Factors for designing a second generation of project management maturity models
Shankar Sankaran and Spike Boydell
University of Technology, Sydney (Australia)
This research explores the dynamics of a reliable project management capability responsible for undefined projects, and proposes new factors that could influence how project management maturity is determined and modeled. It demonstrates that unique processes and practices—that are not tightly controlled, repeatable and predictable—can contribute to the reliable management of e-Learning projects in a university environment. A multi-method research design is used with textual analysis of maturity models and a case study of university environments.
Results indicate multiple processes and practices that enable this capability in ways that do not fit the current view of project management maturity. Context-specific values, specialized bodies of knowledge (instructional design), customer involvement, third-party influence, and tacit factors such as trust and creativity are amongst these factors. A clear path emerges of an alternative route to project management maturity.
Process control is a foundational principle of quality management. Architects and advocates for TQM have argued (for decades) the necessity and associated benefits of monitoring and minimizing process variations in order to achieve optimum system outputs. By minimizing variations, processes could be under statistical control, considered definable as capabilities, open to repeatability and, ultimately, a contributing factor to greater efficiency.
In the growing American and Japanese economies (post-World War II) where manufacturers were attempting to re-tool their systems and outputs to serve a civilian customer base as opposed to a military one, process control as a managerial priority made enormous sense. Control, definability, repeatability, and predictability—these qualities were seen as appropriate and effective standards to support businesses as they served customers.
Moving ahead 40 years to the release of the Capability Maturity Model (originally conceived by Watts Humphrey in 1989), organizations that increased their use of formal project management methods became interested in continuously improving their project management capability—motivated by the idea that tightly defined, repeatable and predictable processes could directly contribute to efficiency of their organizational systems.
The university is an example of an organizational model on its own unique path toward project management maturity. Over the last decade, universities have—as part of a larger trend where specialized management techniques are being adopted (such as strategic planning and business process re-engineering)—embraced project management practices in an attempt to apply a greater degree of planning, coordination and implementation of teaching and learning strategies. The management of e-Learning projects has been directly affected by such developments.
From a typological perspective—specifically that of the Goals-and-Methods Matrix (Turner & Cochrane, 1993)—an e-Learning project represents “Type-3,” one that has defined methods but undefined goals. Within a discussion on maturity, the management of e-Learning projects represent an opportunity to examine the limits of this concept and associated models.
The Research Problem
Against the backdrop of this process-oriented view of project management maturity, several issues arise:
• The variety of project types and project management environments has greatly extended beyond manufacturing—the era in which process control emerged. While the need to achieve workplace efficiency was necessary to manufacturers, could the same be said for all organizations and industries that have increased their use of project management? Would other values or motivations, such as customer satisfaction or other values articulated with the organization’s vision or mission statements, contribute to chosen project management methods and, ultimately, the maturity of the capability?
• Assessing maturity on the basis of process definability and control makes sense when assessing the project management capability of organizations responsible for highly defined projects (e.g., architecture, engineering or construction). But what about project types categorized differently? When reconciling the process-dominant view of project management maturity against projects lacking definable qualities, a disconnect emerges. One could suppose that, in order to accommodate the undefined elements, these organizations must be flexible and likely use processes and practices that are undefined, unpredictable and possibly unrepeatable. The current generation of project management maturity models would likely consider these capabilities immature.
• Maturity models from industries and organizations representing the Types-2, -3 and -4 quadrants have shown conceptually through their design and content that maturity can be accomplished to accommodate their undefined goals or methods. This opens the door, theoretically, to considering the project management capabilities associated with managing these projects as mature. (Exhibit 1 shows the distribution of representative models.)
Projects lacking definition—therefore differing from project to project—may engage unique processes and practices in their management. These “unique” processes are, by definition, unlikely to be repeatable and predictable (again, from project to project). Are the associated project management capabilities “immature” or, by using processes, practices or other enablers that do not lend themselves to definability, repeatability, and predictability, are they simply taking an alternative route toward a reliable project management function? Could these project management capabilities be mature despite the fact that their processes cannot be easily controlled?
