturity level, considering the degree of sophistication with which it performs each of its functions, while also taking into consideration its clients' interests and the organization's needs.
The Operating Philosophy of a PMO
But what is a PMO? In literature (Block & Frame, 1998; Dinsmore, 1999; Bolles, 2002; Crawford, 2002; Englund, Graham, & Dinsmore, 2003; Kendall & Rollins, 2003; Hill, 2004; Williams & Parr, 2004; Dai & Wells, 2004; Letavec, 2006; Hobbs & Aubry, 2007; Hurt &Thomas, 2009), there are countless different responses to this question. Generally speaking, they all agree on one thing: it is the area in which certain functions (also called services) relating to project management are centered, and its objective is to help the organization achieve better results through projects. Some of these functions were highlighted in a study led by Hobbs and Aubry (2007), who mapped out 27 common PMO services, with contributions from 500 professionals involved with PMOs worldwide.
The success of a PMO involves its capacity to understand who its clients are, what their needs are, and how to meet those needs by creating clear and sufficient benefits and generating perceptible and measurable value. Its maturing process involves the skills to meet the new needs arising from the maturing process of the organization and from its clients, by offering new services, and providing them with a higher level of sophistication in response to the demands of its clients, such as the top executive level, project managers, team members, and functional managers.
Types and Functions of PMOs
The complexity of the PMO phenomenon encounters some difficulty when it comes to establishing a standard way of typifying them. By observing different PMOs in various organizations, it is possible to notice that there are significant differences, which makes the task of summarizing them into just a few types very complex.
In considering the extensive literature that exists on the subject, it is possible to identify various attempts that have been made to standardizing the way of typifying PMOs. In order to summarize all these propositions, Pinto, Cota, and Levin (2010a) proposed two essential dimensions to classify PMOs: the scope of influence and the approach of delivering (see Figure 1).
The scope of influence of a PMO comes from the idea of the extent to which their actions affect the organization. Basically, there are three mutually exclusive possibilities: the project-program PMO, which covers just one of the organization's projects or programs; the departmental PMO, which covers an area, department, or business unit; and finally the enterprise PMO, which covers the entire organization.
The approach of delivering is related to how the PMO provides services to its clients. This may be strategically, tactically, or operationally, or it may even operate with all three simultaneously. In fact, the main driver of the approach of a PMO must be its mission, which will define how strategic, tactical, or operational it should be. This approach was ratified by Desouza and Evaristo (2006), when they identified that the roles of a PMO could be classified on three levels: strategic, tactical, and operational.
Common sense might lead us to a simplification of the idea that a PMO that covers the whole organization (enterprise PMO) could be summed up as taking a strategic approach (strategic PMO). However, the organizational practice is more complex. It is common to have an enterprise PMO that operates strategically, tactically, and operationally when it provides, for instance, services to top management, by supporting portfolio management (strategic), providing a common methodology for the organization (tactical), and also managing some important projects (operational).
Acting in a strategic way involves offering services that have a link with strategic issues of the organization, such as how to manage the organization's portfolio; provide information to top management for decision-making purposes; prioritize the portfolio and rebalance it as required; and monitor and implement strategy.
Acting in a tactical way involves providing services for a group of projects or individuals, such as developing a project management methodology, providing project management tools, and training managers and teams.
Acting in an operational way involves providing services for a project or individual, such as supporting project planning and control, coaching/mentoring, managing a strategic project, and recovering projects.
From research published by Hobbs and Aubry (2007), the 27 most common functions of PMOs were identified, and in this research, these functions represent the major services provided by PMOs and have become the reference point for the models presented.
Considering the definitions for strategic, tactical, and operational approaches, based on the academic and professional experience of the author, and experienced PMO leaders, Pinto, Cota, and Levin (2010b) proposed a classification of each service in two aspects: if it was applicable to each and every type of scope of influence of a PMO, that is,, if it was valid for enterprise, departmental, and project-program PMOs; and if it was a service of a strategic, tactical, or operational nature (see Figure 2).
Considering the two dimensions proposed, it is possible to conclude that there are 21 possible types of PMOs, considering three mutually exclusive scopes of influence (enterprise, departmental, project-program), and seven possible approaches of delivering (strategic, strategic-tactical, strategic-operational, tactical, tactical-operational, operational, and strategic-tactical-operational).
What, therefore, defines the type of PMO, according to Pinto, Cota, and Levin (2010a), is a combination of its scope of influence and one of the seven possible different approaches of delivering resulting from the services offered to its clients?
The Maturity of the PMO
The level of maturity of a PMO results from the extent to which it is capable of generating value for its clients and for the organization as a whole.
In a first analysis, it might be possible to suppose that the maturity of a PMO should evolve from an operational approach to a strategic approach. However, a more careful analysis may provide us with a different point of view of this process.
