Project Management Maturity Models

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Developed by Sofie Olesen



In being able to make improvements in an organisation, it is key to know both strengths and weaknesses. This also applies to project management which is seen as an extremely important factor in achieving success for any organisation. As projects becomes more and more complex, it is necessary for any organisation to keep improving the competencies in project management in order to maintain competitiveness in the market. Project Management Maturity Models (PMMM’s) is a tool for exactly that. The model helps the organisation learn about itself and makes it aware of current strengths and weaknesses. The result is an assessment of which level of maturity the project management in an organisation is currently at. In extend to that, the model provides the basis for a plan to achieve continuous improvements and higher levels of maturity. The models are criticised for being subjective. This is because the assessment is based on humans subjective answers. This article analyses the use and relevance of maturity models in project management. Furthermore the element of managing humans and securing useful results will be discussed. The key elements of the article are as follows;

  • Big idea
    • Concept
    • PMMM as first step in changing culture
  • Application of a PMMM
    • The LKAB Case Study
  • Limitations
  • Reflections

Big Idea

The basic idea behind PMMM’s is for an organisation to assess their current level of maturity of the project management performance. Maturity can be described as the organisation's effectiveness. A mature organisation is in position to perform to reach the goals set [1]. Today, project management is an important factor in being able to succeed and well performed project management is accounted as a competitive advantage on the market. Typically, the PMMMs consist of five levels, where level 1 represents the lowest level of maturity and level 5 represents the highest reachable level of maturity. The definition and naming of the levels varies from model to model, though many use the original Carnegie Mellon maturity level definitions, which are as follows [2]. ;

  1. Performed/Awareness/ad hoc
  2. Managed/ Repeatable
  3. Defined
  4. Quantitative managed/managed
  5. Optimised

The level of maturity is appointed by comparing the project management execution in the given organisation with PM standards (e.g. PMBOK Guide). The result of the assessment is then used to set a roadmap for the organisation to reach higher levels of maturity in its strive for success. The idea is, that the highest level of maturity, optimized, is setting the stage to continuous improvement. Whereas, the first 4 level are based on comparison to standards, and best performance with existing processes, level 5 focus on optimising the processes in project management, [3].


The above is a generic description of the idea behind the PMMMs. Firstly, the models did not just appear out of blue air. PMMMs have their origins in the Capability Maturity Model, developed by Software Engineering Institute (thus the abbreviation SEI-CMM). The SEI-CMM take base in the same five levels as listed above and was originally developed to use in software implementation projects. The need for maturity models in project management arose as a result of the eighties’ tendency for project failure and budget overrun as a consequence [4]. This was the beginning of development of maturity models. Today, app. 30 PMMMs exist. The models can be divided into three types, which all erupts from the SEI-CMM. The first two both take base in the five levels of maturity. Whereas the third one, which is also the latest on the market, is more complex and holistic in its form.

The first type of model is named technical delivery process model. This type is the SE-CMM. As said, this model consists of five levels of maturity, which indicates the organisations current state. The level of maturity is appointed an organisation as the result of a thorough assessment of the organisation’s project management performance. The level the organisation is appointed descries the stage that the organisation should now try to reach. As an example level 3 is described as “Base practices of the process are performed, but not rigorously planned and executed. Reactive response dominates the actions of the process managers. Performance of the organization is dependent on individual knowledge and effort.“ [3]. This means that if an organisation is at this given stage, they will create the roadmap to reach that description. The roadmap for instance will help the organisation move from acting reactive to being proactive. When being proactive you prevent firefighting and short term planning, which can both often be very costly for the organisation. A lot of other arguments to being proactive can be listed, however that is not part of the scope of this article and therefore it will not be discussed further. An example of a technical delivery process model is the P3M3 model, which also include portfolio and program management.

The second type of PMMM is named project management process model. This type of model also uses the five level of maturity, though it does so a little differently from the first one. The project management process models take base in five processes within nine knowledge areas in PM [3]. An example of a project management process model is the one developed by Kerzner in 2001, who describes project management maturity as “a gradual progress from a basic knowledge of the nine knowledge areas and a single process of project management to a singular methodology across the company.” [3]. The five levels in this model are; 1) common language, 2) common processes, 3) singular methodology, 4), benchmarking, 5) continuous improvement [3]. As illustrated in figure 1, level 3-5 are meant for continues benchmarking and improvements.

