Tanner James Blog

Translating a P3M3 Assessment into a Capability Improvement Plan

John Howarth
P3M3 (Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Maturity Model) is a key area of focus for many organisations, especially government agencies. I have touched on P3M3 a few times in previous blogs, but have only once addressed the issue of capability improvement planning.

Many people are now turning their minds to the question of “How do you really translate a P3M3 assessment into a capability improvement plan?” 

Here are some of my thoughts on this next step.

Don’t make the mistake of simply trying to turn your P3M3 assessment inside-out

It is tempting to look at the results of a P3M3 assessment and say “OK, what we need to do is fix the weak areas”. Then the organisation sets about tackling each area one-by-one. The flaw in this logic is that the process perspectives within P3M3 are interrelated, and must be addressed holistically. This is evident from the frameworks that are commonly used as the cornerstones of portfolio, programme and project management capability – MoP, MSP, PMBOK, PRINCE2, P3O etc. They are not designed to be broken into individual stand-alone elements that are used separately from one-another.

So for example, an organisation cannot address benefits management in isolation if it also has significant weaknesses in stakeholder engagement – the two go hand-in-hand.

Be very clear about what you want to use the disciplines for – and why

There are three disciplines measured by P3M3®, which people often talk about in a single breath - Portfolio Management, Programme Management and Project Management.  However they are very different. While there are linkages between them, when it comes to what you do to improve capability they can – and should – be tackled individually.

Having understood that there are three disciplines in play, an organisation needs to make a conscious choice as to what each discipline will be used for. Sound obvious? It isn’t. For example, should your programmes stop at your organisational boundary, or should they work beyond that boundary? Is it sensible to run a single ICT-enabled change portfolio, or should you run multiple portfolios that reflect discrete service or policy areas? It could well be enlightening for your executive team to have a conversation around what kind of activity they think should be managed with each discipline – and why.

The why question is critical. 

You shouldn’t manage key changes with these disciplines because the project management fraternity think that is they way to go. You should do so because doing so will bring some advantage to the organisation – a way to manage uncertainty and complexity, increased certainty of delivery, reduced risk, better communication with suppliers etc. If your executive can’t articulate what they hope to gain through enhanced portfolio, programme and project management, there is no business case for your capability improvement plan. That is a serious problem!

Focus on people not processes

Hang on you cry, isn’t this maturity all about having processes? Yes, but it is about having processes that people really understand and apply because “That is the way we manages changes here”. There is no value creating management frameworks, manuals and templates which describe a theoretically ideal world but only sit there as shelf-ware while managers do something different.

Your capability improvement plan must be an exercise in stakeholder engagement that brings everyone on the journey. As champions of change, PMO staff and others need to inhabit the world that managers live in and help them learn new skills. The plan must be explicit in identifying which change initiatives will adopt new practices, how and when.

Practice what you preach

By which I mean don’t just write a capability improvement plan as a document, but rather run capability improvement as a change initiative – i.e. as a project or a programme in its own right.

This will both lead you to think about what you are trying to do in a structured way but also serve as an example to others. It helps bring clarity to all the things we espouse to others, such as:

• who is the sponsor for capability improvement;
• what is the business justification for it;
• what are we going to create or change; 
• how will we go about it;
• what resources are required, and 
• what are the risks etc.

Too busy fighting the war with bows and arrows to buy a rifle?

John Howarth

"Too busy fighting the war with bows and arrows to buy a rifle?" is one of my favourite sayings, and although it is an old one, I still think it has plenty of applicability in this day and age to the way we manage the programmes and projects in our portfolios of change.


“I’m flat out”

“I’m under the pump”

“We’ll need to reschedule”

If you are working in the world of programmes and projects you will be all too familiar with these phrases and what goes with them – long hours, the feeling of being overwhelmed, the feeling that you are not on top of things and that life is racing along and you do not have the time to do anything properly.  This is the modern working environment.  A world full of pressure and challenges and not enough time to deal with them.

Bows and Arrows

So what is our response to this environment?  My observation is that it is fairly chaotic, and under pressure, many of us revert to ‘bows and arrows’ to run our change initiatives.  Let me give you some examples.


