Home / Assessment / The Process is not the Objective

The Process is not the Objective

1.    Background

For quite a number of years, organisations have seen a need to prove their “excellence” in an objective way to their current and potential clients. This has led to a proliferation of standards, such as TQM, Six Sigma and, of course, the focus on the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) for high-tech companies. The Project Management Institute (PMI®) has followed suit with the Organisational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®). All of these, and similar, methods of assessment focus to a large extent on the consistency and cohesiveness of the way in which an organisation defines, adopts, applies and improves their processes.

The advantage of this approach is to the assessor: once the set of processes is defined, it becomes relatively easy to carry out an assessment, since the “evidence” is mainly in the form of the outputs of the processes, and this is easily proved or disproved.

The disadvantage is to the organisation being assessed since the correlation between good process management and good management is far from proved. It is certain that if an organisation cannot run its processes effectively, it will not succeed:  good process management is clearly a necessary condition for management excellence. However, it is by no means sufficient and just because something helps to avoid failure, does not mean that it will give you success: releasing the handbrake on a car will allow you to move forward, but without the ability to start the engine, you will not get very far (except downhill!).

On its own, for example, CMMI has been said to stand for “consistently mediocre management, institutionalised”.

2.    Best Practice: the Broader View

So, what is missing? The missing ingredients are: content and direction.

Process management provides a set of techniques, but technique without content or direction is little more than a mechanism for administrative self satisfaction.

Content comes from knowledge of the domain in which the processes are to be applied. PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) defines nine such knowledge areas, which together span the full set of knowledge and performance competencies required for effective project management.

Direction comes from leadership. This includes such skills as strategic planning, motivating and direction setting. For project managers these skills are listed in the “personal domain” in PMI’s Project Manager Capability Development Framework.

Focusing on processes for project management is like looking at your feet when dancing – it helps you avoid tripping over and making a fool of yourself, but you will never place you in great demand on the dance floor: that requires choreographic skills and the ability to delight your partner.

3.    A Slippery Slope

The current popularity of CMMI and other process-focussed “maturity” models has led PMI to place an increasing focus on process, in detriment to end-to-end project focus (such as life cycle management) and the content of the project management knowledge areas. In fact, with its forthcoming standards, PMI is currently only submitting the overall concepts and list of processes for standardisation: the rest of each document, where the knowledge-dependent content resides, will not be acknowledged in this way. The risk is that PMI will become increasingly associated with the Process Management Interface and lose its focus and reputation on the broader and more valuable concept of Best Practice.

4.    The Danger for the PMO

It is very easy for the PMO to find this approach attractive. As mentioned above, the attraction comes from the fact that it is fairly straightforward to audit compliance with process and so, like the drunk, searching for his keys under the street light rather than in the dark, where he had dropped them, they do it “because it is easier”. This does not encourage the culture of creativity and intelligent risk-taking that are required to create an atmosphere in which people feel motivated to succeed. No one ever leapt out of bed and rushed in to work singing “Hey ho, hey ho, we’re level three, you know!”

So, make sure that your PMO does not remove all spontaneity from the staff and sink to the level of becoming a Process Monitoring Oppressor!

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed!
Download 2019 Catalogue

About Kik Piney

Kik Piney
Crispin Piney, an instructor with ESI International, has developed and deployed technically advanced—and culturally complex—capabilities and services in both research and business environments for large multinational companies, advising on project management expertise enhancement throughout such organizations.
Mr. Piney is well known for his ability to link the theory of project management to practical examples taken from his work experience and from everyday life. He is a lively speaker who generates enthusiasm and interaction in his audience. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Imperial College, London, and is anAssociate of the Royal College of Science, London. He is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) and is a member of the PMI® France chapter. He is bilingual in English and French.


  1. Avatar

    good representation
    not got exactly what you mean by looking for things by easy ways.

    • Avatar

      What do I mean by “looking for things by easy ways”? I mean setting criteria or activities that are easy to achieve, because they are easy to achieve, although they are not correctly aligned with the objectives – e.g. looking where it is light, because the looking is easier, even though it is likely to be useless; or measuring the wrong things because they are easy to measure and you want to get some numbers. The applicability of this to the article is:
      • Measuring how consistently processes are applied, rather than whether they are applied effectively and intelligently (which is much harder to define and measure but is what you really want to know)

      One reason this is important to project management is that the more indirect a metric is from what you actually want to measure, the higher the risk that it can be falsified (accidentally or deliberately).

      Since measurement affects behaviour, we must make sure that the measurements we specify will encourage the correct behaviours. This is unlikely if we measure at the process level: I think we all have examples of having complained about something and being told “well I have to follow the procedure”. Easy often takes precedence over effective.

      Good question, not easy! Thank you

      • Avatar

        I would suggest that measuring how consistently processes are applied is one of the FIRST steps in “measuring and controlling” a process. Not necessarily a “wrong” way to measure or an activity undertaken just because it is easier.

        Once a range of compliance is identified, and an then an acceptable level of variance is defined, then one can move to a more mature step of measuring that process by considering the effectiveness and quality of both the process as well as the outputs delivered by compliance with the process.

        Capturing these metrics, you begin to actually compile measurable data that can be used to make a proven case to whomever to propose appropriate process change (or elimination) … ultimately improving the culture so that less of “following the process or procedure JUST for the sake of doing so” occurs.

        Make sense?

