Category Archives: Understanding Competence

You Might Be a Project Manager If…

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
Several years ago, I had a bit of fun with the title of this posting; I suggested the usefulness of a Jeff Foxworthy comedy routine for project managers and business analysts to a good friend, Tom Hathaway, of BA Experts. He followed through with the idea at his website. Click his link and see Tom’s results; I think he did a great job!

pm-sat-triThis year, the “You might be …” set-up came to mind as I was putting the finishing touches on an update to IPMA-USA’s PM-SAT; a self-assessment of Project Management knowledge, based on the new, 4th Edition of the IPMA (International Project Management Association) Individual Competence Baseline. What makes this 4th Edition ICB especially interesting is the inclusion of 2-5 Key Competence Indicators for each competence element.

But, before we get into that, and for those who are unfamiliar with the genre, let’s explore the Foxworthy theme. It started with a rather cruel statement, then a series of ‘interesting’ indicators. For example, “You might be a Redneck if…”  followed by something like, “The taillight covers of your car are made of red tape.” Cute, and fun; and not too outrageous. It occurred to me that people who are friends (or family) of project managers probably have similar sayings about us—but are too polite to divulge them to our faces.

Re-purposed For Project Managers: You might be a project manager if …  Continue reading

Can any PM run any project?

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

“Any PM can run any project.” This is simply not true. Anyone who asserts otherwise is either ignorant or horribly misinformed about what is necessary to run a project.

First, the statement addresses only the PM’s characteristics and ignores the project characteristics. But even if we focus on the PM’s characteristics, there are three kinds of domain knowledge: knowledge of the product of the project, knowledge of the project management practices (like preferential logic), and knowledge of the business context.

Knowledge of the product of the project is seldom required for the PM role even if organizational practices make it a requirement for the person-who-is-the-PM. The other two types of domain knowledge are far more likely to be relevant. And on any project of reasonably size and complexity, general management skills, specifically interpersonal skills, are far more important than any type of domain knowledge.

Second, some projects are inherently more complex either technically or managerially. A PM who has been successful managing the implementation phase of a small IT project using internal resources is likely to drown if asked to manage a politically sensitive EPC project with 12-15 contractors.

Your Comments?

Indicators of PM Competence

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

I haven’t been very reliable about posting here regularly. Part of the reason is that I often get involved in LinkedIn discussions about subjects that are near and dear to my heart … like project management competence. So in lieu of copying my comments in here, please take a minute to skim this thread:

What are the true indicators of PM competence?

And don’t forget to pay particular attention to my comments!

Your Comments?

Performance Based Competency

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

I’ve been getting a fair number of questions recently about “performance based competencies,” and it’s been quite a while since I posted anything here, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and post something on the topic. The following text is adapted from the GAPPS Project Manager Framework.

Competent comes from the Latin root competere which means “to be suitable.” In today’s workplace, the term “competent” is generally used to describe someone who is sufficiently skilled to perform a specified task or to fill a defined position — a competent physician, a competent salesperson, a competent plumber. Organizations are interested in assessing the competency of individuals in order to guide employment and development decisions.

Broadly speaking, there are two major approaches to defining and assessing competency:

  • Attribute based wherein personal attributes such as knowledge, skills, and other characteristics are identified and assessed. Competence is inferred based on the presence of the necessary attributes.
  • Performance based wherein work outcomes and performance levels are identified and assessed. Competence is inferred based on the demonstrated ability to satisfy the performance criteria.

At IPMA-USA, we use the latter approach. Performance based competency assessment was invented by the US Army, and today, it is widely used throughout the world. For example, government endorsed standards and qualifications frameworks in Australia (Department of Education, Science and Training), New Zealand (New Zealand Qualifications Authority), South Africa (South African Qualifications Authority), and the United Kingdom (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) are all focused primarily on performance based competency assessment.

Our performance based competency assessment looks at the following two questions:

  • What is usually done in this occupation, profession, or role by competent performers?
  • What standard of performance is usually considered acceptable to infer competence?

We answer these questions by defining:

  • Units of Competency

A Unit of Competency defines a broad area of professional or occupational performance that is meaningful to practitioners and which is demonstrated by individuals in the workplace.

  • Elements of Competency

Elements of Competency describe the key components of work performance within a Unit. They describe what is done by individuals in the workplace but do not prescribe how the work is done. For example, project managers must “define risks and risk responses for the project,” but they can do it themselves or delegate the work to others. In addition, there are many different tools and techniques that they could use.

  • Performance Criteria

Performance Criteria describe observable results and actions in the workplace from which competent performance can be inferred. Performance Criteria can be satisfied in many different ways; there are no mandatory approaches, tools, or methodologies.

  • Explanatory Statements

Explanatory Statements help to ensure consistent interpretation of the Elements and the Performance Criteria by expanding on critical or significant aspects of them to enable consistent application in different contexts.

This approach is both consistent with and compatible with generally accepted practice within the field of competency development and assessment.

The Units, Elements, and Performance Criteria are not linear or sequential: there is no requirement that the work be done in any particular sequence or that the Performance Criteria be satisfied in any particular order. In addition, some Performance Criteria can be satisfied with relatively little effort while others will require a substantial commitment from the project manager over the full length of the project.

Our Performance Criteria address threshold performance — demonstration of the ability to do something at a standard considered acceptable in the workplace. They do not measure superior performance — what the best project managers do. Superior performers should, however, be able to satisfy the threshold criteria without difficulty.

We assess against the minimum number of Performance Criteria needed to infer competence. As a result, a candidate must satisfy all of the Performance Criteria in the applicable Units in order to be viewed as competent. In addition, the Performance Criteria represent different levels of detail. The number of Performance Criteria in a Unit or Element is not proportional to the amount of time or effort that a project manager must spend in that area to be viewed as competent.