Figure 1. Illustration of the five levels of a project management process model [3]

The last type is the "organisational models". As mentioned above, this type of model is the newest type of maturity model for use in project management and is a more holistic one, compared to the two types described before. The reason is, that this type of models does not only consider project management performance but all of the organisation's performance. One of the models within this type is the Organisational Project Management Maturity Model, abbreviated to OPM3, which states itself as “a mechanism to advance your organization’s strategic interests through the efficient and successful execution of projects” [3]. The idea is, that it is not adequate to improve the project management performance, if the rest of the organisation is falling behind as they are as important together in being able to reach the organisation’s strategic goals. To be able to look at all of the organisation, this type of model includes eight business processes, where the first of them is project management. The others are as follows 2) programme management, 3) assurance of the management quality in project programme management, 4) assignment of a project or programme, 5) project portfolio coordination and networking, 6) organisational design, 7) personnel management and 8) business process management [3]. Now, all of the business processes’ maturity levels are assessed and they are appointed a level from 1 to 5. The result can easily be illustrated with a radar chart where all of the business processes and their appointed maturity levels will be inserted. The radar chart will give a visual look of the organisation’s maturity level and point out where to act to improve the organisation’s overall performance. This type of PMMM is more nuanced than the first two. Though, it also has a higher demand in time and resources. Whereas some types of models are applicable by the organisation itself, the organisational models might need assistance of consultancy company.
Figure 2. Result of assessment illustrated in a radar chart [3]

PMMM as first step in changing culture in an organisation

Looking back at all the mentioned types of maturity models for use in project management, it is clear that the idea of using the models in order to assess why some projects currently fail is possible to realise with these models. One might fear, that this tool would only be used as an assessment and that the improvements would be hard to realise. Though, the models give an explanation of what needs to be done to reach a higher level of maturity. The aim is to make the maturity model the first step in changing culture in an organisation. To be able to change, it is key to know the current situation in details. Kotter suggest eight steps in successful change [5] . The first step is to establish a sense of urgency. The step is also known as the burning platform, claiming that if there is no need for change, a change will not be executed, but if the floor beneath you is burning, you will for sure move. However, sometimes, though the need for change is present, the need for it is just not realised. Realising the need for change is key, in being able to make improvements. In many cases, this tool is taken into use, when problems are rising and projects are failing. As project management becomes a more and more important business process to any organisation, and as it is – by some – seen as a way of gaining competitive advantage, maybe tools like PMMM will be taken into use earlier in the process.


An organisation decides to use a maturity model and the first step is to choose the right one, that fits the organisation in different parameters such as industry, strategic goals etc. Though, there is not yet a knowledge based guideline for choosing the right model. Often, the execution of the assessment is done be external consultants, though, dependent on the extent of the assessment, it is possible for the organisation to perform it themselves internally. The assessment simply consists of questions regarding the organisation’s knowledge around the topic, project management, with variations dependent on the type of model. As mentioned earlier, the structure of the models varies and therefore the exact process of assessment also does so. The questions can simply be asked and answered electronic or on paper.

The LKAB Case Study

Backlund et al [1] presents a case study in application of PMMM’s. One of the companies in the study is the Swedish mining company, LKAB, primarily working in mining, refining and logistics. The company is 100 percent state owned, has a net turnover of approximately 31 billion SEK and also operates in Norway[1]. The company consists of approximately 4200 employees of which around 100 are employed in the project department, carries out hundreds of project every single year with the assistance of- and corporation with experts from other departments of the company. In 2012 LKAB initiated a maturity assessment of project management within the organisation [F. Backlund et al, 2014]. The assessment was executed by a consultancy company, using a model inspired by the P3M3, which is also described in the Big Idea section in this article. The assessment was based on seven PM processes; Management Control, Benefits Management, Financial Management, Stakeholder Engagement, Risk Management, Organisational Governance and Resource Management [1]. In practice, the assessment was executed by an electronic (app. 20 minutes’) survey, which was send to the participants by email. The confidential survey was a questionnaire with questions for each PM process including one open question for each of the seven processes. 73 % of the responders answers the questions within the two weeks that was given as a time limit [1]. Open questions was meant to give the participants the opportunity to express themselves more nuanced. At the time the article of the case study was written, the assessment was finished and somewhat presented to the participants. Though, no exact plan for improvements was conducted. The plan was though to do the assessment every second year [3].


The idea and concept of this tool gives a lot of opportunities for organisation to improve level of maturity in terms of project management as well as other business processes. For now, the models are still very generic, however, there is not a model, which fits every organisation, and not all models fit one organisation. A lot of elements could be customized for a given organisation, as for instance industry. A well defined PM practise could make it easier to apply the model as it is easier to make it tailored. For instance, if the organisation is based on PRINCE2, a model can be made to fit and in that way it will also be easier to benchmark with other organisations using the same models [6].

