With the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the need for high-precision machine tools and interchangeable parts, the implementation of standards in industry and commerce became highly important. For similar reasons, as projects proliferated and became the preferred method for implementing business strategies, the need for project management standards grew as well, as standards enabled people from different backgrounds and places to collaborate through shared vernaculars and methods even when they hailed from different organizations or had never met before, moving from one project to another seamlessly even though each project, by definition, produces something different or unique. Today a standard is an established norm or requirement in regard to technical systems or frameworks. For example, a framework, custom, convention, company product, or corporate standard may become generally accepted and dominant as a de facto standard. More often, a standard will take the form of a formal document that establishes uniform criteria, methods, processes, and practices de jure. Standards may be developed privately or unilaterally, e.g. by a corporation, by a regulatory body, or by the military. Or they may be developed by trade unions or associations, or standards organizations that have emerged and solicit diverse input to develop standards voluntarily, by edict, or the formal consensus of experts.
We deployed surveys to over 30,000 professionals globally in order to define a global standard defining all of the elements of Organizational Project Management (OPM).
Against this backdrop, an international team came together in 1998, rallied by the following question I posed to them: “Can we develop a standard that helps organizations implement their strategies through projects?” By this time, standards for the management of individual projects were well known. But there was a need to meet the exponential interest in project management with a way to make project management capable in organizations. My thought was that our purpose should not be to improve project management in general but to improve the ability of organizations to enact their strategies, the raison d'être of organizations, and to improve their ability to do so through projects. To do this, we envisioned describing as a system the ways that organizations implement their strategies by integrating project, program, and portfolio management. To refer to this system, I coined the term “Organizational Project Management” or OPM. Our goal was to create a model that explained how to implement OPM or how to achieve excellence or maturity in OPM, i.e. an “Organizational Project Management Maturity Model” or “OPMMM,” a term which I rephrased as “OPM3” (indicating the three M’s in the name) simply because it was easier to say. We deployed surveys to over 30,000 professionals globally in order to define a global standard defining all of the elements of OPM. Word-analysis software was applied to the data for affinity mapping in order to organize the data around the key concepts of OPM, and hundreds of experienced professionals poured over this material to distill it into actionable guidance.
Our large and highly experienced team (nearly 800 people across 35 countries) agreed that describing what constitutes all of the elements of Organizational Project Management was not enough. We needed to distinguish each element of OPM in terms of the steps to implement each element in an organization. For this reason, the team reverse-engineered all of the elements of OPM into their constituent parts. For example, if the respondents to our surveys to 30,000 people told us that one of the things necessary in an organization that delivers projects is highly capable sponsorship of projects, then the team decomposed that into the steps required for achieving highly capable sponsorship. The result was magnificent, including steps for establishing the strategic alignment of projects to organizational goals, steps for learning from other organizations who are implementing OPM, steps for implementing management systems and control systems, steps for ensuring projects have sponsors who are doing specific things, steps for adopting appropriate organization structures, implementing project management methods, practices, and specific techniques, steps for enacting resource allocation for OPM, steps for implementing competency management and individual performance appraisals, steps for knowledge management as well as steps for implementing a project management information system (PMIS) and establishing internal project management communities and more.
But as I looked at all of the data, I realized that it did not tell the essential story that reflected our original purpose, which was to elaborate Organizational Project Management as a system for implementing the strategies of organizations through projects. It occurred to me that to do that, we had to ensure we told one essential story that organized the wealth of insights we had collected, a story I summarized as “how to do the right projects the right way,” a slogan I announced to our team and watched ignite the imagination of hundreds of people. Today you can find this slogan in papers, articles, project management course descriptions, and book titles. That idea was that there are processes for translating strategies into projects, processes for project-portfolio and program management, and processes for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing individual projects. These processes can be woven together as a system for doing the right projects the right way, recognizing that what is “right” is somewhat different for each organization but that general guidance can be represented in a way that is applicable to most organizations most of the time.
Strategy and project delivery processes can be made capable in ways that reflect your organization's strategic intent and organizational imperatives.
As our global team undertook the work of elaborating those processes for implementing business strategies through projects, in addition to leading the team I was managing a PMO that produced successful results for a private company that was subsequently sold for billions of dollars. In other words, I had been honing my craft in the corporate world. But more importantly to our agenda for OPM3, I was completing a Master’s degree in Business Administration at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, where my leadership of the development of OPM3 was reformed in classes by the likes of Robert Kazanjian who reformed my understanding of strategy implementation, Benn Konsynski who reformed my understanding of the role of frameworks to adapt to an uncertain world galloping toward us, and George Easton who fundamentally transformed my understanding of what is possible by institutionalizing process capabilities in organizations. In one of the classes of that program, Easton taught us the fundamentals of process management, based on the idea that it is possible to determine if a process can be expected to perform within specification limits, distinguishing how much natural variation a process experiences relative to its specification limits. The basic technique is called “Statistical Process Control” or SPC, a technique that evolved over many decades through use by thousands of professionals, proving its status as an industry standard.