        • Avatar

          I am glad that I have generated a spirited and thoughtful response – the blog deserves a good discussion and your mail is very welcome!
          I was involved in the first edition of the OPM3 model and feel a fatherly interest in it (i.e. like all parents, I also see my offspring’s faults!). My criticism is that the published versions of OPM3 do not go far enough – as you say, OPM3 includes the existing standards, but I believe that it does not address the original intent. The original intent was also to identify whether the organizational environment was conducive to achieving the promise of project-based management (whence the “organizational” in the title). The current scope however is limited to evaluating whether the processes are carried out cohesively and consistently. There is an additional point I may come back to in more detail in a future posting, and that is that I find it totally illogical to have a maturity model of an “thing” (in this case Organizational Project Management – OPM) that does not have a standard of its own: you cannot define something by the rules for measuring it. There should be an underlying structure (OPM) that pulls all of the standards you mention (P, P, P, PMCDF, practice standards, exam specifications, etc.) together. That OPM, then, would be what should be measured, not components of its components (the processes within the separate standards).
          You ask: “What do you mean by `with its forthcoming standards, PMI is currently only submitting the overall concepts and list of processes for standardisation: the rest of each document, where the knowledge-dependent content resides, will not be acknowledged in this way.’ ” I should have said “current and forthcoming” as I was told by the standards people at PMI that all of the existing standards and all future releases are only submitted up to Chapter 3 (inclusive) for formal standardization – apparently because ANSI does not like its standards to be too long. If this is true and remains the case, then it is worrying since chapter 3 only gives brief process definitions, inputs and outputs, ignoring the tools and techniques as well as all of the skills-based descriptions in the Knowledge Areas of how they should be used. Of course, that does not stop us from using the whole of the publications as de facto standards in our environments, but I find it weakens the impact of the publications.
          I have no argument with your statement: “I would suggest that measuring how consistently processes are applied is one of the FIRST steps in `measuring and controlling’ a process.” My argument is that this should not be THE first step, as it is (as the medical profession puts it for clinical trials) a surrogate end-point, in that it is not a direct measure of what you wish to achieve. It is based on the assumption that consistent application of the processes is a good enough measure of the capability of an organization for the “application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to organizational and project activities to achieve strategic organizational goals through projects” which is OPM3’s stated goal.
          I do understand your point of getting compliance before improving the processes so as to have a steady platform on which to base changes but I see two dangers in this. The first is that compliance becomes an end in itself – and the final end. That is what I was arguing against in the posting. The second risk is associated with organizational change: if you force people to comply with a potentially maladapted set of processes, you will generate resistance as well as wasting time and effort by going in the wrong direction; they may then never adopt the improved ones. My recommended approach is: first design the organizational environment, then work on compliance. As examples
          • Effective Risk management is much more than the application – however compliant – of a set of 6 processes. You need to set up the risk culture and support network in parallel.
          • End-to-end project control depends on formal life cycle design and management. Where does process compliance ensure this?
          However, once you get this organizational project management design right, and know (rather than simply believe) that compliance with your specified methodology will be a guarantee of improved performance, then I agree with you when you say: “Capturing these metrics, you begin to actually compile measurable data that can be used to make a proven case to whomever to propose appropriate process change (or elimination) … ultimately improving the culture so that less of `following the process or procedure JUST for the sake of doing so’ ” occurs. So, start with Ella Fitzgerald with a chorus of “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results.”
          Are we closer to agreement – or at least mutual understanding?

          • Avatar

            This is a VERY interesting discussion, and I’m glad you responded so quickly!! I’m not sure I understand everything you are suggesting, but I will reread this a time or two.

            However, it appears you are suggesting an alternative FIRST step that a baseline measurement. I’d be interested in more detail from you. Perhaps it is strategic?

            I generally always do some kind of baseline assessment first, however it is rarely a full-on assessment! LOL (usually not worth the cost as there is rarely much process in place, and process is only one factor of my baseline assessment)

            When you say “measure of what you wish to achieve”. How can you “measure” a goal? Not clear what you’re explaining in this paragraph above.

            Thanks much for your input on the subject! With your background in OPM3, I’d LOVE to have an offline conversation!! I was just certified last year, so have been finding my way around the PMI-Certified OPM3 Consultant world this year – very interesting! LOL Please email me at elambert641@yahoo.com or elaine.lambert@us.sogeti.com if you would like to chat (perhaps email both initially so I don’t lose you in spam filter!).

          • Avatar

            My recommended steps are as follows:
            1. Determine how mature is “mature enough” for the organization (i.e. what you want to achieve)
            a. This is based on interviews, information about typical strategic projects [past and future], etc.
            2. Determine the level of skill (not process compliance) shown by the practitioners
            a. Project reviews and interview
            3. Determine the level of support provided by the organization
            a. Some will come from 2., the rest from interviews, role descriptions for managers, etc.
            4. Using 1, 2 and 3 determine the “gap” to be closed (knowledge, ability and, therefore, processes)
            5. Now you are ready to measure the compliance and consistency of application of the relevant processes.

  2. Avatar

    Perhaps you are not aware that PMI’s OPM3 model is absolutely based on Best Practices? It is fully-inclusive of ALL of PMI’s related standards, including the PMBOK, the Standard for Program Management, the Standard for Portfolio Management, and the Competency Model. However, there is not too much information publicly available on the model, so I can see how there may be misunderstandings of how the model works.

    What do you mean by “with its forthcoming standards, PMI is currently only submitting the overall concepts and list of processes for standardisation: the rest of each document, where the knowledge-dependent content resides, will not be acknowledged in this way.” Can you please explain further? WHICH forthcoming standards? They were just updated last year, and I’m not aware they are yet working on the next revisions.

    Appreciate any further insight you have!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Discover the new Adaptive Strategic Execution Programme

Get notified of new blog post weekly. Guaranteed spam and advert free.

We publish two new articles by leading thought leaders every week. Subscribe to our weekly digest email and never miss another blog post.

%d bloggers like this: