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What Is Project Management Maturity?

J. Kent Crawford

Until recently, the concept of "maturity" was seldom used to describe the state of an organization's effectiveness at performing certain tasks. Today, we find this maturity concept used increasingly to map logical ways to improve an organization's services—particularly across the software industry. Why has this concept evolved in this industry and why not in other areas? And why is it of interest to the project management profession? The answer to both of these questions rests in the underlying complexities that go into the successful completion of a project—software development or otherwise.

Looking at the software engineering industry where the existing maturity models originated, it is easy to see that there are many ways to approach the resolution of any single software problem. Software development efforts typically include many more variables, unknowns, and intangibles than we would consider "normal " for projects in many other industries. Because of this complexity, the expected result of a particular software project may be more dependent on the "star" developer in a company than anything else. Unfortunately, star developers go away, and when they do or when projects get so large and complex that the developer's influence on them is no longer dominant, the variation in project results becomes great and leads to inevitable frustration and disappointment.

Obtaining predictable results becomes a real challenge. Hence the extensive, government-funded research into how to evolve and measure an organization's effectiveness at developing software resulted in the Software Engineering Institute's first Capability Maturity Model. However, as we have seen through repeated use of this model in assessments, getting organizations to the "repeatable results" level can be challenging—never mind moving toward optimization of processes.

It is logical that those of us in the project management arena learn from the efforts to improve effectiveness in the software industry. Applying project management concepts in any organization has many similarities to the complexities and intangibles of software development. Obtaining consistent results in any project environment involves understanding and measuring as many variables as those that exist in the software development industry. We have all seen the results of heroic efforts from project managers—efforts that rise above the processes and systems that support them. Take this single project manager (just like the single "star" developer in the software environment) out of the picture, and there goes the ability to ensure success. Organizations cannot afford to rely on heroic individuals, however; they need repeatable, reliable processes that become institutionalized. Hence the need to look at an organization's complete picture of project management effectiveness or project management maturity.

Project Management Maturity Model

In organizations where we have done assessments, we have seen that the evolution of project management typically lags behind development of other capabilities within a company. Only when the need for project management becomes critical do many organizations pay attention to improving their project management skills. This lack of foresight frequently creates an environment in which the project management systems and infrastructure are not in place to support the needs of the practicing project management community.

Eventually, it becomes necessary to start taking a proactive look at the infrastructure necessary to progress in project management capability. In short, the need becomes so great that the organization must respond to growing business pressures. Often, this happens when executive management decides to take proactive action—but the question is: action in what direction and to what end?

There are a great number of interrelated challenges to deal with in improving an organization's infrastructure: project managers aren't getting the information they need to manage effectively; management fails to receive accurate forecasts of completion data; there is inconsistent understanding of expectations. These areas are often where the value of a maturity assessment comes into play.

Any model selected to measure project management maturity must point out a logical path for progressive development. It may not be so important to know you are a Level 2 organization; what is important is to know what specific actions must be implemented to move the organization forward.

What is most important is that the organization has a vision and is moving to improve the capability of project management with precisely targeted efforts. Improving project management is a series of smaller steps, not giant leaps, and many organizations will never need to realize Level 5 maturity. Many organizations will achieve significant benefit by reaching the "repeatable process" level. In effect, a good model for the measurement of project management maturity creates a strategic plan for moving project management forward in an organization.

Model Description

Key Attributes of Knowledge Areas

The Project Management Institute's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is an excellent point of reference for starting an examination of project management capability. It is already an accepted standard, and a great deal of "best practices" information focuses on the knowledge areas outlined in the Guide. Unfortunately, the Guide presents a huge mass of knowledge to deal with. Measuring an organization's effectiveness in any one area requires that the area be broken down further into major components that relate the area to the successful implementation of project management.

The model that PM Solutions developed utilizes the PMBOK® Guide's ten knowledge areas and is patterned after the Capability Maturity Models of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). The model has five distinct levels of maturity and examines an organization's implementation across the ten project management knowledge areas (see Figure 1). The five levels, similar to those in the SEI models, are described below. Each level represents a discrete organizational capability based on summary-level characteristics.

