Describing Project Management Maturity

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. This concept took hold in the software industry. Why did this concept evolve in the software industry 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.

Therefore, 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, which evolved to the Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) and now the CMMI Institute. 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 those processes.

Those of us in the project management arena have learned much 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, as we call it, 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 the 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 required 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?

A great number of interrelated challenges combine when trying to improve 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 an 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 benefits 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.

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