Four Forces Converge To Accelerate PM Competence

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

For over 25 years, this writer has campaigned for improved project and program results, through increased PM competence, better processes, and smarter upper management practices. Our audience has not been limited to pm practitioners, but includes every project and program stakeholder, from team members, to resource managers and sponsors, functional managers, executives, and beneficiaries of projects. And we have seen massive success in those organizations that respond to the clarion call for increased role-competence, and PM performance. Or, as we call it, PM Performance (including Project, Program, and Portfolio Performance).

Now, converging forces suggest that the era for PM competence is approaching. Four recent events are a “heads up” for all PM practitioners in the USA, and around the world:

  1. IPMA-USA Publishes a Research Report on FAC-P/PM Competency
  2. Two Papers Identify What Executives Really Want in IT PMs
  3. PMI® Updates the PMP® Exam, Moving Toward Competence
  4. IPMA-USA Completes Our Suite of Role-based, Advanced PM Certs

In this posting, we briefly explore these four converging forces.

1. IPMA-USA Publishes a Research Report on FAC-P/PM Competency
Over the last year and a half, an IPMA-USA team has worked with USA Federal government officials across multiple agencies, to explore the strengths and opportunities in one federal certification for Program and Project Management, FAC-P/PM. Among the purposes of the FAC-P/PM program is to overcome a common situation, faced by many organizations in the USA today. Peter R. Orszag, in an OMB Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, said on June 28, 2010: “Federal Information Technology (IT) projects too often cost more than they should, take longer than necessary to deploy, and deliver solutions that do not meet our business needs.”

The IPMA-USA report, researched and written by Dr. Brent Hansen, Dr. Morgan Henrie, Timothy Jaques, and Michael O’Brochta, offers US Government Officials a roadmap to improve this situation. We think the US Government is already far ahead of many other organizations, including many enterprises: With this program they have embraced a competence-based approach, that goes beyond exam-based testing of pm knowledge. Further, the FAC-P/PM program targets levels of competence to roles, as has IPMA and IPMA-USA (IPMA-USA). The Moving Government Forward report is available for download at the IPMA-USA website.

The report recognizes the progress made in program and project management in the US Government; it cites findings and recommendations for acceleration of the program, and improvement of results. In the interests of even-handedness, the report does not explicitly recommend the addition of IPMA-USA’s 4-L-C, Four-Level Certification program. Our program assesses multiple specific roles of Program and Project Managers, with professionally assessed, advanced, PM performance competence-based Certifications. Any observer with an understanding of the US Government’s competence objectives, and of IPMA-USA’s certification offerings, would readily embrace our program. Such an action could measurably boost the FAC-P/PM program’s progress, and overall PM Performance. For that matter, it would do the same for any other government agency, in the USA and other nations.

2. Two Papers Identify What Executives Really Want in IT PMs
During the same period that IPMA-USA researchers were exploring the competence and performance improvement opportunities in US Government, another team of researchers, from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, were researching what recruiters and organization executives seek in IT project managers. The researchers, Dr. Deborah H. Stevenson and Dr. JoAnn Starkweather, published their findings in two professional journals, IPMA’s International Journal of Project Management, October 2010, Issue 7, and the February 2011 Project Management Journal, from PMI. Sorry that we cannot link you to these two papers; they are protected by their publishers.

The two papers are well-worth reading for anyone who cares about improved pm competence, and improved pm results. The audience of the two papers differs a bit, so the papers, based on the same research, emphasized different aspects of the researchers’ findings. Our interpretations and observations (you must draw your own conclusions from these excellent papers) include:

  • While recruiters appear to use easy-to-assess screening criteria, such as education and exam-based certifications, executives value those criteria as very low, viewing as much more important and relevant such factors as competence in leadership and interpersonal skills.
  • It would appear that the combination of technical, contextual and behavioral elements that IPMA and IPMA-USA certify are exactly what organization executives seek most in their Project Managers.
  • Of course, this is no surprise to IPMA-USA. One of the primary purposes for our founding is advance the practice of program and project management, with emphasis on performance competence.
  • It also follows that, while knowledge-testing exams can be a useful starting point, our more rigorous use of professional assessors, emphasis on interpersonal and leadership skills, and demonstrated competence, coincides with executive expectations.
  • The survey and papers are oriented towards Information Technology project managers; our experience is that the findings are probably just as valid across most other pm disciplines.

