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Compliance, Maturity, and Consistency: Is Your Organization Ready?

Ripeness is all.

W. Shakespeare

King Lear, Act V, Scene


Ripeness is all. These three words suggest with precise eloquence that the degree of difficulty associated with any challenge is largely a function of our preparedness to face it. Project management (PM) preparedness is often associated with maturity or ?the consistent application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques?[1] that a project team employs to effectively plan and execute a project. Consistency in any endeavor, however, is an elusive goal. As Aldous Huxly remarked in 1937, ?Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.? A strong statement, but few would argue that while building an individual?s PM knowledge and skills is by no means a simple exercise, establishing organizational proficiency over time and across functions poses an even greater challenge.

Organized sport provides a useful analogy. Any coach can attest to the challenges and rewards associated with molding a group of individuals into an effective team. In addition to building each player?s knowledge and skills, the coach must also provide guidance and instruction aimed at improving overall team performance. Rather than being strictly a function of individual player ability, success largely depends on effective player interaction. Take football or hockey as an example. These games can be considered as an amalgamation of set plays (e.g., a punt return or a penalty kill) that can easily break down if even a single player forgets either their own role or that of any fellow player. To mitigate the risk of a ?missed assignment?, each play must be repeatedly practiced to the point that players perform instinctively as a team in a game situation.

Organized sport, however, is only one example of the challenges and benefits of organizational maturity. In all cases, there is no magic bullet or smart pill that permits an organization to be immediately prepared to take on a challenge. Rather, it is only through careful preparation and hard work that readiness is achieved. To be effective, the players (or workers as the case may be) need to know their role as well as the system that they work within in terms of, for example, processes and tool enablers.

IT, manufacturing, and health sciences sectors, to name but a few, rightly treat quality and consistency in their product offerings as business imperatives and look to maturity enablers such as ISO, Six-Sigma, and the Software Engineering Institute?s Capability Maturity Model (SEI CMM) to help them to achieve their aims. Such standards require answers to fundamental questions such as who, what, when, where, and how at each stage of a product?s creation to be addressed clearly and accurately. As a result, they provide a means of both assessing current maturity and identifying areas of progressive improvement with respect to business rules and requisite skill sets within the organization. Using such standards, organizations (as well as overseeing regulatory bodies) can have greater confidence in the quality and consistency of the end products, whether they are automobiles, pharmaceuticals, or software.

In recent years, however, an appreciation of maturity in enterprise project management has also begun to emerge. In its August 2000 Tech Republic report, for example, Gartner stated:

Organizations that establish enterprise standards for project management, including a project office with suitable governance, will experience half the major project overruns, delays and cancellations of those who fail to do so.[2]

More recently, in a joint study conducted earlier this year by CIO magazine and the Project Management Institute (PMI), stakeholders from more than 300 companies identified the establishment and maintenance of a standard PM methodology as critical to the achievement of both financial (56 percent of respondents) and strategic goals (40 percent of respondents).[3]

Unfortunately, the lack of OPM standards has led to many organizations taking on large projects or attempting to coordinate multiple projects, unprepared and often discovering too late in the game the impact of grappling with PM maturity issues (learning the rules) in parallel with project issues (playing the game). Problems ranging from poorly conceived or insufficiently detailed plans (assuming that plans are made at all) to the misidentification and/or poor communication of performance trends to an overall lack of confidence in the status information being provided to senior management is often the result. Training new project managers based on a ?trial by fire? approach is problematic when there are simply not enough hours in the day to learn the skills associated with PM while still getting the work done. The net effect is that work is poorly planned, coordinated, and executed. As a result, objectives go unmet and projects fail.

In response, numerous models that specifically address the need for the disciplined adoption of PM best practices have begun to emerge. Although each model is unique, most tend to be comprised of (a) a rigorous assessment module that includes a detailed list of PM maturity indicators combined with (b) a maturity rating scale. In assessing PM maturity, indicators are used to capture the degree to which key process or artifacts are employed (for example, in planning a project, is a Charter and Work Breakdown Structure/Dictionary template effectively populated and approved)? Conversely, the maturity rating scale component commonly takes the form of a step function of progressive maturity/consistency that extends from the absence of process (ad hoc activities) through to the comprehensive and consistent adoption of processes across the enterprise including executive management (Ad Hocà Formalizedà Integratedà Optimizing). These models permit organizations to not only plot their current PM maturity, but also clearly identify future maturity goals.

Using such models to improve enterprise PM maturity increases an organization?s chances for success in completing a project by allowing organizations to identify and address problem areas before a project starts. It is clear that such models are beginning to find their rightful place in the world of enterprise project management. A world that, to coin a phrase, is truly a stage in which each player must learn to play their part.

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