The weapon of choice for many.  You can create them at all times of day and night, pack them full of what you think needs to happen and then fire them into the unsuspecting crowd.

Impromptu meetings

Actually meetings is a generous term.  Accidental discussions might be closer to the mark.  Someone raises a matter, and the manager says “right, lets have the conversation now” and pulls whichever team members happen to be in the vicinity into the room to “sort things out”.  Two hours later and you have a full whiteboard which will serve as the plan for the next couple of weeks.  Or at least until the next impromptu meeting.


Those who know me or read my blogs regularly will know that I have hit this one many times before, but I think it bears repetition.  Are you unable to make things happen in your organisation?  The easy answer is to sit in a corner and spend a couple of weeks filling in a template that paints the perfect picture of what you would like to see happen.

And why do we work this way?  “Because we don’t have enough time for all that project management stuff. It just creates an overhead and paperwork and I need to press on and get the job done”.  Then off the project warrior goes into the fray, firing off emails, holding impromptu meetings and filling in templates.


I am no weapons expert, but my understanding of a rifle is that there are a few key elements such as,  

  • Training – you need to know how to use it.
  • Loading – there is a brief but important sequence of things you need to do before the rifle is ready.
  • Aiming – making sure you are pointing it at the right thing.

I would like to suggest that the Cabinet Office frameworks Management of Portfolios (MoP), Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), PRINCE2 and Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O) can serve as well aimed rifles for the delivery of change – if you are trained, and spend time on the brief but important sequence of activities involved in definition/initiation.

Are We Running a Programme (or a Program) or a Project?

John Howarth

Are we running a programme or a project?  That is a common question and one that attracts an increased level of debate when there is a P3M3® assessment underway.  So I will share my thoughts and invite other people to enter the discussion based on their experiences.

Spelling doesn’t matter

OK, let us get this one out of the way.  It doesn’t matter whether you using the spelling ‘programme’ or ‘program’. What does matter is the meaning attached to the word.  For this reason I have suggested to Government agencies – admittedly with very little success so far – that they use the spelling ‘program’ for traditional Government programs, and use the spelling ‘programme’ for delivery of major change initiatives.  Bottom-line: be clear what it means in your organization.

Definitions do matter

I want to put reference some definitions here, not just for the sake of it, but because I think it is central to answering the headline question.

The parliamentary website defines a program as:

“Activity that delivers benefits, services or transfer payment to individuals, industry and/or the community as a whole, with the aim of achieving the intended result specified in an outcome statement.” (An outcome is “the intended result, consequence or impact of government actions on the Australian community”.)

In its best management practice guidance the UK Cabinet Office defines programmes and projects as:

“Programme: a temporary, flexible organization structure created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to an organization’s strategic objectives.”

“Project: a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business outputs according to a specified business case.”

The answer:  It is a matter of choice

Have another look at those definitions because therein lies the answer to the question.  The key words are “temporary” and “create”. From a best practice perspective - P3M3®, MSP®, PRINCE2® etc - a programme is a programme or a project is a project because you choose to create a temporary management structure. Nothing is inherently a programme or a project, it is simply an initiative with certain characteristics. Sure, if you look at the management tests they will provide ‘compare and contrast’ listings examining the characteristics of each. Ultimately, however, it is a choice that needs to be made: “should we run XYZ as a programme or a project?”.


In my opinion the implications are significant in that Government agencies in particular should be very clear about who is making these choices and on what basis.

  • Should you run the establishment of a new program as a programme?
  • Should you run a new program as a programme from cradle to the grave? 
  • Should you run some of the program as a project? 

I think these questions deserve a far more considered response than “That’s not how you spell it”.

Who is making these choices in your organization and on what basis?  I’d love to hear your views.

We Will Manage Portfolios On The Beaches…

Daniel Oyston

I recently read a book Churchill’s Bunker, which describes the headquarters from which the British war effort was directed.   As I read it became clear to me that in fact this was an early example of what we now know as portfolio management.