In answering this question, the management of e-Learning projects will be examined. The processes and practices of the project management capabilities within universities will reveal new factors that broaden the current view of project management maturity which relies on process control.
Multi-method Research Design
Thomas and Mullaly (2008) presented a new form of methodological strategies in the project management community: one that robustly uses multiple methods to address research questions. The purpose of this next section is to demonstrate the application of such a “multimethod” design in the study of project management maturity.
This research relies heavily on the research designs espoused by Datta (1997), Mingers (2001), Morse (2003), and Esteves and Pastor (2004). The first two offer the philosophical underpinnings which justify a pluralist approach to method design (Datta, 1997; Mingers, 2001), while Morse and Esteves offer more detailed perspectives on how such a design can be implemented (Morse, 2003; Esteves & Pastor, 2004). All advocate the use of multi-method design, with Datta (1997), in particular, commenting on the value of multi-method evaluations using case studies, which is of special relevance here.
The sequencing of the data collection “projects” is critically important. Morse (2003) identified four combinations to support various data collection scenarios (see Exhibit 2).
This inquiry has two such projects, the first of which is a textual analysis of two maturity model collections: the first generation project management models and a representative selection from various organizations, industries and knowledge domains. This analysis resulted in a distillation of elements from the selected maturity models. This will enable the creation of a conceptual framework for use in the project management environment (selected in the case study). The model itself will not generate sufficient data to adequately answer the primary research question. For this reason, Project #1 is subsidiary.
The second project is a case study of two Canadian universities—specifically the teaching and learning units responsible for the management of e-Learning projects. The unit of inquiry is the project team consisting of the project sponsor, the instructional designer, the subject matter expert, the course developer (educational technologist), and the unit/department head.
The dominance of the second project is intensified by its direct relationship to and support of the interpretivist paradigm guiding this research. At the core of this inquiry, an answer to the research question cannot be found in the conceptual framework being used, or in the maturity models that provide the basis for its development. Only by entering the world of a unique and undefined project environment (with an e-Learning project representing a Type-3 project) can true insight be found—through engagement with and analysis of the occupants of that world. The respondents can explain their views (or “multiple realities”) and also interpret them through the lens of a conceptual framework focused on project management. In either case, the reality upon which theory is generated must occur on the constructed reality or interpretations of site participants.
To accommodate these data collection requirements, a variation on the Morse sequencing options (specifically “QUAL→qual”) is needed (Exhibit 3):
Data Collection: Project #1
Several sources contributed to the development of the conceptual framework:
a) A textual analysis of two maturity model collections (see Tables 3 and 4);
b) Specialized body of knowledge (instructional design) associated with e-Learning and the typical model processes used in this environment;
c) Previous work published by this researcher that is germane to the project environment being explored (Pasian & Woodill, 2006a; Pasian, 2006; Pasian & Woodill, 2006b);
d) Data associated with the inquiry’s pilot case;
e) Current literature related to the topic of “reliability” and intangible factors that describe team member involvement (associated with managing a project).
Textual Analysis of Maturity Models
An analysis of the current generation of project management maturity models is dominated by process-oriented factors. The collection upon which this analysis is based is:
- Construction Project Management (Fengyong & Renhui, 2007)
- Evolutionary Software Project Management (Sukhoo, Banard, & Van der Poll, 2007)
- Infrastructure Maturity Tool (Hertogh et al., 2008)
- OPM3 (PMI, 2003)
- Prince 2 (OGC, 2006b)
- P3M3 (OGC, 2006a)
- Project Management Process Maturity (PM2) Model (Kwak & Ibbs, 2002)
- Project Management Solutions (Crawford, Hobbs, & Turner, 2006)
- ProMMM (Hillson, 2001)
- Strategic Project management Maturity Model (Kerzner, 2005)
Exhibit 4 offers a partial list of the elements that emerged. Customer-oriented processes do not surface. Specific factors from this analysis are not included in the framework but, conceptually, they are represented through the inclusion of the defined processes associated with the management of an e-Learning project.
