Tag Archives: PM Performance

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

Exploding the Myth of PM Best Practices

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
What are the Best Practices in the world of project and program management (PPM)? Are there a few immutable truths that are transferable across nations, organizations, industries, cultures, and project teams? I often see assertions promoting PM Best Practices—despite my belief that the phrase is an oxymoron—that our discipline is not yet mature enough to have universal best practices. This article is a recap of many discussions on best practices over my years as a PM practitioner, then as a consultant.

best_practiceMy opinions about PM Best Practices go back to the early 1980s, when, as a PPM consultant, I frequently encountered executives, line managers, project managers, and other consultants, who expected to hear my handful of easy-to-implement “PM Best Practices.” In that era, I often made recommendations for improved effectiveness, but I called them “Competitive Practices.” And I usually sought, uncovered, and identified them from within their own organizations. I understood over thirty years ago that one organization’s best practices could be a scourge for others. Here’s why… 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?

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?

Ten “New” Rules

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

Hal Macomber writes a lot of good stuff about soft skills in project management. Here’s a link to one of his posts that I like. Stop by and tell him I said, “hi.”


Why did I put “new” in quotes? Because there really isn’t much that’s new in Hal’s list. These are all things that I was taught to do way back in the 1980s and 1990s. So why have so many project managers lost their way?

I think one of the key contributors is our community’s credentialing practices: so many people are cramming for exams rather than learning how to manage a project. And so many corporations are rewarding the successful test-takers with positions of responsibility that they simply aren’t prepared to handle.

That’s just another reason why I like our performance-based assessment process. If you want IPMA-USA to grant you an advanced certification, you better be able to provide evidence that you’ve actually managed a project and managed it successfully.

Your Comments?

Are activities part of the WBS?

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

I got an email earlier today from an IPMA-USA member who wanted an answer to the title questions above. I told him “yes,” and he then quoted my words from the 1996 version of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge back to me:

“The activity list must include all activities which will be performed on the project. It should be organized as an extension to the WBS to help ensure that it is complete and that it does not include any activities which are not required as part of the project scope.” (emphasis added)

To me, this argument is a total waste of time. This is project management’s version of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” If I take the lowest level of the WBS, and break it up into 4 activities, why not just include those 4 activities as part of the WBS? Why maintain two lists? Where is the added value?

Why did I change my position? Actually, I didn’t. The words in the 1996 document represented political expediency. During reviews of various drafts, there were a bunch of people who either (a) confused the CWBS with the WBS, or (b) worked in construction where the prime doesn’t develop a complete WBS. Both groups insisted that activities should not be part of the WBS as they understood it. I accommodated them.

So while the activities may be separated from the WBS on some projects or in some application areas, the split is artificial. You can take the drawers out of your dresser and say that the drawers aren’t part of the dresser. But why?

Some may argue that the WBS contains deliverables which are nouns, while activities have a noun and a verb. True enough, but keep in mind that any deliverable can be described as an activity, and any activity can be converted into a deliverable by dropping the verb.

When we certify at IPMA-USA, we are concerned with whether or not a project manager produces results. Whether you include activities in the WBS or not may be interest to people who are writing trick questions for knowledge-based exams, but we’ll stick to evaluating performance.

Your Comments?

The rush to licensure

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

The idea of licensed project managers has been discussed off-and-on for nearly 30 years now. With the Association of Project Managers in the UK apparently on the verge of getting approval from the British government to begin chartering project management, the discussions are heating up again.

In case you’re not familiar with the British system, “chartering” is effectively the same as licensure. Accountants in the UK are “chartered” and this credential is an almost exact analog for the Certified Public Accountant in the USA with requirements a matter of law.

Personally, I’m ambivalent. I think there are arguments for licensure and arguments against.

I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in the topic start by doing a little research. Begin by reading (or at least skimming) “The System of Professions” by Andrew Abbott. Here’s the publisher’s blurb from Amazon:

In The System of Professions Andrew Abbott explores central questions about the role of professions in modern life: Why should there be occupational groups controlling expert knowledge? Where and why did groups such as law and medicine achieve their power? Will professionalism spread throughout the occupational world? While most inquiries in this field study one profession at a time, Abbott here considers the system of professions as a whole. Through comparative and historical study of the professions in nineteenth- and twentieth-century England, France, and America, Abbott builds a general theory of how and why professionals evolve.

Next, dig into both sides of the argument in the Harvard Business Review:



Then — and only then — weigh in with your opinion. This is not about “is project management a profession or not?” where the answer depends solely on which definition of “profession” you use. This is about the future: will the discipline of project management be ruled by elected officials? Or will it continue to be driven by practitioners?

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.


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?