How mature is your organization?

You wouldn’t give a 12-year-old the keys to an automobile; you wouldn’t hike the Himalayas overweight and out of shape; you wouldn’t ask a first-year civil engineering student to design a water treatment plant (at least I hope you wouldn’t!); and you wouldn’t ask an AEC firm to take on a challenge that exceeded its organizational capability … but how can you know? How do you assess an organization’s management “maturity?”

We often talk about improving our internal processes in the hopes that the changes will have a resounding impact on our teams, clients, and ultimately the bottom line. Optimizing the way we deliver projects is definitely a worthy venture … if we are mature enough to handle it.

The maturity I’m speaking of is the state of your internal project management processes. Just like the examples in the opening paragraph, you cannot overlay or implement intricate or detailed processes onto an immature firm and hope things will turn out well. Most firms err on the side of changing and improving too much, too soon and are disappointed in the results. These attempts to improve can even be counterproductive, since teams become exasperated and will grow wary of management’s ideas. The success of any improvement or training initiative is correlated directly to the maturity of your system.

Fortunately, there is a framework for assessing your firm’s organizational maturity. Originally developed by the Software Engineering Institute and Carnegie Mellon University, the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) is used when assessing and improving organizational processes. The key is honestly determining where you fit along the scale — then you’ll know the improvements and changes for which your firm is ready.

Initial — Everyone knows project management is important. To suggest otherwise would be silly. We can probably make the claim that any firm still in existence knows the fundamentals of project management and tries to practice them consistently. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough today. At this level, there are some processes in place, but they’re loosely followed. Training will provide the firm a common language and a refresher on project management principles, but it will not make up for a lack of methods that make sense.

Managed — At this level, project management processes are used more frequently and are intended to be repeatable from project to project. But more often than not, every manager will have individual and preferred ways of executing projects accompanied by individual definitions and degrees of success. It’s a decent place to be, but any attempt to improve the system will be difficult because of the assortment of processes.

Defined — Firms here are consciously committed to identifying, streamlining, and formally capturing processes that contribute to organizational excellence. Plans to improve the project delivery system are pushed from the top and practiced by all project managers. Firms at this stage take project management very seriously, and clearly define necessary responsibilities, expectations, characteristics, and skills. This level of maturity defines the client experience — and is an enviable strategic position. Getting here requires trust, agreement, and a solid team of project managers.

Quantitatively managed — Firms perform all sorts of benchmarking with financial and marketing data, but how effectively do they analyze and apply this information? To get the most out of any improvement initiative, the firms at this level establish what information they’re interested in, track it, gather it, and evaluate it. Your firm may be fit to start measuring these metrics, but may need more maturity to determine the right type, volume, and depth of that information.

Optimizing — A mature firm never stops improving and understands that great project managers always will be learning. Analyzing the facts and figures to make useful, meaningful, and profitable improvements is what firms do here. This is an organizational stance — not just the leader’s vision or an individual wish that things could be better. The entire firm embraces improvement. Anyone not on board should definitely feel out of place, or in other words, immature.

If you’ve ever tried to spearhead improvements in project management and found that the firm was not ready for the change structurally, assess the maturity level of your firm and you’ll know what you’re ready for now.

Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices. She can be contacted at

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Posted in | January 29th, 2014 by

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