A More PROfessional Way to Assess and Maximize PM Performance, part 1

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
The December 2009 publishing of the Exposure Draft, together with the Press Release for PRO, Performance Rated Organization, is a key event for IPMA-USA, for the USA, and for improved PM Performance. You can see the background, the link to the Exposure Draft, and the audiences for this tool at the PRO section of the IPMA-USA website. The purpose of this posting is to share a bit more perspective about PRO, the factors that drove us to develop and introduce it, and to acknowledge the members of the PRO team.

Many organizational assessments for project management already exist. We studied the strengths and weaknesses of many of them as part of our initial research. We found many that were very useful, some that could be useful, but were far too difficult to apply, and some that could produce great insights, but required too much effort, distracting key staff from their priorities. Most were proprietary, few were based on any accepted standard, and some that appeared to be merely a way for consultants to find work in your organization.

Many of the Organizational PM Assessments are based on a Maturity Model approach, similar to the Capability Maturity Model pioneered by the US Defense Department and Carnegie Mellon University. This approach is useful because it can offer a logical sequence of improvements. Otherwise, an assessed organization could be forced to choose from dozens of expensive initiatives, with no clear way to decide which offered the greatest value.

PRO is a Performance Model
Rather than use a Maturity Model approach, IPMA-USA chose a different path for multiple reasons. Many of the members of the PRO team have been involved with Maturity Models of different types, so we had a wide range of experience in their strengths and weaknesses, and in the needs of the USA PM market. The team concluded that the market didn’t really need yet-another PM Maturity Model. More importantly, most maturity models focus on processes, and on the inputs. They have little-to-no direct relationship to what organizations really want: Improvement in PM Performance, and business results.

One reason this is important to us is our focus on PM Performance, rather than just knowledge, in our Advanced Certifications for individuals. Not only does it make more sense for PM practitioners, it makes even more sense for Organizations to evaluate and improve their performance. And, it adds to IPMA-USA’s consistent suite of performance-oriented, as opposed to merely process-oriented, or knowledge-oriented assessments. We wrote about this last year in our article, Closing the Gap Between PM Training and PM Performance.

Of course process maturity, in many cases, does not necessarily consider whether the processes are appropriate or not, only whether you follow them. Thus the ISO 9000 initiatives we saw in the 1980s, where organizations kept careful track of how they followed their processes, but often ignored whether the processes were appropriate, faulty, or even applicable. For the results-oriented audience of the USA, something more is desperately needed. For those who are not familiar with this Process vs. Results distinction, I often use the omelette analogy. If you wish to evaluate an omelette, you have two choices:

  1. Evaluate and assess all processes involved with making the omelette, then verify that all inputs, or ingredients are of the desired quality. Result: Evidence that the omelette is probably OK.
  2. Taste the omelette.

Which choice do you think gives a more-clear result? Which takes the least effort? One of the facts that our early analysis revealed is that there is a significant difference in “organizational footprint” between available organizational assessments. Thus our choice of a performance evaluation not only is consistent with our other assessments, but it can produce better results, at a lower assessor cost, and more importantly, with less Organization time involved in interviews, surveys, and other analysis of every related process and artifact.

PRO’s Most-unique Advantage
There is another key distinction with PRO. Assume that your organization contracts with an assessment organization that uses one of the common models. You spend significant money on the assessors, and even more in the opportunity cost of your staff’s time. In the best of all possible worlds, you find that your PM Processes are fine. But, where does that leave you? If your PRO assessment, based on threshold performance criteria, shows that you Perform, your organization can certify as an Performance Rated Organization.

Why do PM practitioners certify? To earn recognition for their accomplishments, whether in knowledge, competence or performance. And, to “stand out from the crowd”, a phrase we have used for years in our certification program (but others have recently also started using). If this is a smart thing for individuals, think of how smart it could be for your department. Or your site. Or your entire organization.