Are You a PRO or an Amateur?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
The tongue-in-cheek title of this article, as many will recognize, refers to PRO, the Performance Rated Organization standard. This is one of the few organizational PM (Project Management) assessments that is not just another maturity model. Not that we dislike Maturity Models. We have used SEI CMM/CMMi for (gee, approaching 30) years, and like it a lot for Information Technology organizations.

Our purpose with this article is to introduce a much more effective model, to move organizations from accidental (and too-often amateurish) results in project management, to a more performance-driven approach that delivers the intended business benefits—in all projects and programs.

We believe that organizational project management effectiveness is not an arena for maturity levels—it is more like a performance chain—one that is as strong as its weakest link. What brings this article to mind are several recent events. First, we have seen an increased interest in PRO. Next, and this is probably related, we changed our intellectual property rights; in December we moved PRO to a more-open license, that anyone can use, and can build upon.

IPMA-USA’s PRO Standard now uses the Creative Commons License. You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format;
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material;
  • For any purpose, including commercially.

See PRO, and download the freely available standard on our IPMA-USA website.

PRO’s Inspiration
Some of our readers may not be familiar with PRO. So here is a bit of background. This unique (and free) IPMA-USA product had its origins on a rainy day in Shanghai, when William Duncan (IPMA-USA certification Chair) and I were walking, in the rain, to Yu Garden. We were talking about our years of PM consulting experience, and the tools we used to meet our clients’ needs. It turned out that each of us had used a form of organizational PM assessment, for 20 years or more. What we liked about them is that they engaged the management team that controlled the context of projects and programs. These were the stakeholders you engaged—even in the early 1980s, and more so today—if you truly intend to improve PM performance.

PRO Development
We compared notes on assessment approaches, and decided that an IPMA-USA effort, that took the best ideas of a  circle of highly experienced, globally practicing project managers, consultants, managers and trainers, would be a great way to work on this product development project. We immediately added then-President Lew Ireland to our team, brainstormed pages of ideas, and began doing our market research. We uncovered hundreds of “PM maturity models” in the market.

Of course we had seen the disasters in the 1990s as “Big 5” consultancies sold their massive PM maturity models into client companies. They consequently overwhelmed the companies’ top contributors with excessive surveys, interviews, and other distractions from their responsibilities. They created an aversion to PM maturity models that still exist today, in some companies. We are also aware of some very good PM Maturity Model examples, such as Darci Prado’s easy-to-use self-assessment model. One factor that makes Darci’s model especially useful is his engagement of industry experts to interpret the annual results.

So far, this great new product didn’t even have a name—much less an acronym—breaking one of the first rules in new product development. As our market analysis completed, Tim Jaques was elected as IPMA-USA Director of Standards, and ramped up our efforts as Project Manager. Engaging our volunteer team, Tim led us in our development of not-just-another-maturity-model organization assessment. Rather than dealing with maturity levels, we focused on organization Performance, and dealt with Units, Elements, and Performance Criteria. Positioned for executives and top managers, this innovative solution helps organizations to identify the weakest links in the value chain of business results, through projects.

The Performance-based assessment approach that PRO uses is not new; it was originally developed by the US Army about 40 years ago. Thus, it precedes today’s popular Maturity Models. Today, several nations specify Performance-based Competence assessment for all professions and job roles, so it is widely spread. And GAPPS, the Global Alliance for the Project Professions, was founded with the participation of all major project management professional associations, and a range of PM providers, educational institutions, and corporations. GAPPS has developed a range of standards for performance-based competence assessment of project and program manager roles.

During one of our development sessions, Duncan came up with a name for our PM Performance solution, in one of his moments of inspiration: PRO! As our efforts expanded, we increased our core team to include:

  • Nigel Blampied,
  • Dino Eliadis,
  • Scott Freauf,
  • Dr. Brent M. Hansen,
  • Dennis Milroy, and
  • Tom Mochal.