Despite the claim of the models being generic, there are still some limitations. These can be divided into practical and theoretical ones. One of the practical ones is that there is a big gap in between the levels of maturity. This makes it very difficult to use the model to measure minor improvements. Also, some sees the model as a fine way of identifying problems, but not given the solutions to the problems [3].

The application of the maturity model in the LKAB case study, was also evaluated by participants afterwards. Some respondents expressed their frustration of the use of the model. They criticized the following use of the assessment, as they pointed out that the results were primarily presented to the employees without any further plan to improve and solve the assessed problems. Also, there was dissatisfaction in terms the difference in engagement in presentation of results amongst the organisation. [1] Leaders of the company, though explained, that such plans and solutions were to be executed, but where simply not finished at the time of the evaluation of the PMMM. Moreover, the evaluation of the experiences of the responders’ also showed very little enthusiasm and engagement in answering the survey.

Of the other organisations within the studies of Backlund et al [1], none of them where using maturity models in PM at the time of the studies. One argument was that the application of the model has a very high demand on time and resources. It might not be the execution of the survey as it is simply done electronic, but the preparation and the following result presentation. That maybe makes the models of most relevance for larger PM based organisations.


The fact, that approximately 30 different project management maturity models exist, illustrates the common need for improvements in project management in organisations.

Literature research and case studies indicates, that PMMM’s are not a simple tool to apply. Challenges in engaging participants combined with risk of misunderstood questions in the survey clarifies the need for particularly preparation before applying a PMMM. Firstly, the models are based on people’s engagement, thus the quality of the results are dependent on the participants. Thus it is extremely important to make sure, the participants know the relevance of the assessment and their participation i.e. the answers to the questions; Why are we doing this assessment? Why should I spent time to participate? What is the outcome? Etc. If they are able to answer these questions and the answers are positive and make the assessment appear relevant it might be easier for the participants to put a little more effort into their answers as opposed to if the surveys were just giving as extra workload without any further information. If the results reveals big difference between the department, there can be a risk of people only looking out for themselves and their results. That is why it also important to create a common goal by using the PMMMs. If the facilitators of the assessment (or the leaders of the organisation) are able to motivate the participants, they will probably see the survey as an opportunity to express their view on the PM processes.By using supporting tools, this should be doable.

Furthermore, it is important for the organisation to keep working with the maturity after the execution of the survey. The case study shows, that it is far from enough to just show the results of the assessment in numbers. It is very important to know what they want to achieve within PM. This will help reaching a higher level of maturity by setting direction by prioritising actions and starting the change of culture in the organisation [F. Backlund et al, 2014]. Last but not least, organisations using PMMMs should keep making assessments to ensure that the plan is on track and that the organisation keeps improving in terms of project management. In that way it should be possible to benefit from using the Project Management Maturity Models and improve performance by setting targets and changing culture.

Annotated bibliography

Brooks, N.; Clark, R. 2009: Using Maturity Models to Improve Project Management Practice

  • This article outlines three author's different maturity models and how to measure maturity in an organisation. Whether it is only based on knowledge or also factors as actions and attitudes.


  • This article explains the need for improvements in PM and outlines the different types of models within project management maturity. The authors concludes that the existing models are still very generic.

Judgev, K.; Thomas, J. 2002, Project Management Maturity Models: The Silver Bullets of Competitive Advantage

  • This article focus on how PM has a paramount influence on business success. It also has a description of PMMMs and furthermore a explanation of RBV (however, this is not considered in this article).

Backlund, F.; Chronéer, D.; Sundqvist, E. 2014, Project Management Maturity Models – A Critical Review

  • A case study of application of PMMM in swedish construction companies. The case study both concerns the application but also the participants reflections on the use of the model.

Chen, J.; Zhang, X. 2010, PRINCE2 Based Project Management Maturity Model'

  • An example of a PMMM. This one is based on the PRINCE2 PM processes, which makes the model tailor-made to an organisation which bases their PM on the PRINCE2. The model is thus based on eight PM processes and eight PM elements.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 [Project Management Maturity Models – A Critical Review] Backlund, F.; Chronéer, D.; Sundqvist, E.. 2014
  2. [Using Maturity Models to Improve Project Management Practice] Brooks, N.; Clark, R. 2009
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 [PROJECT MANAGEMENT MATURITY MODELS: DOES ONE SIZE FIT ALL?] Grobler, P.J.; Steyn, H. 2006
  4. [Project Management Maturity Models: The Silver Bullets of Competitive Advantage] Judgev, K.; Thomas, J. 2002
  5. [Using Kotter's Eight Stage Process to Manage an Organisational Change Program: Presentation and Practice] Pollack, J.; Pollack, R. 2015
  6. [PRINCE2 Based Project Management Maturity Model'] Chen, J.; Zhang, X.. 2010
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