Figure 1. PM Solutions' Project Management Maturity Model utilizes the PMBOK® Guide's ten knowledge areas and the Software Engineering Institute's five levels of maturity as the basic framework.

Levels of Project Management Maturity

  • Level 1: Initial Process
    • Ad hoc processes
    • Management awareness
  • Level 2: Structured Process and Standards
    • Basic processes; not standard on all projects; used on large, highly visible projects
    • Management supports and encourages use
    • Mix of intermediate and summary-level information Estimates and schedules based on expert knowledge and generic tools
    • Project-centric focus
  • Level 3: Organizational Standards and Institutionalized Process
    • All processes standard for all projects and repeatable
    • Management has institutionalized processes
    • Summary and detailed information
    • Baseline and informal collection of actual data
    • Estimates and schedules may be based on industry
    • standards and organizational specifics
    • Organizational focus
    • Informal analysis of project performance/li>
  • Level 4: Managed Process
    • Processes integrated with corporate processes
    • Management mandates compliance
    • Management takes an organizational entity view
    • Solid analysis of project performance
    • Estimates and schedules normally based on organization specifics
    • Management uses data to make decisions
  • Level 5: Optimizing Process
    • Processes to measure project effectiveness and efficiency
    • Processes in place to improve project performance
    • Management focuses on continuous improvement

General Component Description

Because the knowledge requirement is very large within each of the PMBOK® Guide's knowledge areas, it was necessary to break down each of the ten areas into key components (see Figure 2). This is where the real measurement of maturity takes place. For example, under the Project Scope Management knowledge area, there are six components that must be measured to effectively understand maturity. The six areas that we have identified within scope management include:

  • Scope Management Planning
  • Requirements Collection
  • Scope Definition
  • Work Breakdown Structure
  • Scope Validation
  • Scope Change Control

Figure 2. Each of the ten knowledge areas in the model has been broken down into key components.

These six components are examined independently to determine the adequacy of defining and controlling the project scope.

Scope Management Planning is the "how to" of defining the project scope. This process describes how the project team develops a detailed project scope management plan that documents how the project team defines, validates, and controls project scope.

Requirements Collection is the assessment and development of processes, procedures, and standards relating to the collection of the business and technical requirements of the project.

Scope Definition describes how a detailed description of the project or product is developed.

Work Breakdown Structure examines the formality with which an organization identifies the complete scope of work to be performed. This includes looking at the related dictionary.

Scope Validation covers the verification of elements of the scope statement as acceptable deliverables.

Scope Change Control looks at the process of incorporating additions, changes, and deletions to a project.

From a quick look at these six components, it's easy to see that understanding the intricacies of project processes is a key element in determining project management maturity. All knowledge areas must be broken down similarly.

Three Special Interest Components

PM Solutions determined three areas that exert significant influence on the adoption of project management practices: the project management office (PMO), management oversight, and professional development. Each area is given special attention in the maturity model (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Three additional areas of significance influence the adoption of project management practices. These components are given special attention in the maturity model. The figure above shows where these special components—The PMO, Management Oversight, and Professional Development—are covered.

Project management office—The PMO makes the lives of project team members easier by supporting the team in the areas of scheduling, status reporting, project management tools, and training, among others. Some of the key items of support that the PMO provides include consulting and mentoring of current staff, developing and promulgating methodologies and standards relating to project management, and serving as a central source for help in planning and managing efforts.

The PMO facilitates improvements in project management maturity by serving as the focal point for consistent application of processes and methodologies. Often, without a PMO, the project management efforts of an organization are not consistent and are not focused toward a common vision. The PMO serves as the proverbial "glue" that holds the project management efforts of the organization together. Because the PMO is an important facilitator of project management integration.

Management oversight—Another key component in facilitating an increase in project management maturity is the amount of management oversight and involvement that key leaders of the organization have in the project management function. The bottom line here is that if management does not demonstrate active interest, it is unlikely that project management processes will improve. If no one is holding the project manager responsible for project accomplishment and consistently measuring project performance, an unwritten signal is being sent to the project management community. Managers must make use of the data provided by the project management community and find ways to use the information to improve organizational performance.