Your Comments?

More on Project Success

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

A slightly edited version of a recent LinkedIn post … this all started with a question that asked, “is scope, cost, and schedule enough to determine ‘project success.'” I responded with my usual position that “project success” is not an absolute, and that there were two dimensions to project success: project management success and product success. A couple of others continued to suggest using “project success” as the term for what I call “project management success.”

My most recent comment follows ..’

We’re close … my problem with “project success” is that the users/ owners/ clients/ customers/ sponsors for most projects could care less about how well managed the project was. They want their “thing” so that they can start using it to benefit the business. If we talk about “project success,” they are not going to understand us because the “project” to them is the “thing.”

In your shed examples [one built by hand and another built by a subcontractor], I disagree that different criteria are needed to measure project management success. For example, in both cases, we must select at least one measure of schedule success. There are many options:
— Delivery no later than the initial agreed date.
— Delivery within one week of the initial agreed date.
— Delivery at least one day before the delivery of the stuff going into the shed.
— Delivery no later than the final agreed date as adjusted due to scope changes.

One of these (or some other variant) would be agreed at the start. Once the criteria are agreed, it’s up to me as the PM to decide whether I should build the shed myself or contract it out.

Based on the success criteria, if you are a competent project manager, you may decide to include a contingency for a subcontractor’s heart attack. But if I’m the sponsor, I am not going to assess every decision you make: I am going to evaluate the results. Can you meet the schedule success criteria without being a good PM? Yes. Can you meet all of the PM success criteria without being a good PM? Unlikely without a co-dependent sponsor.

If you decide to manufacture the shed in bulk … that is a completely different endeavor with no relationship to the first one. The development of the product road map, design variants, and the rest is a project. The implementation of those plans is, indeed, product management and (as I have said from the beginning) has different success criteria. The product planning could have been part of the initial scope (with the first shed being a prototype), and we would still need separate sets of criteria for assessing the project management results and the product results.

But even without the bulk manufacturing … there are product/ benefit/ outcome criteria for the initial shed. The specs neglected to specify which model tractor, so the designer made an assumption, and the client signed off. Now the tractor is delivered, and it doesn’t fit. The shed is not fit for use (the “product” is a partial failure) despite the fact that it was well-managed.

One final repeat: the Project Manager is NOT responsible for delivering the product results. Just for being aware of what they are and doing their best to make sure that the project management success criteria support them.

Your Comments?

Art or Science?

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.
Once again, from a LinkedIn discussion … someone posted a question. “Is project management an art or a science?” There were nearly 30 comments, most of which argued “both,” and most of which leapt right into the discussion without bothering to define their terms. So here is my post:

As is my wont, I checked the dictionary …
There are two definitions of science: the study of the natural world, and an organized body of knowledge. Project management does NOT meet the first definition; it does satisfy the second. So we can say PM is a science, but not according to the most common definition.

As well, there are two definitions of art: producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power, and skill at doing something. Project management does not meet either definition, although GOOD project management would satisfy the second. So again, we can say that PM is an art, but not according to the most common definition.

More to the point … what difference would knowing the answer make to you when managing a project? I suspect the answer is “none.”

On the other hand (and my biases are showing here) … would you rather hire a project manager who has proven their knowledge of the science of project management, or one who has demonstrated their grasp of the art? Would you rather hire a project manager who has passed a multiple choice exam? Or one whose performance has actually been assessed against a set of defined criteria?

Your Comments?

Why do we repeat our mistakes?

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

According to research, it’s because we don’t realize we’re making mistakes.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/the-anosognosics-dilemma-1/?ref=global-home

Here’s a quote from the above to whet your appetite:

“[It’s] not just that people said these positive things about themselves, but they really, really believed them. Which led to my observation: if you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.”

This would seem to explain a lot. In particular, it would seem to explain my prior rant: there are a ton of incompetent project managers out there who just don’t know enough to know that they are incompetent.

Experience does not assure competence. Testing for knowledge does not assure competence. The only way to even have a chance at determining competence is to have someone who is competent assess you. So … sign up today!

Your Comments?

Can’t anybody here play this game?

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

My Dad always rooted for the underdog. As a result, I hated Casey Stengel and the Yankee’s with a passion … until Casey took over the hopelessly inept Mets, and then he became one of my favorites. The quote above dates from his experience managing the new New York team in its first year. If you google the phrase, you’ll also see that it is a popular heading for columnists ranting against what appears (to them at least) to be willful stupidity.

So … I’m a columnist … and here comes a rant …

Can’t anyone here manage this project?

Why is there so much apparent incompetence out there? I’ve been posting to a variety of LinkedIn discussions lately, and here are a couple of the things that people claim are common:

  • Project managers who reject changes that provide value.
  • Project managers who don’t know the difference between an estimate and a budget.
  • Project managers who don’t know the difference between scope and work.
  • Project managers who don’t understand that fixed price means fixed scope.
  • Project managers who don’t realize that a “construction project” is just one phase of an asset development project.
  • Project managers who think that schedule baselines can be established without considering resource availability.
  • Project managers who don’t know what float is.

I keep hearing that certification provides value by encouraging people to learn the fundamentals so that they can pass a test. Since many of the project managers referenced above seem to have been certified, what’s going on?

It’s really quite simple. Most project management certifications evaluate knowledge rather than performance. Let’s face it: getting the right answer on a multiple choice question is not nearly the same as being able to make the right choice on-the-job. Even those certifications that require experience generally don’t evaluate the quality of that experience. Would you want to hire a project manager who gained their experience delivering projects months late and 50% over budget?

To quote the Case again … “Don’t cut my throat. I may want to do that later myself.”

This is why we certify based on performance. Always have. Always will.

Your Comments?