Project management maturity models

There are five common approaches that create the illusion of project management maturity, says Founding Director at Project Link Dr Werner Meyer.

Johannesburg, 30 Nov 2017
Read time 4min 20sec

Project management maturity models have been around for a number of years. Many organisations have measured themselves against maturity assessment standards, and have successfully capitalised on the outcomes, thereby improving their ability to deliver business results, says Founding Director at Project Link Dr Werner Meyer.

There are, however, many organisations that are still in the doldrums of project management improvement. These organisations strive for better project management, but in the process end up with solutions that are unlikely to have a positive impact on the project management maturity of the organisation.

There is a lot written about maturity models and for the purposes of this discussion I have assumed that an organisation which is mature in its project management will consistently deliver value-adding projects.

In my consulting engagements over the past 20 years, I have seen a number of approaches that fly the colours of maturity growth, but that fail to deliver continuously improving project success. Below are five of the most common approaches I have come across that create the illusion of project management maturity.

* Software Illusion

Enterprise project management (EPM) software systems are arguably the biggest culprit. In the past few years, I have seen a number of organisations that have spent a substantial amount of time and money implementing EPM systems that are underutilised, or not used at all.

Software systems do not change behaviour, and employees who do not see the benefit of using a system will find ways to bypass it. Organisations should therefore focus their efforts on changing the behaviour of employees, before implementing an EPM system. Collins D Ellis, author of 'The Conscious Project Leader', writes more about changing project management behaviour.

* Methodology Illusion

A methodology without training is just a eulogy. Most of the value added by a methodology is the accompanying training. Training changes the way people think about their work, and it is an effective change management tool to get consensus on work methods. The second focus area for organisations should be to train all the project stakeholders on the chosen methodology. Janeita Reid writes about the importance of training project managers, not only on a methodology, but on a variety of skills.

* One-Size-Fits-All Illusion

This illusion has two origins - the first is adopting an approach that worked at another company, and the second is an off-the-shelf or case study solution. Organisations are unique in many ways, and even small differences in structure or risk appetite may render an adopted approach useless. The third focus area should be to tailor the project management approach to the unique needs and culture of the organisation. The PMI published a superb white paper on tailoring a methodology.

* Superhero Illusion

The prototypical project management "superhero" has worked for a quite few companies, has a substantial price tag, and is hired to "sort things out". Superheroes may be successful at delivering individual project, but very few superheroes are successful at improving project management maturity, and may in fact impair maturity growth. The problem with superheroes is just that they must uphold the superhero image, which does not leave much room for teamwork or new ideas. Project management maturity can only be improved if everyone is in the same boat, and rowing in the same direction. The fourth area of focus should be cultivating team collaboration and integration. Susan Madsen writes about becoming a more collaborative project manager.

* Rule-book Illusion

The rule-book illusion is another popular approach that is based on the assumption that unsuccessful project delivery is the result of poor governance. Rules are often implemented in the form of policies and procedures, and what starts as a single policy to get everyone aligned soon assumes a life of its own - before you know it, there is a policy or procedure for every part of your job. Rules can never achieve what should be done through a well-communicated vision, objectives, and collaboration. The fifth focus area should therefore be to develop and entrench a project management vision which is translated into objectives with measurable key performance indicators (KPIs). PMI Fellow and well-known project management author, Max Wideman, elaborates on the importance of a vision statement for projects.


A group of unskilled, unmotivated, and directionless people with a software system, someone else's vision, rules, a methodology, and a hero as a leader, will achieve very little.

On the other hand, a well-trained team who knows where it is going and why it is going there requires minimal supervision and rules.

The five illusions discussed above are from my experiences, if you have seen other illusions of maturity, please share them with us -

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