Understanding Project Management Maturity: People, Process, and Tools

Updated: November 02, 2010

Understanding Project Success

Consider how your organization defines project success. Apart from the textbook criteria "on time, on budget, on scope," what priorities and goals do you establish when starting a project?

Many organizations start projects with fanciful goals that are impossible to achieve. In these situations, it's often obvious that project objectives, budget, and timeframe are misaligned so completely that failure is inevitable and predictable. Managers who know in advance that the outcome is failure are sometimes little more than project passengers.

Far better to assume the role of project leader, helping key stakeholders identify priorities and shape achievable success criteria. A project leader probes to determine whether the schedule is realistic; he or she looks closely to match the budget to resource requirements; and so on. Success comes from carefully examining myriad different issues, each of which bears on some aspect of the outcome.

While tools can facilitate many of these decision points, they are not sufficient to run the project successfully. Achieving success only occurs when you also have the right people and process are in place.

Assessing Project Management Maturity

Project management maturity is explained by a progressive and holistic model that develops an organization's approach, methodology, strategy, and decision-making process as defined by the three core areas of project management: people, process, and tools.

The Project Management Maturity model can help your organization identify gaps, and take important operational steps, toward improving its entire culture around project management.

The following table shows a simplified view of the Project Management Maturity roadmap. The roadmap describes distinct characteristics for each core area (people, process, tools) within the three maturity levels. Level one is the least mature and level three is the most mature:

Level 1: Initial Level 2: Repeatable Level 3: Defined
People No PM Background Basic PM Training PM Certification Process
Process Ad-hoc PM Standardized Automated workflows
Portfolio reporting
Tools Paper
Collaboration Tools
EPM Tool

Click here to see a graphical version of the PMM roadmap table.

Many Level one organizations attempt to improve their capability by upgrading tools from level one to level three. However, tool upgrades alone do not increase organizational maturity, unless accompanied by skillset training and standardizing processes.

Increasing maturity involves progressively developing competence in the areas shown in the table. For example, the following steps can help an organization move from level one to level two:

  • Assess current skillsets of project managers and identify fundamental knowledge gaps in project success definition, scope management, resource management, scheduling, and change management.
  • Standardize practices for project definition, planning, execution, tracking and closing.
  • Review existing tools and develop common project artifacts and templates that can be leveraged by the organization
  • Identify key stakeholders' project reporting needs and expectations.
  • Take small steps to enhance overall tool capabilities. Instead of jumping to advanced project management tools, leverage project scheduling and collaboration tools to complement existing e-mail and office productivity tools. In addition to being more effective, this approach also requires less investment in technical training and knowledge capital would otherwise be required.
  • Conduct a project management "level-set" simulation, or pilot, to help the team gain experience in applying these lessons to typical projects.
  • Capture lessons learned around what works and what doesn't, and integrate them into future project management improvement activities.

Committing to Project Management Maturity

Improving organizational maturity around managing projects requires a systematic and consistent effort. To embark on such an initiative, formally define the effort as a project and allocate appropriate budget and resources.

Importantly, resist the temptation to focus on tool-centric solutions alone. While automation can be beneficial, it may have the opposite effect if the introduction of new tools is not accompanied by necessary and appropriate process changes.

When introducing a new project management toolset, analyze carefully to ensure the tools actually solve fundamental issues. In addition, make sure to coordinate the toolset introduction with the people and processes needed to use it effectively. Introducing new tools without taking steps to address appropriate people and process issues can create risk, waste time and money, and sidetrack the attention of expensive and valuable human resources.

When considering new technology, rationalize the solution against your organization's ability to identify and resolve key pain points; it's critical to ensure the new toolset fully addresses those business pains. Mapping solution goals to specific organizational and business benefits helps drive an initiative forward when resistance to change arises (and it always does at some point).

At the same time, the right technology can dramatically improve project communication and collaboration. For example, relying on email to manage projects is inefficient and costly; using a centralized, collaborative, and web-based project management platform can directly help team members share project artifacts such as schedules and status. The Washington DC Department of Transportation project tracking website offers a great example of technology that facilitates centralized project communication.

As you implement new tools, keep a list of probable future improvements, based on feedback from users and your own experience. To ease adoption, engage users early in the process to gain buy-in and get their support.

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