Last week another PMO practitioner in a related industry asked me the question “How do you know how mature your PMO is at any given time?  Is there a measure or gauge for maturity that you can use to determine your current state?”

This is an extremely timely question in today’s project and program management environment.  And I am sure there are many different answers to this question that might address some or most aspects of maturity. 

Before we tackle this question, however, let’s ask another question:  “Why does it matter?”

Those of you who work in software and hardware development organizations that supply the Government with products and services know that the standards established by the Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model (SEI CMM) are used by the Government procurement functions to gauge maturity of the project management processes in those supplier firms.  So, in that context, maturity is relevant, adds value, and has a recognized measurement standard.

To those organizations who are not suppliers to Government, and therefore not subject to the application of SEI CMM standards, a slightly different measurement process is applicable.  In some cases, your PMO organizations may have chosen to use the SEI CMM framework as a “guideline” for gauging maturity.  And, if so, it is really up to the individual PMO to decide whether to implement plans to move up the maturity ladder a certain distance.  Indeed, it is really up to each individual PMO to decide whether it wants to move all the way to Level Five.  Business context and cost/benefit for improvements should be the gauge here.

Several years ago, PMI launched a survey study addressing the question “Is Project Management relevant or a Worthwhile Discipline for organizations to invest in along with their other business processes?”  After a great deal of study and review, the answer was that Project Management is worthwhile as long as it adds “value” in the business context in which it is applied.   This issue of “value” is key when determining maturity, and your organization’s pace of development as well.

There are many ways to address maturity.  The Software Engineering Institute, working with PMI, has developed an Organization Maturity Model (OMM) which uses the five stage SEI CMM model as a framework, and Categories of metrics such as People, PPM Processes, Technology, Financial Management, and Relationships.  Many companies have chosen to define a plan for improving their maturity level using the “typical behaviors and characteristics” in the matrix formed by the SEI CMM five stages and the Categories above.  This is an entirely acceptable method to use.

I would propose a slightly different method which can be tailored more to your organizational context and to your interpretation of activities and behaviors within your own project management processes.

Suppose, for example, that we define a very basic project management process as having four phases:  Initiation, Planning, Execution, and Close.  Compare your PMO organization’s PM process to this very basic model and make sure that it includes each phase.  Obviously, if you have a PMO in place, your organization has advanced its project processes to a point where there is probably a lot more detail than just these four phases.

Now, give your assessment of the “value” provided by your current PMO process, and gauge it by the value provided by the four step or phase process given above.  Think about how the performance of the process is measured, and the various portions of PMBOK that are included in your process.  Ask yourself the question “Is there any one area of PMBOK that is not providing the expected value?  If there is more than one area, then prioritize the work, giving highest priority to a plan to improve the PMBOK area most in need of upgrading.

Recall that the PMBOK Management areas are:

Integration

Time (Performance vs. Schedule)

Cost (Performance vs. Budget)

Quality

Human Resource

Communications

Risk, and

Procurement (including materials and vendor services).

For example, Project Controls usually encompasses such PMBOK Management areas as Time, Cost and Quality.  If the Project Controls aspect of the PMO project performance is not meeting expectations, then changes to the Project Controls area can be made to upgrade the maturity.  If the vendor services portion of Procurement is lacking, it can be addressed with initiatives focusing on the Vendor Management Process.  Signs for the need for upgrade often appear in Audits and Control Reviews of projects.  Stakeholder surveys are also another good source of feedback concerning what is going well and not so well with project execution, planning and delivery.

This type of maturity assessment and plan is more actionable than one derived from using the Organizational Maturity Model cited above.  Usually an organization will use benchmarking to assess its processes versus other recognized or accepted processes from other authoritative project references.  Also, organizations such as Gartner, Forrester or the Corporate Executive Board are excellent resources for determining Best Practices which can be applied the business context of a specific PMO.

If you apply this technique in your PMO, you will be adding more “depth” or layers of project management “processes” to your PMO PM process.  This “depth” can be added until you feel that the full “value” of the PM process has been reached.  From a continuous improvement perspective, every organization should continually be asking itself the question “What do I need to address to improve overall PM value to the organization and to the stakeholders?”

Where does this type of maturity assessment and plan come from?  It comes from my observations of a number of PMOs at various stages of maturity, each trying a different process of asssessing its maturity and then moving forward with appropriate plans.  What I have done here is synthesize a process whereby easy steps can be taken by most PMO members to move the PMO forward in maturity.

Try this assessment on your PMO either informally or formally and give me some feedback on its merits.

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