Tom, a very active consultant, with his TenStep methodology product, and his global network of consultants, was especially key in the fledgling product’s development and roll-out. In one of our face-to-face sessions in Los Angeles, Ed Fern joined us, and shared his perspectives. Under Tim’s leadership, we completed the Performance Rated Organization (PRO) Standard; Duncan and Tom worked together to produce an Assessor Training; we went through the typical public standard review cycle, with comments from practitioners from across the World, and published the PRO Standard on April 5, 2010.

Who Needs PRO?
So, now that we’ve got PRO, who needs it, and what does it do for us all? Many audiences can benefit from PRO; the smartest understand why they need it:

  • Enterprise Executives and key Departmental Managers
  • Project Management Offices (PMOs)
  • Project Teams
  • Key Stakeholders: Project Sponsors, Functional Managers, Resource Managers
  • Contract Managers
  • Sub-contractor Executives
  • PM Consultants
  • Educators
  • Masters Students, especially those with workplace experience, going back to school.

Let us take a look at the audiences on this list. For Executives: PRO is for enterprise executives and departmental managers who know they should or could be getting even better results from their project teams. Note that any project-oriented organization can benefit from use of PRO, but it is not magic. For example, an implementing organization needs to be able to measure the benefits of multiple concurrent changes. As with any organizational change management initiative, this requires a healthy commitment. Fortunately, with PRO that commitment is typically about 25% of the typical PM maturity model approach, a benefit of the Standard’s design. 

Who else? Project Management Offices! We used organizational assessments during the 1980s to improve PMO performance; setting up PMOs as internal PM consultants. One of our popular services was to coach PMOs in using an organizational assessment to identify the quick wins that improved their credibility and perceived value. This helped keep the team intact during budget crunches, when too often, less-effective PMOs get dismantled. Project Teams benefit hugely from PRO, when they use it to identify the 3-5 smartest ways for the organization to support the project. Such a concept—in too many organizations, everyone expects that a one-way street of support is that of the team for the organization.

There’s more, of course. Key Stakeholders: Project Sponsors, Functional Managers, Resource Managers–all those who are 1-3 levels above the project team, can benefit from PRO. They can identify the performance criteria that are within their control and act to maximize them; then they can delegate the rest upward. Our experience is that the 2-9 levels above the project team have more impact on business success from projects than does the entire project team—including the Sponsor.

And Contract Managers, who are involved with selecting sub-contractors, need ways to gauge the PM Performance capabilities of their subs—and those Sub-contractors‘ executives will certainly benefit from doing their own assessment first. And PM Consultants, who integrate PRO into their practice, can not only perform the PRO assessments, but help coach their clients into full PM performance—possibly even helping them become certified as such. And are there Educator opportunities? Of course! We’ve identified a Masters Student one-semester class that teaches how to perform an PRO assessment, then uses field study to perform it back in their workplace. And there are more.

Moving from Amateur to PRO
So what about you? Are your projects and programs performing as well as you deserve? Chances are, you could be performing twice as well–that is the type of “easy win” we’ve seen with organizational commitment to project excellence. But it doesn’t happen by sending project managers away for yet another workshop; not by buying new methods or tools; not by adopting lean or agile methods, and certainly not by outsourcing it all.

Instead, it happens by understanding the small handful of places where you can make the smartest investments in your project performance. The PRO organization assessment standard is available as a free download. We do offer workshops that teach your PMO, or your managers, how to use our extended assessors’ guide (available only to workshop participants). Most organizations can identify your first PM performance improvement steps just based on the free download.

In many organizations, everything, from operations, to marketing, finance, capital investments and manufacturing is well-managed—a professional approach, you might say. And yet, as we have said before in this Change Agent series, all too often, project management is the one place where executive management has no visibility into true status, no control of costs, and no clear assurance about the delivery of needed business results. This is an outrageously amateurish aspect of your otherwise well-run organization. And you have a PRO-priate ways to improve it.

Your Comments?