Four attributes of mature project management organisations
By Werner Meyer, PhD, PMP, CCP, founding director: ProjectLink.
The premature death of patients is seldom the main focus for attendees of medical congresses. There is a much greater focus on holistic health management of both people and communities. In contrast, most project management congresses have a very strong focus on project failure, and many of the presentations made include references to the Standish Chaos report, or to project disasters that are eloquently recorded in the Catalogue of Catastrophe.
In recent years, more and more people have started to look beyond individual projects at the habitat in which catastrophes evolve: the organisation. The term organisational project management (OPM) was coined to describe a holistic approach to project, programme and portfolio management, says Werner Meyer, founding director of ProjectLink
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines OPM as "the systematic management of projects, programmes and portfolios in alignment with the achievement of strategic goals. The concept of organisational project management is based on the idea that there is a correlation between an organisation's capabilities in project management, programme management and portfolio management, and the organisation's effectiveness in implementing strategy."
In my consulting and training engagements, I have noticed four attributes in organisations that consistently deliver successful projects and create sustainable benefits for employees and shareholders. These attributes appear to be ascending, ie, higher attributes are achieved when lower attributes are in place. The diagram below illustrates how consistent methods, reliable processes, predictable outcomes and measurable results build on each other to support the delivery of sustainable benefits.
1. Consistent methods
Consistent methods refer to an organisation's ability to use the same management methods for all of its portfolios, programmes and projects. Many of us have worked in organisations where nearly every project and programme uses different processes, templates, systems, spreadsheets, etc. A major contributor to this is the lack of structured induction programmes to train project managers on the methods adopted by their organisation, and in the usual rush to get projects started, project managers use methods from their personal toolbox. Or, even worse, they spend a large amount of time developing project-specific methods.
The PMI published an interesting white paper on IBM's Enterprise PMO (project management office), and how consistent methods were key to its success.
2. Reliable processes
Reliable processes refer to project management methods that are packaged in simple and accessible processes that can change to meet the project's goals. I have seen project management process diagrams that have covered entire walls; without exception, the way projects are actually run in those companies has very little bearing on the elaborate processes. To be reliable, a process does not need the PMO's "process police"; it requires buy-in from its users. A process becomes reliable when the people who follow it understand it, can influence it, and experience the benefits of using it.
In his book, Making Sense of Agile Project Management: Balancing Control and Agility, Charles G Cobb explains the importance of reliable processes.
3. Predictable outcomes
Predictable outcomes refer to knowing what the outcome will be even before the project is started. In many organisations, project managers hope for the best when the project is started. Would you want a dentist who "hopes for the best" to work on your teeth? Projects are by their very nature unpredictable and uncertain, but predictability of both problems and outcomes can be improved by learning from past failures and successes, and incorporating those lessons into management methods and processes. Predictability in project management breeds confidence in project teams and creates credibility with clients.
This article by Pedro C. Ribeiro looks at the predictability of project surprises.
4. Measurable results
Measurable results refer to projects that deliver tangible and measurable benefits, and are an outcome of the previous three attributes. Projects that finish within their set time and cost constraints are commendable, but those that also deliver measurable business benefits take organisations to a new level of performance and value. Measurable results are the natural outcome of unemotional portfolio selection methods and consistent project management practices during planning and execution. The APM gives an overview of what benefits measurement in project management is.
Organisations that have matured in their project management appear to have consistent methods that are implemented through reliable processes. This allows them to predict project outcomes and deliver measurable results. The four attributes described here give an outside view of some of the qualities of a mature organisation; they are the result of deliberate and well-planned initiatives in the organisation.