George Easton had my attention because he had been one of the architects of the Malcolm Baldrige Award created by the U.S. Congress and had been teaching Six Sigma since before Motorola allegedly “invented” it and GE made it famous. I realized in George’s class that this was the key that was missing from the work our team was doing to elaborate a system for doing the right projects the right way. We could not only describe the processes for choosing and delivering projects, but we could describe how to make those processes perform successfully, consistently, and predictably through SPC. I realized that although the processes of translating business strategies into projects and delivering them successfully pertained not to manufacturing or operations but to temporary endeavors, this kind of activity-system for executing strategies through projects had become highly routine work throughout the world and that we could re-purpose the techniques applied to manufacturing to this new way that would characterize work for the foreseeable future. Indeed, the Malcolm Baldrige Award was one of the 20+ models our team had analyzed as background for the development of OPM3, and it was a great privilege to have my eyes opened by one of the preeminent minds to pioneer that quality framework as a standard.
I distilled that idea as fifteen steps organized into four maturity levels, and proposed this framework to our team, which they approved:
1. Establish process governance.
2. Document the process, i.e. project, program, and portfolio management processes.
3. Communicate the process to the necessary stakeholders.
4. Achieve consistent implementation of work methods.
5. Identify critical characteristics of the process.
6. Focus the process on the needs of the customer, and incorporate performance requirements of customers into process measures.
7. Measure the process's critical characteristics directly.
8. Identify measures upstream of the process, and ensure process users understand how other processes produce outputs that become inputs to the process.
9. Measure the critical inputs to the process.
10. Develop a process control plan.
11. Implement a system for maintaining control of the process.
12. Operate the process in a stable fashion, consistently within upper and lower control limits, and update process documentation accordingly.
(CONTINUOUS) IMPROVEMENT LEVEL
13. Identify root causes of problems during operation of the process.
14. Execute continuous efforts with widespread participation directed at improving the process.
15. Integrate process improvements with systems that standardize improvements.
Today the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) is a standard that distinguishes the processes of project, program, and portfolio management, and applies these fifteen steps to those processes as a transformation or capability-development agenda. Supplementing this process transformation framework are nearly 200 other improvement options to implement a myriad of best practices associated with Organizational Project Management, improvement options distilled from surveys to 30,000 people and the work of hundreds of professionals who vetted that material.
Hundreds of people have applied this model in all manner of organizations.
Even though OPM was invented as the basis of OPM3, most people today are not aware that OPM3 defined the standard for OPM. They are not aware that OPM3 includes not only the system of OPM but all of the steps described above - steps that are known as "Capability Statements," including not only the 15 process improvement steps listed above and applied to all project, program, and portfolio management processes, but approximately 200 other steps distilled from surveys to 30,000 people. The reason why most people are not aware that OPM3 was primarily composed of these steps is that even though all of these steps are the essential component of OPM3, PMI made all of these steps for implementing OPM a separate commercial product that was expensive and which degraded adoption because it was expensive, which led to protests. And PMI promoted a misleading survey as a less expensive alternative to the commercial product, a survey so misleading that it effectively derailed OPM3 implementations. It is a case study in how not to manage industry standards. PMI recently announced that OPM3 shall be updated to its 4th edition and will include all of these steps for implementing OPM, which is good, but it's unclear whether PMI will remove the misleading survey when this occurs. It suffices to say a comedy of errors has been made in the management of the OPM3 standard.
In fact, now PMI is creating a separate standard they intend to name "The Standard for Organizational Project Management," which is both confusing and creates the risk of a conflict between standards, i.e. confusion between PMI's self-described "foundational standard" titled "The Organizational Project Management Maturity Model," which defined the standard for OPM in the first place based on surveys to 30,000 people, and "The Standard for Organizational Project Management," which is being created by far fewer people and without the extensive research that formed the basis of OPM3. There is a significant risk that these two standards will have non-identical definitions of OPM and non-aligned guidance for implementing OPM. But these kinds of problems are modus operandi in the development of PMI standards by committee. Do not lose sight of the forest for the trees.