Professional development—The continued development of project managers is essential. Project management constitutes an odd mixture of technical skills, management skills, and leadership skills that few people naturally exhibit. Most of us require continued refinement and renewal of such skills.

The project management profession also continues to broaden its knowledge base, so there are always new skills to learn. Many research studies, including our own study, "Strategies for Project Recovery" (2011), have noted the key roles that appropriately trained project managers play in project and organizational success.

Five Levels of Maturity

Why SEI CMMs Serve as Standards

As mentioned earlier in this article, research into why software projects commonly were completed late, exceeded budget, and failed to deliver what the end user really wanted resulted in the Software Engineering Capability Maturity Model (SW-CMM), a way of measuring an organization's maturity in those software engineering processes generally accepted as crucial to successful project completion. SW-CMM and later Capability Maturity Models (CMMs) have become de facto standards for process modeling and assessing an organization's maturity in several process areas (e.g., personnel management, systems engineering). Since the CMM concept has received such widespread acceptance, it makes sense to develop a Project Management Maturity Model (PMMM) that follows the same structure.

The Key Practice areas of the CMMs include topics familiar to those who read the PMBOK® Guide: project planning, execution, monitoring, and control. Our PMMM further decomposes those topics into the component processes associated with each knowledge area as described in the PMBOK® Guide.

Notes on Measuring against the Five Levels

Too often we see new tools or techniques implemented as panaceas to solve all problems. Maturity models can be misapplied the same way. First, there is the possibility of error in the performance of an assessment. Determining the correct level of maturity of an organization is less than science but more than art. Many factors play roles in determining maturity level, including individual interviews and evaluating artifacts, processes, standards, knowledge, and company culture. There is a subjective nature to determining the level although it's unlikely that a wide margin of error will occur. It is extremely important to use an assessment tool that has been tested and proven to achieve consistent and correct results.

What takes place during a maturity assessment? Any thorough assessment has the following four ingredients (at a minimum):

  • Personal and/or group interviews
  • Artifact collection and evaluation
  • Widespread survey input
  • Benchmark comparisons to established standards

There is little substitute for the sense of discipline, understanding, and buy-in that can be obtained from a direct personal interview with a project management practitioner. This is a necessary element of an assessment to uncover the degree to which policy is put into practice. Coupled with this is the collection of evidence (artifacts) supporting the implementation of project management.

Are all the documents required by policy complete? Are they of high quality? Are the concepts of project management understood and utilized by the major population that should have knowledge about the policies and procedures? What is the general view of the project management requirements?

Finally, synthesizing the data and comparing this information against an established standard that is logical, sound, and clear to provide a path forward is essential. Any assessment that does not consist of at least these elements may leave an organization wondering where the benefit of the process lies.

Read more IT Performance Improvement

This article is an excerpt from:

This book provides you with a conceptual framework to optimize specific project management processes and boost the capabilities of your organization. It presents best practices for determining portfolio maturity, setting short-term priorities, improving portfolio management processes, and tracking progress. It also includes a checklist for assessing your organization’s project management maturity as well as an updated version of PM Solutions’ Project Portfolio Management Maturity Model.

About the Author

J. Kent Crawford, PMP, is the founder and CEO of PM Solutions and its training subsidiary, PM College. Crawford led PM Solutions in establishing the annual PMO of the Year Award, developing the first project manager competency assessment instrument, and creating one of the first project management maturity models. These innovations not only serve the project management community at large, but are incorporated into PM Solutions consulting and training practices to ensure that clients receive services in tune with the latest developments in the marketplace. He is a popular, dynamic speaker at project management events worldwide. As an advocate of the profession, he is passionate about project management, with a focus on its business value. A former President and Chair of the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Crawford has been honored with the PMI Fellow Award, PMI's most prestigious individual award.

In addition to authoring The Strategic Project Office: A Guide to Improving Organizational Performance, which received the 2001 David I. Cleland Project Management Literature Award from the Project Management Institute, Crawford is the author of Project Management Maturity Model: Providing a Proven Path to Project Management Excellence, Project Management Roles & Responsibilities (all now in their second editions), An Inside Look at High-Performing PMOs, Optimizing Human Capital with a Strategic Project Office, and Seven Steps to Strategy Execution.