Competence Assessment Guidance

Danger! Competence Assessment Ahead

by Jan Underdown

Competence Assessment

Assessing project management competence with a 360o assessment tool can provide valuable insight into an organisation’s project management capability, if done for the right reasons, in the right way.  It can support focussed development of project and programme management talent – that can really improve the bottom line.

I had a recent conversation with a potential client a few weeks ago and it went something like this…

I have a group of project managers and would like a quick and dirty 360o assessment to see how good they are, and we would like to have the ability to benchmark them against similar organisations.”

Those of you who know anything about competence assessments will have observed that there are a few issues to deal with here!

Why are you assessing?

There has to be a conversation around what triggered the need for a ‘quick and dirty assessment’ as, in practical and ethical terms, there is no such thing. Or, there shouldn’t be….

There has to be a conversation around the objectives for the assessment.  

Why are you assessing?
Who are you going to assess?
How will the assessment be undertaken? 
Who will carry out the assessment? 
What will you do with the results? 
What will it prove?
How will the results from the assessment support your strategy and development plans?

One of my concerns from the initial conversation was around how the results would be interpreted and acted upon.

Who are you are assessing?

“To see how good they are”.  Why ask the question?  What triggered that question?  Is there an issue around confidence of project performance or trends in business performance?  Your customers’ views would be paramount in deciding if your business performance meets their expectations.  If not, they will use ‘two feet’ and walk away.  The type of assessment needed in this case may not be around the competence of your people, but perhaps on the processes that support your business.  Perhaps a P3M3 assessment would be more applicable – ‘a project management maturity model which provides a framework within which organisations can assess their current performance and plan for improvement when managing and delivering change’.

What is it you are measuring?

Now let us talk about benchmarking.  Some organisations will offer to ‘benchmark’ your people against similar industries and business sectors, but what value would this add?  They may be in a similar sector but perhaps working in a different environment.  What about the question of complexity?  Does your business face similar factors and situations to the benchmark data?  What would benchmarking prove? 

You could use a professional benchmark such as The Association for Project Management (APM) competence framework together with their aligned International Project Management Institute (IPMA) Levels D to A; or similar frameworks, but this is only a start. The assessment framework would have to be adapted to focus on the competence that is important for your business environment.  For example, if your organisation manages projects on behalf of a client, then some of your competencies would focus on client relationships, requirements management, scheduling, contract management and a bottom line focus, besides many others.  Other organisations, such as not-for-profit organisations, may have a very different focus.

4 step plan to project management competence assessment (1)

Managing a successful assessment is not difficult provided you have the necessary time, focus and expertise, yet many organisations are disappointed with their result.  This 4 step plan will ensure that both your project managers and your organisation will get the most value from the experience.  By the way, a competence assessment should be managed as a project.

1. Planning

Clarity of purpose enables organisations to ask the right questions and get feedback on areas of performance and behaviour that support your objectives.  The assessment questions should reflect the language and culture of your organisation, contain role-relevant questions and address interpersonal skills.

Spend time communicating with the stakeholders involved to inform, reduce fear and build trust.  Ensure they understand the who, why, what and how of the process and agree the degree of confidentiality.

2. Information gathering

Ensure the system you choose is fast and easy to use, offers flexibility in the way you run your assessment, collates information into a report for you and provides help desk support in case your project managers need it.  Feedback reports need to be clear, and easy to understand what the information is telling you.  Too many graphs, comparisons and averages can be confusing and misleading.

3. Managing feedback

The way feedback is managed has a huge impact on the value of your assessment and the action taken as a result, which can directly impact on ROI.  The feedback session should be facilitated by someone who is trained in managing assessment feedback.

4. Organisational learning

To get the best from the assessment, identify organisational learning as well as individual feedback.  Look for trends in feedback for possible areas of organisational strength and opportunities for improvement, areas of behaviour which can be improved and cultural dynamics which may or may not serve the organisation’s objectives.

Extract from Where is the organisational value in 360o feedback – Lynda Holt MA DipHE, RGN, FinstLM Director

What next?

Project management competence assessments can provide valuable developmental information to organisations with a real impact on ROI, if done in the right way for the right reasons.

Opportunity! Assessment ahead

CUPE International can offer a range of assessment based services from advice on conducting self-assessments to tailored PMO Templates, to P3M3 assessments. For further information on all of our project and programme consultancy options, get in touch with one of the team here.