Portfolio management is a coordinated collection of strategic processes and decisions that together enable the most effective balance of organisational change and business as usual.  It ensures that change initiatives are agreed at the appropriate management level, measurably contribute to and are prioritised in line with strategic objectives and business priorities, and reviewed regularly for progress and ongoing strategic fit.

I have aligned some observations about Churchill’s Bunker to the principles of MoP.

Senior management commitment

Britain’s experiences in the First World War, and the predicted effects of enemy bombing, led to a decision that underground “Cabinet War Rooms” should be available in the event of war to enable the government to continue to function effectively.  After they were constructed in secret underneath Whitehall, Churchill visited them and declared “This is the room from which I will direct the war.” Churchill formed a cross-party War Cabinet to direct the war.

Governance alignment

Churchill sometimes sought what his military advisers perceived as action for the sake of action, without appropriate regard for the required resources (such as air cover) or of the risks – “Churchill is always expecting rabbits to come out of an empty hat.”  However Churchill’s trusted advisers would challenge him when necessary, acting as “critical friends” exhibiting the champion-challenger model. 

Responsibilities for strategy, the war economy, and the allocation of resources could not easily be separated.  In response a Defence Committee, headed by Churchill, was established in the Cabinet War Rooms.  This Committee supervised the conduct of the war not just in terms of grand strategy but also with regard to the conduct of operations, and enabled Churchill to directly supervise military decisions.  Colocation of key military and civilian staff assisted with breaking down traditional silos between the services and between civilian and military leadership.

Strategy alignment

To effectively define a portfolio, it is essential to understand the strategic objectives and to appropriately balance management attention and resources amongst them.  Churchill famously defined the grand strategy for the war in a shared, inclusive and engaging vision for the future in his speeches (“victory at all costs”, “we will never surrender”).  Further, Churchill’s focus was not just on winning the war, but also on managing and realising the “benefits” – the post-war environment and Britain’s place in it.

Portfolio office

A key function of a Portfolio Office is to provide appropriate and reliable information that enables the ‘right’ decisions to be made, including regular progress reporting. A Map Room was the established as the heart of the Cabinet War Rooms and the ‘scoreboard’ of the war.  Information came to the map room from the individual war rooms of the three services and was then plotted on the maps.  This provided the ‘helicopter view’ of all change activities (such as convoys and troop deployments).  Important news was immediately passed on to planning staff, the Cabinet and to Buckingham Palace (the King’s right to be kept continually informed was scrupulously adhered to, ie King George VI was identified as an ‘I’ in the RACI framework).  A secretariat was established which prepared a daily summary for the Committee and helped planning staff to write proposals and reports. Churchill also established a separate statistical section which provided assurance and oversight of statistical reports ranging from the productivity of major dockyards to the accuracy of British bombing.

For most leaders of combatant powers the War was directed from static headquarters.  Churchill’s personal map room (a duplicate of the Map Room in the Cabinet War Rooms) was portable and went with him when he travelled.  At one stage the core of the Cabinet War Rooms, including personnel, procedures and equipment, was moved to Marrakesh and operated from there for several weeks while Churchill was convalescing after illness.

After the end of the war, Churchill was defeated by Attlee in a general election, the results of which were released during the 1945 post-war Potsdam conference.  A further illustration of the effectiveness of the “portfolio office” supporting the War Rooms is that Attlee, with a new foreign minister, was able to take over effectively representing Britain’s interests at the conference, because the other members of the British delegation remained unchanged.

Energised change culture

An important consideration in MoP is Organisational Energy, ‘the extent to which an organisation has mobilised the full available effort of its people in pursuit of its goals’.  The organisational energy resulting from Churchill’s leadership – in particular, his inspirational vision and leading by example – significantly contributed to Allied success.  As identified as a key to success in MoP, the Cabinet War Room created an environment where people could excel and where needless bureaucracy was recognised and removed.

As assessed in Churchill’s Bunker:

The most important feature of this tight and effective organisation…
was the combination of… authority with… [expert] advice,
and much of its effectiveness came from the centralisation of ultimate control.

Churchill’s Bunker – The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of Britain’s Victory, Richard Holmes, 2011