The success of project management strategies within an organization can be measured in five stages of maturity. Even companies that seem to hit their deadlines and complete projects on budget can lack maturity without the right management systems.
The goal of advancing your management maturity is to improve your performance and provide more insight into what your company does well, and what needs to be improved. Follow this guide to learn about the five stages and how you can bring your organization to the next level.
Introducing the Project Management Maturity Model
Many companies tackle projects on a first come, first served basis. This unstructured approach, however, ends up creating problems in the long run. Project management maturity starts when organizations realize they need to develop a more structured method of project prioritization.
Organizations can increase their project management maturity by decreasing the number of failed projects annually, increasing customer satisfaction and aligning projects with overall company objectives.
A recent benchmark study by PM Solutions looked into the the level of project management skills maturity across 293 organizations and found that only 11 percent of organizations operate at a high level of maturity. Nearly a third, meanwhile, are stuck at that first level, when they respond to projects as those projects come in. The majority hover somewhere in the middle.
The good news is PM maturity as a whole is significantly improving. In 2001, 89 percent of organizations were only at level one maturity. This means that with structured project management systems in place, companies can learn how to execute their projects more efficiently and effectively.
Let’s explore each of the five stages of project maturity and the benefits of implementing smart management structures for your projects.
Level One: The Initial Process
Level one companies complete projects whenever they come in to the best of their ability. There is limited tracking, review and management to make sure projects are completed on time and accurately.
The experts at PMAlliance list four common issues that affect companies with this ad hoc approach to project management. The problems tend to be universal across all industries and organizational sizes:
- Time impacts. Tasks take longer than expected, and tasks are delayed.
- Budget impacts. Costs are underestimated, or costs must be added to prevent the project from running late.
- Quality impacts. For the funding and time to be met, the quality of the project is reduced.
- Stress impacts. Internally, teams feel exacerbated levels of stress to complete a project.
The danger of operating an ad hoc project management system is that you have no history to pull from, just as a toddler might try to pick up a snake or eat a sour lemon. The first step in developing a project management process is building that history.
“Skillful planning considers past performance,” George Pitagorsky writes at PM Times. “If twenty percent of the resources per month have been called upon to handle interruptions in the past, if nothing has been done to change that, then only schedule for eighty percent availability.”
If your project isn’t delayed or interrupted, then you will finish early, which is significantly better than running late. However, you don’t know that your resources are interrupted 20 percent of the time unless you’re tracking them.
Case Study: Brandenburg Airport
The clearest example of a project that needs better management is Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport. The airport was supposed to open in 2012, but developers have pushed the launch date into 2018 (at best). Costs of the project have more than doubled to 5 billion euro since construction started in 2006.
“Once BER opens, it may already be too small,” Stefan Nicola writes at Bloomberg. “It was designed to accommodate 27 million passengers annually — ample for the 18 million arrivals in Berlin in 2006. But last year, Tegel and the city’s other functioning airport, Schönefeld, handled 33 million passengers.”
Another Bloomberg article points out that the fire system was in such bad shape, developers proposed hiring 800 entry-level workers to stand around and watch for fires. Time, budget and quality have all suffered because of poor planning and execution.
Level Two: Structured Processes and Standards
At this level, many companies understand the value of project management, but might not want to invest in a full-time project manager or third party software system. They’re starting to implement some systems, which makes them better off than level one, but there’s still a long way to go.
Art Petty explains this typically leaves companies relying on corporate managers or IT departments to run the project management process. While they might have support from management, this isn’t their wheelhouse and they could be set up for failure.
“Experienced project managers everywhere are smiling externally while secretly writing your project obituary in their minds,” Petty writes.
Management Needs to Advance Change
Managers need to convey the value of project management to enact change. This might mean creating new documentation processes or investing in new project management technology.
“Successful organizations understand that doing things the same way will produce the same result and that sometimes changing things is needed to take an organization to the next level,” Patricia Lotich writes.
The MIT Sloan Management Review reports on one study that found 63 percent of managers think the pace of technological change in the workplace is too slow.
“The job of a manager is to help people cross the bridge — to get them comfortable with the technology, to get them using it, and to help them understand how it makes their lives better,” Didier Bonnet said of the study.
As teams start to develop and implement project management systems, management needs to offer support and instruction to keep employees using it.
Level Three: Organizational Standards and Institutionalized Process
Most organizations hover between the second and third level of project management maturity. They have a project management system in place but need to improve it.
In this level, there is more organizational acceptance, and project management teams are better able to track projects and collect data based off of them, which leads to three key benefits.