An analysis of the stage/level text in maturity models from outside project management reveals different areas of emphasis in the qualities they assess for maturity determinations (see Exhibit 5). While technical processes remain present, much greater consideration—relative to project management maturity models—is given to factors that do not obviously or easily lend themselves to process definition or management. Of particular interest are “culture” and “customer,” the two items referred to most often in these maturity models.
For the purposes of this inquiry, such evidence supports two observations: different paths toward maturity are in use outside of the project management community, and these paths consider “maturity” as something more than the successful control of process variations. Such differences could emerge from what Kwak and Anbari (2009) call “allied disciplines”: operations research, organizational behavior, information technology/systems, innovation, engineering, strategy, performance management and quality management. The properties gleaned from the maturity model analysis (from outside the project management community) reinforce their conclusions. Particular resonance is indicated in three “disciplines”: organizational behavior, innovation, and operations.
These suppositions contribute to the design of a conceptual framework that purports a project management capability involving non-process factors (see Exhibit 6). The results of the coding of the maturity models from outside project management (Exhibit 5) indicate strong reliance on multiple factors relevant to the organization being explored in this inquiry’s case study: culture, customer, organizational policies, leadership, organizational interface and resources. These are included in the conceptual framework.
The definition of “customer” varies considerably within project management, and its presence in project management maturity models is minimal. Its presence in non-project management models, however, is much greater and underscores the importance placed by these models on factors involving that customer which may or may not be a defined process.
Moreover, it is especially relevant for this case study to include “customer” as a unique theme in the conceptual framework given their involvement in e-Learning projects (Bell & Bell, 2005; Morrison & Rowan, 2006a; Oblinger, 2003; Tan, Aris, & Abu, 2006). The definition of an “e-Learning customer” used in this inquiry is: “Customers for the teaching products of a university can be seen as including students, the general community, government, business and professional bodies. … The term ‘customer’ is used to mean someone who receives benefit from the product” (Jones, 2004, p. 51).
Certain emergent properties from the second maturity model collection indicated a reliance on qualities of an abstract or variable nature in the assessment of maturity. These properties suggest that some organizations, industries or knowledge domains place some emphasis on properties that may not relate to repeatability, definability, and manageability.
This conceptual framework contains variants represented in at least two of the sources identified above and ranked highly in the open coding analysis of both maturity model collections. They include culture, interface with the organization, leadership, teamwork, expertise, and academic freedom. They can be adaptable to many projects with post-secondary educational institutions but vary in their nature.
This concept refers to a stable outcome – but one that is achieved through constant change rather than continuous repetition. “Safety,” the example provided by Weick and Sutcliffe (2001, p. 30), is a result of a change in one system parameter compensating for a change in another. Achieving stability in an e-Learning project environment is similar in that managing the project requires practices and enablers that do not always lend themselves to a formal process.
Building trust amongst recalcitrant subject-matter experts or motivating junior team members all contribute to the management of e-Learning projects. The contributions are not necessarily measurable, but can be identified. In so doing, they partially fulfill one of the key markers of project management maturity—definability.
Properties listed in this component of the conceptual framework are not necessarily prominent in either collection of maturity models. Their inclusion is based on broader perceptions of the factors affecting organizational behaviour. They include trust, attitude, loyalty, acceptance/willingness, motivation and commitment. Recent publications in the project management literature underscore the relevance of these factors (Dwivedula & Bredillet, 2010, Flannes & Levin, 2005).
The defined processes associated with e-Learning projects are contained within the ADDIE model of instructional design: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluate.
Data Collection Project #2: Case Study Findings
Case site data confirmed the basic structure of the conceptual framework and most elements therein. Exhibit 7 reflects those changes, and explanations follow.
The Contribution of Organizationally-Specific Factors
Analysis confirmed factors specific to these universities can directly affect the emergence, development, and application of its project management capability and the processes and practices it contains. To use an a priori expectation or understanding of what is meant by “project management maturity” without consideration of those factors is unrealistic and inappropriate in that setting, and impossible to measure by the maturity models that provide that meaning.