First, two questions for reflection: Is a strategic PMO necessarily mature? And is an operational PMO necessarily immature? Based on the real world, the answer is no. Actually, if the mission of the PMO is to be strategic, it can either perform it in a mature way or not. And the same goes for a PMO whose mission is to be operational; it can perform it in a very mature way or one that involves very little sophistication.
So it is possible to have operational, tactical, or strategic PMOs with a high or a low level of maturity. Considering that a PMO may have multiple approaches (strategic, tactical, or operational) and that it depends on its mission, it would only make sense to analyze its maturity if we focus on what is particular to each of these three different approaches of delivering.
It is, therefore, possible to conclude that a PMO may have different levels of maturity in each of its three possible approaches. For instance, it might be very mature from the operational point of view but not very mature from the tactical and strategic points of view. And if the mission of this PMO is, in fact, to be mainly operational, we could say, therefore, that it is still aligned with its objectives and generating the value expected by the organization.
If we consider, therefore, that the PMO generates value through the functions it provides, which are translated into services for its clients, the maturity of a PMO may be summed up as being the level of sophistication with which it provides each service for which it is responsible.
In other words, there are different ways of providing a specific service: from the most trivial and simple manner, which adds little value to the organization, to a more sophisticated and complex way, which brings more perceived results and provides the organization with a greater value.
The PMO maturity assessment model proposed by Pinto, Cota, and Levin (2010b) and presented in this paper, considers that each of the 27 services (adapted from the most common functions in PMOs, as presented by Hobbs & Aubry, 2007) was analyzed to establish how applicable they were to the three different types of PMO scope of influence: enterprise, departmental, and program-project. Then, each service was analyzed considering the different levels of sophistication that it could be performed, from the most trivial to the most sophisticated way.
In the proposed model, each of the services offered by a PMO can have up to four levels of maturity, according to their scope of influence and approach of delivering.
The PMO Maturity Cube®
The PMO Maturity Cube® (Pinto, Cota, & Levin, 2010b) results from unifying the concepts presented previously, which have all been consolidated into one specific model for assessing the maturity of PMOs for any type of organization.
The three dimensions that comprise the cube are scope of influence (enterprise, departmental, or program-project), approach of delivering (strategic, tactical, or operational), and the maturity level (basic, intermediate, or advanced) (see Figure 3).
Using a specific questionnaire for each PMO scope of influence, the model permits that an organization identifies which services should be provided by the PMO, considering its clients' needs.
Each of the three questionnaires (enterprise, departmental, and program-project) is divided into three parts: assessment of strategic services, assessment of tactical services, and assessment of operational services. When completing the questionnaire, organizations provide information about their current level of maturity in each service provided by the PMO and also the desired level of maturity, called target level (see Figure 4).
Each level corresponds to a specific number of points, and when the questionnaire has been completed, the scores, divided into strategic, tactical, and operational approaches, will represent the current and the desired situation of the PMO in terms of maturity.
The current maturity level in each of the approaches is calculated by comparing the points relative to the current situation in the organization with the total possible number of points for the model as a whole. The target maturity level is calculated by comparing the points relative to the desired situation in the organization with the total possible number of points for the model as a whole.
The current and target maturity levels are represented in percentages. The current maturity level represents to what extent the PMO provides all the possible services of a PMO when it is most mature. The target maturity, on the other hand, represents the level the PMO would like to reach, a situation in which it would fully adhere to its objectives and mission, considering only those services that are really of interest to it in the target maturity levels.
Maturity levels with percentages between 0% and 33% are considered basic, levels between 34% and 66% are considered intermediate, and levels between 67% and 100% are considered advanced.
To illustrate this approach, we present real case studies where the PMO maturity cube model has been applied. The questions were answered by the PMO's leaders, supported by their teams. At the end of the session, the leaders were asked to quickly comment about the experience, including their perception about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed model. Based on this feedback, the authors promoted adjustments in the model and reapplied the questionnaire in these same companies, obtaining these final numbers and the PMO's leaders comments about the experience applying the model, as presented in Figure 5.
There are still many research opportunities related to the PMO maturity topic. The approach presented provides a focus on critical issues to the evolution of a PMO: the generation of perceived value to the organization and to the PMO clients.
Additionally, the presented model provides an important contribution, showing that a PMO does not necessarily cease to be operational to become strategic. The mission of the PMO is the starting point, and it will be based on the organization's needs, which may demand a PMO that operates both strategically and operationally. And in each of these different approaches, the PMO can and should evolve, becoming more mature and generating greater value to the organization.
The PMO Maturity Cube® is freely available for the entire community at www.pmomaturitycube.org. It is a contribution of its authors to the development of organizations and their PMOs.
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© 2012, Americo Pinto
Published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Vancouver, Canada