1. Better Project Estimates
Reducing project issues comes from better planning. Elizabeth Harrin explains three types of project cost and scope estimates that project managers can use to improve their timelines, which include:
- Parametric estimating. This is the most common process and uses past experience to plan tasks. Budget and timeline are both known and scalable.
- Bottom up estimating. This process occurs when PMs break up a project and ask each department to estimate what is needed to achieve certain tasks.
- Analogous estimating. This project requires managers to take a previous project and apply time and date parameters to the new one.
Compared to the first two levels of project management, PMs on level three can use methodology and data to create better estimates instead of making assumptions or agreeing to whatever the client wants.
2. Creation of Project Retrospectives
Another difference between levels two and three is that level three companies have greater awareness of the past and future. Instead of using project management just to get through a project, companies use it to review their performance and improve.
“The ultimate goal is to have a constructive discussion of how to improve your performance as a team,” productivity expert Laura Stack writes. “Take the process as seriously as a medical examiner would take a human post mortem — whether the project in question has been the greatest success of your professional life, or your most abject failure.”
3. Increased Communication About Project Lessons
A small child might continue to put that lemon in his mouth, forgetting that it’s sour, but young adults know better. Level three companies, like young adults, have learned how to act on previous experience.
Tom Mehr at the North Star Group writes that recording lessons learned from a project can increase the chances of replicating desirable outcomes while decreasing the chances of making the same mistakes. Once your company advances to level three, lessons learned should be documented. Mehr notes what makes these records especially useful:
- They identify the event that lead to the lesson.
- They document the lesson learned from the project.
- They explain steps taken to resolve the problem that lead to the lesson.
- They communicate the lesson to relevant stakeholders.
- They help your team apply the lesson to future projects.
Learning from today’s failures will set you up for success tomorrow, which is why documentation is key in project management.
Level Four: Managed Process
Few companies currently operate at the fourth level of project success. If stages one through three represent the developmental years, then stage four correlates to someone who is of college age.
The most important factor of the managed process level is corporate buy-in. According Mark Langley, CEO of the Project Management Institute, when an organization has active executive sponsors keeping an eye on projects, employees are more likely to complete tasks on time, hit their goals and meet their budget.
Despite data proving the value of corporate support, only 63 percent of projects have sponsors, leaving managers to motivate their staffs on their own.
Engaging CEOs with Project Management
In order to gain corporate buy-in, project managers need to speak to CEOs on their level. Often, this involves tying projects back to revenue for the company.
“Wrapping a good, sound management structure around just about anything — as long as it isn’t overkill — yields better results, increased quality, higher profitability, and great client satisfaction,” Brad Egeland writes. “Those are all positive things — something any CEO should want for his corporation.”
Not only does advanced project management keep tasks on-budget, but it also opens the door for more work as more projects are completed on time.
Case Study: HealthCare.gov
In 2013, the much-anticipated Healthcare.gov website debuted to provide an insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. After several delays in the launch, the site finally went live — and then crashed almost immediately when Americans tried to use it.
Recently, Adam Mazmanian highlighted a watchdog report that reviewed exactly what went wrong with the launch: “Political mismanagement and a lack of a clear leadership structure on the part of senior non-technical officials set in motion a series of miscues that led to the Oct. 2013 failure.”
There were two key failures in this project:
- Officials did not assign clear and dedicated leadership to the marketplace program.
- They did not fully asses the needs to determine how to establish the program in the CMS.
While scope and project planning were partly to blame for the failure, project management processes are ultimately only as strong as the leaders supporting them.
Level Five: Optimizing Process
The fifth level of project maturity is adulthood: Your company is thriving under project management processes, and your team continues to make minor changes to improve results.
This requires talent. There is a lot that can go wrong in project management, but strong leaders can keep a plan on its course.
Today’s Project Managers Could Be Tomorrow’s Executives
Successful project management requires full company buy-in from employees, managers and the CEO. Project managers who can balance these elements and win over teams with useful processes could someday find themselves in the C-suite.
“Project managers are some of the best candidates to be CEOs, because to carry out their usual work they have to bring together all the disparate aspects of theory, reality, vision, process, finances, value, politics and human nature to create successful outcomes,” Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez writes.
Nieto-Rodriguez says that while project managers might not have all the skills needed to become CEOs, all CEOs need project management skills.
Your company can’t race through the five stages of project management maturity in a few weeks. It takes months and years to improve your systems and gain trust from upper management. However, if you create a culture of constant improvement, you can work to improve your management processes and watch your projects finish on time and on budget.