Thursday, 15 May 2008 18:00

Why Do Organizations Struggle with Project Management?

Written by Mike Lecky
There’s no one answer. Barriers to achieving project management maturity are as numerous as there are differences in cultures, business processes, corporate directions, technology infrastructures and skill sets. One certainty is that increasing maturity in project management increases overall performance.

Time and again presenters and researchers provide information showing remarkable increases in performance as firms move from one up to five on the five-point Capability Maturity Model (CMM) scale. It’s not at all unreasonable to expect an overall performance improvement in the range of 40%-70% in moving from level two to four on the model scale. This can represent a huge savings over the course of the three years it would likely take to make this climb.

Overall performance can be measured on several scales, depending on your organization. Ideally, it is aligned with the strategic initiatives and might be based on a scorecard approach. A scorecard model identifies and allocates key goals to different areas of the organization, providing performance targets which are then tracked over the course of a reporting period. If you were interested in setting a scorecard for project management, you might include goals to reduce project life cycles, decrease project cost, reduce unplanned work or reworks, and improved portfolio management.

Regardless of measurement approach, the key benefits of increased maturity are lower costs and shorter project cycles. Perhaps one of the more significant barriers to improvement is the difficulty companies have realizing tangible benefits when at early stages of maturity. The business case is tougher to make early in the climb. It’s a bit of a Catch-22: organizations with lower levels of maturity have limited competencies when it comes to measurement and self-assessment, while those higher in maturity have the rating because of their process measurement and analysis capabilities.

Achieving improvements in project management is not the work of a ‘lone ranger’. It takes planning, commitment and participation at all levels of management. Without long-term commitment from senior management, supported by visible short term ‘wins’ to sustain interest, even the most tenacious ‘agent of change’ won’t be successful. Knowledge of the improvement process and a clear understanding of what to expect in terms of performance improvements over time, is essential to build a successful maturity improvement strategy.

Those early in the climb to maturity experience greater difficulty, since roles, frameworks and formal definitions of process activities are less established. The foundation doesn’t start to solidify until repeatable process activities emerge in level two of the CMM. This makes getting a foothold on improvement difficult. As an organization continues its ascent to level three, controls over the repeatable processes are implemented. These take the form of reviews, metrics and escalations. And these, too, continually improve with the cycles of learning apparent from the increased visibility provided by measures on the process. Once refined enough by these controls, level four is achieved and quantitative goals can reasonably be set and met.

Most organizations wouldn’t see the need to invest in the process optimization necessary to achieve maturity beyond level four. Most certainly haven’t needed to consider this at all, since they continue to struggle with how to measure, analyze and action improvement of their project management processes. Perhaps this is a competency they should consider developing at the same time as they develop and train their project managers.

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