We look forward to the next research paper by Drs. Stevenson and Starkweather, and you can help. They are seeking qualified IT respondents to a research project that seeks the secret of Project Success. While the survey is long, you will find it fascinating to see the myriad factors that scholars have associated with IT project success. More importantly, your insights will help to refine the definition of project success.

3. PMI Updates the PMP Exam, Moving Toward Competence
In a separate, yet related event, the Project Management Institute has announced that, as of August 31, 2011, the exam for the Project Management Professional certification will change. Among other changes, it will now include test questions around “Cross cutting knowledge and skills.” These include competence elements that IPMA (International Project Management Association) and IPMA-USA have deemed to be important for years. Demonstrated competence in these elements is crucial to earning our advanced, role-based, professionally assessed certifications.

PMI has been on this competence path for a few years:

  • In 2003 PMI entered into a strategic relationship with IPMA to explore our certifications.
  • Since then, the word competence or competency has appeared on an increasing basis in exam specifications, articles about certification, and on the website.
  • PMI was, for a time, involved with the GAPPS initiative, Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards.
  • The 2nd Edition, Project Management Competency Development Framework, published in 2007, is a great reference for those with a project management certification who wish to improve their PM competence. It balances behavioral skills with technical areas of assessment. How do we know of this useful reference? We participated in the project to create it.

As a PMP and IPMA Level-D® certificant, this writer welcomes these market-driven moves. And, it appears from events 1 and 2 above, that these moves are timely. Gee, one of IPMA-USA’s taglines of the last 10 years, Celebrate the Competence Difference, is even more powerful than we thought!

4. IPMA-USA Completes Our Suite of Role-based, Advanced PM Certs
Your most useful of the four converging forces is IPMA-USA’s certification program completion. In this first Quarter of 2011, IPMA-USA has completed our full suite of role-based program and project manager certifications. We have been working on this portfolio of projects for over eight years: First, Ron Waller moved IPMA-USA certification forward, while William Duncan helped to found and structure the above-mentioned GAPPS. Then, Duncan (who was also primary author of the original PMBOK® Guide) assumed the lead role in IPMA-USA’s certification program. Thanks to Duncan, Waller, and all our other contributors!

What is in this unique IPMA-USA certification program?
IPMA-USA’s certifications begin with exam-based PM certifications, and then progress to advanced, professionally-assessed certifications:

  • IPMA Level D®, Project Associate; an exam-based certification for team members
  • IPMA Level C®, Project Manager; includes an essay-based exam, and professional assessment
  • IPMA Level B®, Senior Project Manager; for Managers of complex projects
  • IPMA Level B®, Program Manager
  • IPMA Level A®, Senior Program Manager; for Managers of complex programs

Our exam-based IPMA-D certification is a firm foundation for developing PM competence and performance. And, in addition to being great for beginning project managers and team members, it is perfect for practitioners in project-related disciplines, such as proposal management, business development, engineering or architecture. The IPMA Level D exam does not require a certification preparation class; it requires grasp of the USA National Competence Baseline, and an additional recommended reference. Most-important is to practice competent project management for several years. For those who need a brush-up, we can recommend IPMA-USA Competence Enablers, learning and training organizations that can help you develop PM Competence, with IPMA Level-D in mind.

IPMA-USA’s advanced certifications are more rigorous than some people expect. We require a portfolio of evidence from a completed project; the certificant must demonstrate, to professional assessors, their role in the delivery of each of the required criteria. They must show end-to-end management of the initiative, not just part of it, and not just serving as a task manager. They must be able to respond to follow-on assessor questions that one cannot prepare for—without having demonstrated results. Those who can demonstrate their performance in their role receive a PM certification that helps them truly stand out from the crowd of PM certificants.

PM Competence Convergence in the USA is due to the efforts of many. These are practicing project managers, who have insights into the need for improved PM Performance in the USA, in business and in government. This convergence is accelerated with the drive for improved project and program results, that every organization deserves and increasingly demands. PM Competence and the resulting Performance–highlighted by the converging forces mentioned above–is increasingly important for every PM Practitioner today.

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