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From the Sponsor’s Desk – Building Project Management Maturity

In my last post, Delivering Portfolio Management Light, we looked at an organization that found itself in need of a decision making framework and managed to deliver a workable project portfolio management solution in a little over four months through pragmatic use of available best practices and technology.

In this post, we’ll look at a company that found itself at a competitive disadvantage because of their project management performance and the steps they took to improve their performance and capability.

The Situation

This telecommunications company found itself in the crosshairs of a competitor’s advertising campaign, ranking them at the bottom in terms of project management performance and customer satisfaction based on an independent study. Senior management challenged the Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) to clean up their project management and customer satisfaction performance to the point where it would no longer be a competitive disadvantage.

The Goal

The EPMO quickly launched an initiative to turn their performance around, leveraging the expertise of an independent consulting firm with relevant experience building project management capability. The initiative had four objectives:

  1. Establish a current capability baseline that would be used to confirm (or disprove) the competitor’s claims
  2. Use industry standard practices and measures
  3. Develop an action plan to improve project performance and customer satisfaction
  4. Review industry project maturity benchmarks to validate and verify recommendations

The Project

The project’s challenge was to upgrade the performance of some sixty staff and contract project managers. To that end, the project leveraged the following industry models to assess maturity and identify and deliver project management improvements:

  1. The SEI’s five evolutionary maturity levels from CMMI
  2. The nine knowledge areas in the PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)
  3. The Project Pre-Check Decision Framework, a best practice based framework, used by the consulting firm to assess organizational project management maturity

The assessment involved the following activities:

  1. Document Review – to baseline the current environment through a review of process and practice documentation
  2. PM Interviews – to baseline the current attitudes and beliefs through project management interviews
  3. Project Reviews – to baseline the actual compliance to in-place processes and practices through project documentation review
  4. Web Survey – to solicit feedback from all project managers not included in direct interviews
  5. PMM Assessment, Gaps and Recommendations
  6. Review findings against an industry project maturity benchmark to validate and verify recommendations

The Results

The results of the assessment pegged the overall project management maturity level at 2.1 – Structured. The results showed that basic project management methodologies and practices were in place but not universally applied. As well, the only metrics available to gauge performance were contained in the customer satisfaction surveys but the results were seldom formally assessed. There was no mechanism to foster continuous improvement.

A three year plan was developed to address the most significant gaps and plug the competitive and customer satisfaction challenges by growing maturity to a level 3 – institutionalized – in the critical knowledge areas. The first phase focused on improving scope and communication management followed by a second phase addressing cost and risk management performance. The study took 23 days of effort over five weeks. .

The phase one improvement activity required 60 days of effort over a twelve month period. A maturity audit performed 18 months after the initial study found the overall maturity had increased to 2.9 and the targeted scope and communication management knowledge areas had increased to well above level 3. This maturity level improvement was also reflected by a steady improvement in customer satisfaction survey results.

The project succeeded in addressing the competitive and customer concerns as planned. Perhaps more significantly, it also laid the foundation for continuing improvements in cost-effectiveness, quality and responsiveness.

How a Great PM Helped

The PM on this project did four things very well:

  1. She managed the sponsorship from the EPMO effectively to ensure all participants knew their roles, all materials were available to the assessors when needed and any issues were addressed in a timely fashion
  2. She established a pragmatic scope and obtained stakeholder agreement up front which allowed the assessment to be completed quickly and at reasonable cost
  3. She leveraged the proven practices and framework from the consultant which enabled a fast start up, ensured access to a broad array of industry best practices and facilitated comparison of the results to industry benchmarks
  4. She learned from the consultant, who had broad industry and management experience and an intimate knowledge of the PM Maturity framework and process, to guide her staff through the assessment, learning and experience curve to maximize the study’s value

If you find yourself in a similar situation, put these points on your checklist of things to do so you too can be a great PM, and your sponsor’s best friend.

Next, we’ll look at the value a mid project audit can provide by helping stakeholders confirm or rethink the motivations and rationale for an initiative. In this case, the audit helped avoid potentially costly enterprise wide conflicts through a change in corporate priorities.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll have a go.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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