8 Steps to Project Management Competence

8 Steps to Project Management Competence –
don’t ignore the elephant in the room

Jan Underdown

Project Management CompetenceThe designation, Chartered Project Manager is more popular than ever before – change is picking up speed, driven by the business environment, and we need good, effective project and programme managers to deliver the competence to provide desired outcomes and benefits.

But, where are we going to get the competent professionals needed to manage our ever expanding portfolio of initiatives?  You could consider recruitment, but guess what? Good project managers are in short supply!

Developing your project management capability needs to be addressed, and organisations can’t continue to ignore it.  This doesn’t mean just sending your people on a 5-day project management course and expecting them to come back fully formatted, ready to manage any project.  Having a qualification and understanding the theory does not make you a project manager.

Projects are often allocated to people with spare capacity, and they are expected to manage the project on top of their day job, which places these people under a great deal of stress. Project managers can feel unsupported, lonely, exposed, scared. They end up scrambling for resources to manage their projects, so business -as-usual will win every time, leaving the project manager frustrated – and we still expect them to deliver. The projects they are trying to manage are not seen as a priority; yes, we want the benefits but not the required change, or the aggravation, or the commitment.

The sponsor, if identified, may not have the authority or the commitment to kick the doors down and get resources and support for their project manager.  An ineffective sponsor can make managing a project like ’pushing the elephant up the stairs’!

Project Managers are the people at the sharp end of developing the capability that should enable the desired outcome and benefits.  If they fail, it is often perceived as the fault of the project manager, who will take the failure personally and may lose the confidence to manage another project.  Worse still, the profession and organisation loses a valuable resource when the project manager in question leaves under a cloud.

So, we all need to face up to this situation and tackle the ‘elephant in the room’. 

8 Things you need to know about your project management organisation:

1. How many projects is your organisation managing right now?

This is one of the first steps to identify your portfolio of change initiatives (projects and programmes).  Just by identifying them you could obtain a single, complete view of the organisation’s portfolio including costs, benefits, schedule, risks and performance to date.  Your next step is to ensure that all your initiatives are aligned and support the strategic direction of your organisation.

2. What level of complexity?

How hard are your projects to manage?  Often, the cost of a project is used as an indicator of how difficult it will be to manage, but there are many other factors, such as numbers of stakeholders and clarity of scope, that add to the management challenge.  You could categorise your projects by using something like the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) CIFTER.  CIFTER is a set of seven factors designed to help categorise projects in terms of their management complexity.

3. Do you understand what good looks like in terms of project management competence at each level of complexity?

Having completed the first two steps, you will have developed a picture of your current projects/programmes in terms of their levels of management complexity.  But, what does a good project manager look like in terms of their competence and ability to manage at each level of complexity?  For example, would you assign a project manager with little experience to a high complex project and expect them to deliver?  Hopefully not. 

Our experience and research shows that as managing complexity increases, the competence of the project manager changes.  The development of competence based role profiles for project managers is beneficial in identifying the required competence for each level of complexity.  I was once told that “there is no such thing as a complex project, just an incompetent project manager”.

4. Who are your project managers?

You may have people with the title of project manager, but how many are managing projects with their role?  Most of us didn’t have project management as a career choice and it has often been cited as a second career.  I have often thought that project management chooses you; project people have innate skills that set them apart.  You know, that ‘can do’ attitude, high energy, gets things done, good communicator, likes organising, good with people.  Project management tools and techniques can be developed more easily and training can embed these values

5. Are your current project managers equipped in terms of knowledge, skills, behaviour?

A competence assessment could be used to identify a baseline of current skills, together with the desired skills for the roles and the level of management complexity your project managers are expected to undertake.  This would provide a gap analysis.

6. What do you need?

Not only do you need to consider your current portfolio of initiatives, but also those in the pipeline.  So how are you going to fill the gaps?  Recruitment is one option.  Your project management competence based role profiles will help with the recruitment and development of your new project managers.  Armed with your portfolio and project complexity profiles, you can now develop a career path for your project managers.  Having the ability to grow and develop within an organisation is a very potent motivator. You may have ‘hidden gems’; those people with valuable innate, transferable skills that would make excellent project managers, given the chance.

7. How are you going to develop and support them?

As we said before, training courses are only a start.  The 70:20:10 formula holds that only 10 percent of professional development comes from formal traditional courseware instruction and other educational events.  Employees learn 20 percent through a variety of activities that include social learning, coaching, mentoring, collaborative learning and other methods of interaction with peers. Encouragement and feedback are prime benefits of this valuable learning approach.  Hands on experience (70 percent) is the most beneficial for employees because it enables them to discover and refine their job-related skills, make decisions, address challenges and interact with influential people such as bosses and mentors within work settings. They also learn from their mistakes and receive immediate feedback on their performance.

8. Do you have the capability and capacity to deliver your desired portfolio of change initiatives?

As well as the right resources, with the right capabilities and motivation, you will also require effective project management process frameworks, with integrated systems and tools to provide consistency.  Tailored to meet organisational requirements, they have to be well implemented and embedded and used effectively to support information needs for planning and monitoring your portfolio of initiatives, a key part of which is resource management.  You could consider using a model such as Praxis Framework to develop your organisation’s project, programme and portfolio management maturity.

Addressing the elephant in the room is not going be easy, but we really need to tackle the issue of project management competence. 

Please contact CUPE to discuss how we can help you.