Specific factors that emerged are listed below.
Educational (Community) Values
Respondents revealed a commitment to educational values that, in their view, transcend the demands and potential benefits of strictly following a project management practice. In the absence of understanding these values, educational quality can suffer if the focus is on strict adherence to processes.
Within a project management maturity framework, one can see no room afforded to such considerations within its definitions or through the textual analysis of the current generation of project management maturity models (see Table 4). The question then becomes…how can adherence to these values be reconciled within an evolving project management capability that is subject to assessment?
Cleland and Ireland (2002) most closely addressed this question, but their analysis is within the context of organizational capabilities and the maturity models that might be created to analyze these broader factors. Within the project management activities of Alpha and Beta sites, respecting values happens within needs assessment, the negotiation and approvals of project selection, and planning.
Returning to the challenge of assessing a project management capability committed to organizational values, one could look at these specific activities. Where values are an integral element to managing projects, an organization could be considered more mature when consideration is given to the specific reconciliation of such strategic issues within these tactical decisions.
These university sites had several common policies in place, all of which had a direct impact on how the management e-Learning projects are managed—most especially the involvement of subject-matter experts.
Both sites had policies in place—notably academic freedom, release time and labour regulations—that affected specific dimensions of how projects were managed, and the participation of team members. While certain processes existed to implement and incorporate these elements in the project management capability, individual interpretation by subject-matter experts required one-on-one negotiation and coaching. Every team member was aware of the universality of these policies and was obliged to honour them, but interpretations still varied widely among these personnel.
Using highly defined and repeatable processes to facilitate their involvement is ineffective—they require more spontaneous and informal practices to interpret where problems exist and solve them in order to meet project goals. The reliability of the project management capability is dependent on such flexibility.
Specific organizational roles or discipline experts can contribute to and influence how project management processes are interpreted and implemented. These contributions and influences directly shape the management of individual projects as well as the ongoing development of the overall project management capability.
• Current maturity models characterize significant project management contributions by individuals as “heroic.” Such a view suggests limits: that only central “characters” influence the project’s management, and that their contribution is extraordinary. This study has shown that more than one team member can significantly contribute to effective project management in ways that reflect their unique perspective, experience and competence. A dependable and growing project management capability can be based, in other words, on professionalism, not heroism. Several examples are found in an e-Learning project management team.
Specialized Body of Knowledge
Partnering a specialized, context-specific body of knowledge (instructional design) with project management methods forces a reconciliation of processes and creates opportunities for unanticipated practices. Instructional design is, at these sites, considered a separate and distinct body of knowledge with its own epistemology, processes, lexicon and history. Staff may consider instructional design an “ideal” set of processes to which project management must be adapted. The prescribed project management processes in current maturity models will not be allowed to dominate.
To compare instructional design to, for example, a body of knowledge associated with construction or various sub-specialties of engineering, is a reasonable one. Both require incorporation into a project management capability for it to serve project, program and portfolio interests. A key observation in existing project management maturity literature is, however, that current expectations and assessments of maturity lie in the definable, repeatable and predictable processes suitable for highly defined project management capabilities (such as those associated with a construction project) where requirements are nearly constant and unknowns (or variations) are rare.
An instructional design model, on the other hand, supports flexible and unrepeatable processes and practices that are necessary to serve the undefined nature of e-Learning projects.
Third-Party Influence (e.g., Unions)
Key constituents—unions in this case—and their policies can dominate the Canadian higher education community. Virtually every staff and faculty member belongs to at least one such organization. Labour policies dictate staff roles and responsibilities, influencing (to varying degrees) their involvement, personal commitment and performance in specific project teams and, by extension, the ongoing reliability of the project management function.
Both sites are influenced by the availability or absence of resources. Connections exist between the provision of funds and management commitment, team morale and the individual reassurances of subject-matter experts. The involvement and attitudes of key project team members (notably subject-matter experts and course developers) are directly affected. Shortfalls have tactical results (on meeting project objectives) and cultural impacts.
