Exploring trends and developments in project management today

The Four Levels of Project Success

Duncan Haughey

Business words with success highlighted

Project based organisation have become more common over the last decade, meaning the work they do is split into programmes of projects designed to deliver the organisation's strategy. Good management of these projects is essential if the organisation is going to succeed. Equally important to individual project success is ensuring they carry out the right projects. As project management guru Bob Buttrick puts it, Directing the individual project correctly will ensure it is done right. Directing all the projects successfully will ensure we are doing the right projects.

Organisations have varying levels of expertise in the project management function. Many of these organisations realise that to be successful a better approach to project management is necessary. As a result methodologies such as PRINCE2 have become popular, but this is just the first step. To become world-class at project management needs much more.

This is where the Project Management Maturity Matrix can help. It is similar to the Capability Maturity Matrix used in software development. It helps organisations improve the maturity of their project management function along an evolutionary path from ad hoc and disorganised processes, to a mature disciplined approach.

What is the Project Management Maturity Matrix?

The matrix describes four levels of maturity in project management:

Level 1: Delivery of projects through the personal heroics and effort of the project manager and his or her team. Delivery is despite the organisation rather than because of it.

Level 2: Anybody can deliver, not just heroes, because there is an agreed methodology that helps repeat earlier successes from similar projects. Courses and training help at this level.

Level 3: This is not only about delivering projects, but also realising benefits. This involves knowing what the expected benefits are and when the project has delivered them.

Level 4: Is about whether we are doing the right projects and how those projects can deliver the business strategy.

Project Management Maturity Matrix Diagram

Figure 1: Project Management Maturity Matrix.

For organisations to understand the level they are performing at, it is useful to ask these questions:

Level 1: Project Management Success (cost, time and quality)
Did our project produce the desired output?

Level 2: Repeatable Success (predictable outcomes)
Do our projects consistently produce the desired outputs?

Level 3: Project Success (benefits realised)
Do the project outputs produce the desired outcomes?

Level 4: Corporate Success (strategies implemented, value added)
Do the outcomes produce or have the intended impact on the business strategy?

Moving from one level to another requires organisations to develop processes in several areas:

  • A methodology is needed to move from level 1 to 2.
  • Benefits management is needed to move from level 2 to 3.
  • Project portfolio management is needed to move from level 3 to 4.

The key process area at level 2 involves introducing a project management methodology. This might be developed in-house, or something from the public domain such as PRINCE2. The important point is that all project managers have a framework within which to work, and the organisation has the structures to support them. Once this is in place there is less reliance on personal heroics and more emphasis on repeatable and measurable success.

The key process area at level 3 focuses on benefits management. Surprising as it may seem, many organisations do not look at whether projects have delivered the benefits originally envisaged at the start. Success is only measured on whether projects have delivered against cost, time, scope and quality criteria. As benefits are not usually realised immediately at the end of projects, it is necessary to revisit the project after a short time to see if the benefits have accrued. If not then the organisation should seek to identify why not and whether any action is needed.

The key process area at level 4 covers managing portfolios of projects to ensure that collectively they deliver the organisation's strategy. Project portfolio management is about carrying out the right projects. A balanced portfolio is created addressing all areas of business development and making best use of resources. Processes need to be in place so all new ideas for projects can be proposed, reviewed and decisions made about whether they contribute to the overall strategy of the organisation.

Each key process area contributes to an improvement in the organisation's project management capability, which in turn enables it to satisfy its goals.