Finding the right ruler to measure portfolio performance

Does your team have a clear expectation of how to win? Is the end goal absolutely defined? Probably not. Today, I’m going to offer insights on how to get your team there.

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.

One significant leadership challenge is setting an obvious flagpole at the end of some less-than-delivered idea. Meaning, we’re trying to mature. We want to evolve. Yet, we’re not precisely at what that endpoint looks like. The result is a confused team. They don’t understand the goal. They also don’t understand the strategy to achieve the goal.

There’s a project management portfolio maturity model that I want to share with you. Our story starts with a gentleman named Ken Crawford. He’s the CEO of a company called PM Solutions. Ken has been involved in the Project Management Institute (PMI) from the beginning. In 1994, he was the President and one of the executive officers of the Project Management Institute. This was when the concept of project management was taking off globally. It was a fascinating time of explosive growth for PMI. Ken isn’t just an academic; he’s also a practitioner. He sat for the PMP exam in January 1991. He’s absolutely part of the foundation of the project management global community. It was during PMI’s Global Conference that I first met Ken. I became involved with the Project Management Institute during the late ‘90s and earned my PMP credential in 2001. Amazingly, that was 20 years ago.

Ken’s been around the block. He authored a book called Project Management Maturity Model, which was first launched in early 2001, and its third and most recent revision was released in 2015.

The book explains well how to measure the naturalization of your teams, and it dials in to the heart of how to mature your team. Think less about the projects or the products you’re working on and more about the steps you want your team to go through. Envision the process maturity that you want your team to evolve and grow into. The type of team you lead doesn’t matter. You might be a DevOps leader or driving technical solutions or embedded in business operations. It  makes no difference what your team’s trying to accomplish. Instead, pay attention to the processes your team leans on to enable success. The quality and speed of your success are directly tied to the effectiveness of those processes.

Ask yourself what degree of maturity your team is performing at today. Your team doesn’t need to strive to be the most mature (see Level 5, below). Each step doesn’t require mouse-click automation. Your team might never want to be that mature. It’s a deliberate decision, and that’s just fine. What’s not fine is leading a team with no destination. Provide your team with a vision. Give them a flagpole to race toward. Make the objective clear to everyone.

Before selecting which maturity level to target, let’s frame the maturity levels:

  • Level 1 – initial process
  • Level 2 – structured process and standards
  • Level 3 – organizational standards and institutionalized process
  • Level 4 – a managed process
  • Level 5 – an optimized process

Level 1 is the initial level. At this level, everything is ad hoc. The majority of priorities evolve from fire drills. Unfortunately, at this level, activities and work don’t always get achieved.

Level 2 begins to introduce standardized processes. Requests and processes start to be repeatable. The work gets done, but barely. Activities are mainly unplanned and not well coordinated. Getting a job over the finish line continues to be a real struggle.

Level 3 processes are not only repeatable but are starting to be absorbed into the fabric of the organization. Processes that were once team or departmentally owned aren’t part of organizational best practices. However, processes are repeatable, and individuals and teams across the organization are educated on those processes.

Level 4 is all about being managed. At this level, the organization has connected life-cycle best practices and corporate standards to corporate processes. Often, managers will suggest, “That’s not how we do it in corporate,” or, “The process doesn’t work that way.” This isn’t a great sign of leadership, but it’s a great example that you’re comfortable with Level 4.

Level 5 turns our focus to optimization. At this stage, we’re interested in tuning, improving, and optimizing existing processes.

As you define what winning looks like, factor in how to evolve your maturity continually. Measure what matters. If you were to hire a carpet installer to carpet your upstairs bedroom, you’d expect that person to measure the space with a ruler. Why? They need to define the end state; i.e., how much carpet is needed to complete the job. This seems so obvious.

Why don’t we use a ruler or similar measuring device when evaluating team performance? Eyeballing doesn’t always work and introduces communication problems. What ruler are you using? How are you doing in defining “good?” Is your target destination clear to the team? Answer those questions for your team. Next, create a ruler to measure the progress of the group. Use this ruler to define the distance between where you are and where you need to be.

If you found this article helpful, that’s great! Check out my books, Think Lead Disrupt and Leading with Value. They were published in early in 2021 and are available on Amazon and at for author-signed copies!

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great day!

Previous articleHow to communicate business value for maximum impact
Next articleExplaining the buzz around non-fungible tokens
Peter is a technology executive with over 20 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail-oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.