Tag Archives: GAPPS

Imagine a World Where All Projects Succeed

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
trophyI have used this article’s title as my kick-off phrase at a half-dozen project-related keynotes and presentations over the last few years. Most audiences immediately “lean into” the thought, and its ramifications. For example, in Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tianjin, Brussels, and in the USA, my audiences immediately took notice, became engaged, and were eager to hear more.

This August (2015) was the first exception I’ve had to that typical reaction: As I voiced the introductory statement, I immediately detected disbelief among many in my audience. This was at one of the USA’s best PM Symposiums: I think this is one of the best because of the high-level audiences, the speaker selection process, and excellent event organization.

When I sensed this audience’s disbelief, I immediately asked the question, “How many think this (for all projects to succeed) is even possible?” Less than a quarter raised their hands. So I launched into an extended introduction, pointing out that …

  • Project managers cannot improve project (and business) success just by working harder. Most of us are already working our hearts out;
  • Nor can we improve performance by sending people to still more training;
  • Our team members? They are not only committed to our projects—they are over-committed;
  • And our stakeholders? They are engaged, and expect us to continue to make miracles happen.

No, (I asserted) it is our layers of managers, from first-level to the executive suite, who hold the keys to higher levels of success. And (I said), the purpose of this presentation is to identify seven key insights that can help our organizations to improve PM performance—and business success. The paper that supports that presentation is posted at the IPMA-USA website; but the purpose of this article is to further explore this question of disbelief. Continue reading

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?

GAPPS Program Manager Standard

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

GAPPS is the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards. IPMA-USA is a founding member of GAPPS, and we continue to be active in supporting their standards development efforts. We also use their standards as part of our implementation of IPMA’s Four-Level-Certification (4-L-C) Program.

GAPPS has recently released an Exposure Draft of a performance-based competency standard (PBCS) for program managers. You can download it here:


Comments are due by October 11.

Your Comments?

Designing a Certification Program: How to Certify (2)

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

Recapping from “How to Certify (1)” … certification is about assessing competence. Competence is intangible so it must be inferred from some kind of evidence. That evidence can be input-oriented or output-oriented. At IPMA-USA, we have decided to focus on outputs or results.

Why? Simple logic. If someone has already done the job successfully once, there is a much better chance that they can do it successfully again.

After looking at a number of alternatives, we decided to use a performance based competency standard (PBCS) as our measuring stick. Lots of reasons:

  • PBCS have been around for well over 20 years.
  • They are the preferred approach to competency assessment among most Human Resource Departments.
  • They are used in government-sanctioned competency assessment programs in countries such as Australia and South Africa.

We became a founding member of the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) and worked with GAPPS to develop a PBCS that would be compatible with IPMA’s Four-Level-Certification. Some of our assessors were initially skeptical, but they were won over the first time they did an assessment.

Explicit, pre-defined criteria provide a higher degree of validity than any other approach currently in use. A comprehensive set of questions enhances inter-rater reliability.

Not only that, but the candidates themselves were equally delighted. One of my favorite comments came from a Level B (Senior Project Manager) candidate: “Wow! I actually learned something in the process of being assessed!”

The GAPPS standard is available for FREE from www.globalpmstandards.org.

Your Comments?

Designing a Certification Program: When to Certify?

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

In looking at when to certify, we are not addressing season or time-of-day. We are looking at in a project manager’s career to certify. In this case, we went along with Jacqueline Susann and decided that once was not enough.

Our first certification, for the very start of a possible career in project management, is Project Associate (IPMA Level-D®). This is an exam-based certification that requires only six-months of experience working on projects. The exam has two parts: multiple choice questions to verify the candidate’s knowledge of project management fundamentals, and several short answer questions to verify understanding of key concepts. Reviewing the USA-NCB should be helpful, but any introductory book or course on PM fundamentals should be adequate as well. By design, you should not need any special “exam prep” courses to pass our test.

Our second certification comes after you have made a commitment to the discipline. This certification requires three years of full-time equivalent work as a project manager with real project management responsibility for reasonably complex projects. We use a version of the CIFTER table developed by GAPPS to assess project management complexity. You can find full details about the CIFTER on the GAPPS website (www.globalpmstandards.org) as well as an article about it on the IPMA-USA website.

This second certification is IPMA Level-C®. In addition to satisfying the experience requirement, you must also provide documentary evidence of your performance as a project manager. Preparing your evidence usually takes about 4-6 hours. Finally, you must demonstrate that you actually understood what you were doing and why by providing satisfactory answers to questions from two experienced project managers during a face-to-face interview.

The third certification (IPMA Level-B®) is for much later in your career when you have become a Senior Project Manager. Typically, you must have been managing projects full-time for over six years in order to qualify. The process is essentially identical to that for IPMA Level-C with one major difference: the management complexity of your projects must be significantly higher.

And if the practice of project management hasn’t driven you crazy, we’ll soon have a fourth certification for old hands who have experience as program managers.

Your Comments?