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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.

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