The roles and responsibilities of individual teams vary between organizations and individual projects. Instructional designers, subject-matter experts, technical teams and unit management all participate in defining and realizing project objectives, but they vary in terms of their interactions, problem solving, morale and responsiveness to stakeholder interests.
Direct relationships exist between teamwork and virtually all other aspects of the project management capability. Adaptable variants influence who the team will work with (through their interactions with leaders, experts, union officials) and how they will work (as a result of interpretations of community values, organizational policies and the availability of resources). Their mastery and implementation of the defined processes will determine the path the project will follow. Facilitating customer involvement will contribute to the project definition. And the commitment, attitudes, willingness to negotiate and trust amongst teammates will affect the use of project processes.
In identifying the organizational-specific factors affecting the management of e-Learning projects in this setting, ‘customer involvement’ is categorized here. The direct involvement of customers / end-users may follow defined processes but will typically introduce variations to them to accommodate the skills, perspectives and expectations of e-Learning project customers. The current view of maturity considers such flexibility problematic, even a weakness. Managing an e-Learning project represents an alternative view that sees customer involvement as a valuable advantage toward ensuring that project objectives are met. Facilitating their involvement using unanticipated, possibly unrepeatable processes (at a minimum between projects) indicates a flexible, accommodating project management capability.
Using the primary customers identified by Alpha and Beta (students and subject-matter experts), it has been shown that each participate in, contribute to and influence the project management capability in related but slightly different ways. Course developers are typically involved in the creation of the digital media and evaluation, while subject-matter experts are critical to the primary activity of content development. Each participates in key project phases (within defined instructional design processes) but often do so by using other processes and practices that are flexible, spontaneous, unrepeatable and reliant on the discretion of the instructional designer.
An analysis of project management maturity models indicates that “customers” are a factor of lesser importance when assessing maturity (see Table 2). Similar analysis of models outside of project management indicate it to have a higher significance (see Table 5). The involvement of customers in the management of e-Learning projects corroborates this latter view.
The Contribution of “Human Factors”
There are factors that support a project management capability that are undeniable, immeasurable, and dynamic. By considering such factors as attitude, commitment, negotiation, and trust—and the natural extension, creativity—this research underscores the trio of characteristics offered by Andersen and Jessen (2003) who advocated the achievement of maturity as the sum of action, attitude, and knowledge. They also reinforce the research of Walker and Johannes (2003) who documented the importance of trust, commitment, and loyalty within project environments.
Evidence provided by Alpha and Beta reinforces this position: not only did respondents advocate attitudinal factors, but they also extended those offered in the conceptual framework. In the words of one manager, “Trust is number one. Teamwork, culture, those are very big and in the absence of these, then process we can fall back on.”
The most dominant factors—as identified in the revised conceptual framework—are discussed next.
Team members at both sites remarked on the influence a positive or negative attitude had on project management activities. Senior management—including the Dean and directors at each Unit—could drastically affect project progress through their attitudes and lack of recognition of the proceedings.
The faculty’s compulsory involvement was, from a project’s inception through initial planning and content development, always a function of their attitude. Their positive or negative view of the use of new/online technology, the constraints and obligations associated with release time and intellectual property negotiations, and the development sessions with instructional designers and course developers were undeniably influential and affected their involvement in daily project management processes.
Project initiation could be affected by the subject-matter expert’s attitude on teaching and learning, which is not in itself problematic but indicative of their mindset. Frustration required management by instructional designers. More constructively, positive attitudes reinforced engagement and likelihood of continued involvement across programs and not just individual projects.
Course developers, on the other hand, could be relied upon to have more enthusiasm for the project and their participation in its management—a factor common to both sites.
Commitment is a natural extension of stakeholder/customer attitude and can be seen at managerial levels and individual connections. Unit acceptance was affected by the degree to which projects could be seen to reflect institutional values. If managers and subject-matter experts perceived an emphasis on the “business nature” of project management, tensions would develop. Both sites recognized that commitment was found through a sense of ownership of processes (reflecting academic priorities) by all customers. Such ownership was reinforced when seeing content is developed.
A willingness to negotiate toward project outcomes was also a key dimension that facilitated relationship-building. On the basis of those relationships, different elements of project administration and goal setting could be determined.
The commitment and willingness to negotiate requires motivation by the person involved. Both sites indicated enabling processes that supported stakeholder interest. For some, it was a question of reminding some stakeholders of the project’s reflection of institutional values. For others, the use of informal techniques during the content development stages was crucial.
The cornerstone to these dynamic elements—the one that binds them together—is the element of trust. Introduced during data collection at the pilot site, this idea was given clearer articulation after reading Managing the Unexpected (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001). While these researchers used the example of “safety” (a dynamic and immeasurable quality that provides stability to compensate for changes in a complex environment), it became as understandable in the project management environment under study here. It was included in the conceptual framework on that basis.
Defined processes have been categorized as an individual node throughout the data collection and analysis. For the purposes of identifying organizationally-specific factors that contribute to the management of undefined projects, it is included in this section.
This research demonstrates that both process and non-process factors can contribute to a mature project management capability for undefined projects. The nature of these projects requires the use of processes and practices that are often spontaneous, flexible and not easily defined. Generally, such organizations can reliably manage such projects by:
Involving the Customer
The goals of an undefined project must reflect customer interests. They will likely vary from project to project—but customer involvement directly contributes to defining project goals.
Defined projects will likely have customer interests from the beginning, stated up front and unlikely to be revisited through the project implementation. Once defined, the goals are set.
In an undefined project, that kind of stability does not exist. Involving the customer in the project’s development ensures that their interests, perspectives, and agendas are met by project goals. This is essential—both to its definition and the organization’s ability to manage it.
The creation of specific opportunities and mechanisms to directly engage customers will be a function within the project management capability—with an ongoing and implicit endorsement of the organization. Such a responsibility does not end with a project’s closure. An organization must commit to customer involvement with every project’s inception.
Fostering a Culture of Adaptability
Universities are a particular type of organization, but each one is different. Individual universities are governed by certain norms that, while often globally recognized, can manifest and be interpreted differently.
This research has demonstrated that these universities have cultures of adaptability. They have interpreted the factors universal to their community in their own ways. Such a culture extends from its vision, through its teaching and learning agendas, and right down to its individual course development and delivery.
A culture of adaptability—one that continually demonstrates a willingness to accommodate new circumstances, methods or customer demands—is better oriented to manage projects that are undefined. They accept that which is inexact and define it for themselves.
Being Mindful of the “Human Factors”
An undefined project is, by its nature, changeable and uncertain. Not knowing the project goal will generate questions and encourage stakeholders to look beyond the processes that have yet to create an end result.
Organizations responsible for such projects must be as mindful of “human factors” as they are of the processes they manage. Trust, attitude, motivation—this research identifies these factors as critical to the management of undefined projects but not found in associated processes. The organizations within this research are acutely aware of their value.
Providing and Supporting Defined Processes
The nature of a Type-3 project has defined methods and undefined goals. The organization in this research accommodates this reality by providing specific defined processes that are uniquely applicable to the project in question.
The provision of such processes is consistent with the needs of a Type-3 project and does not compromise the other components of an organization’s management of undefined projects. Organizations responsible for other undefined projects are similarly obligated to provide suitable processes that support their management.
E-Learning projects are one of countless examples of uniquely undefined project types. Through this research, project management maturity theory has been expanded by virtue of looking through a project typological framework to consider processes and practices that are not strictly controlled and are often unrepeatable and unpredictable. In doing so, the challenge is put to other organizations to examine the projects they manage to see how their unique project management capability is being supported by similarly flexible processes, practices and other enablers on its way to maturity.
Definition of Terms
Type-1: goals and methods are well-defined.
Type-2: goals are defined, but methods are not.
Type-3: methods are defined, but goals are not.
Type-4: neither goals nor methods are well-defined
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© 2011, B.L.Pasian, S.Sankaran, S.Boydell
Originally published as part of the 2011 PMI Global Congress (Dallas)