Project management career model in Ericsson Ireland--valuing project management skills for success

Introduction

The telecommunication industry is characterized by rapidly evolving technology in an increasingly competitive marketplace. In such an industry, valuing project management has specific challenges. On one side, it can easily be neglected at the expense of specific technology competence. On the other, as most of the activities are organized as projects, there is definitely need for competent project management professionals with developed leadership skills who would complete projects to the highest level of customer satisfaction. The Project Management Career Model (PM Career Model) of R&D Ericsson Ireland deals with issues mentioned above by putting in place a defined career path to attract, develop and retain world-class project managers, which is a major step in reaching operational excellence.

This paper goes into detail through the process of development and deployment of PM Career Model: achieving support from senior management, joint effort with HR function, reaching consensus promotion criteria, achieving buy-in, and roll out of the model. PM Career Model is defined as a competency based model-promotion is not based on organizational needs, job content, or years of service; it is based on demonstrated competence to successfully deliver projects with increasing levels of complexity. This paper looks at project complexity factors and examines three main competencies – occupation, human, and business competence. At the very end, it gives examples of organizational experiences after the PM Career Model was implemented, success stories of promoted project managers, and an example of how the local model influenced corporate R&D PM Career Model in Ericsson.

Background

R&D Ericsson Ireland, an organization with 900 employees, is one of oldest and biggest R&D centres in Ericsson. Historically, it was a fragmented organization working in number of areas within the telecommunications industry, parts of which operated more or less independently of each other. Project management centres of expertise (if they existed) were dispersed around the organization and there was only one project management career level – project manager. Needless to say, there was a lot of debate about career path without any concrete action being taken and the organization was finding it very hard to develop project managers. There was a certain level of frustration on the part of successful individuals who were committed to project management, but whose only option for advancement was to take senior level positions in functional organizations. Another negative aspect of the organization without a career path that would put structure around project management skills is that is easier for project managers to become lone riders, inflexible, over protective, and without the ability to see the bigger picture and sensitivity to stakeholder management. Also the lack of central mentoring and support for resolving issues such as scarce resources can easily result in conflict with functional managers and often is difficult for them to develop into well-rounded managers.

During the IT downturn in 2001, the organization went through a significant change. The fragmented R&D centre, working with Ericsson proprietary products, was transformed into modern open system development and customer support centre with responsibility for 3G radio network products. Such a centralized organization raised project management centres of expertise to a higher level and reduced their number, at the same time raising their expectations. Operation excellence became the name of the game for R&D and project management was seen as one of the important cornerstones to reach ambitious goals in that area.

Developing PM Career Model that would successfully capture organizational and individual needs, put values around project management skills, and be sufficiently robust to stand the test of time, became one of the most important goals of PMOs in the new organization. Such a career model would enable the organization to provide professional recognition and reward, retain project managers, provide opportunities for career planning, develop individuals for more demanding tasks, and ultimately increase organizational competitiveness and excellence.

There were still a number of challenges, the main one being the question of what makes a successful project manager and what project management competencies contribute mostly to project success within Ericsson R&D. There were a vast number of opinions, sometimes coming from different angles, frequently depending on the position in the organization. Senior managers, functional managers, program office managers and project managers would in broad terms have somehow different views on the subject. The main points of difference were:

  • Amount of telecommunications systems architecture and SW development knowledge versus general project management knowledge
  • Importance of leadership and soft skills

Two competence frameworks were available for the organization to be used as reference points:

  • Ericsson PM Career Path Framework; A generic framework that is recommended to be used by different parts of the corporation. As a framework it made a strong reference point to implement levels, but it needed to be developed with HR component and detailed description of competencies needed for different levels.
  • Ericsson Ireland Personal Career Path; A model used for technical careers that defines individual competence as a set of professional/technical, human and business competences, all three of equal importance.

A method that was found particularly useful was to take a look at individuals in Ericsson that were in charge of very successful projects and are seen as project management role models in the corporation – try to define the skill sets that makes them successful project managers and formalize it in a structured PM Career Model.

Development of PM Career Model

Development of the PM Career Model was set up as a small project, with a four-month timeline. Expected outcome was to get the PM Career Model approved and published and to get input and buy in from four different groups: senior management, program management offices (PMOs), project managers and functional managers. The working group consisted of representatives from three divisions and an HR consultant.

The following steps were identified in order to get the model approved:

1) Get senior management buy in and support

2) Secure Human Resources department ownership

3) Agreement between PMO representatives – working draft

4) Get functional managers and project managers buy in

5) Approval from senior management

These steps will be described in more detail in this chapter, together with the problems and solutions encountered at each step.

Get senior management buy in and support

Highly developed project culture, together with a move towards operational excellence made it quite easy for senior management to see business value in the career model for project managers. Kick off with senior management was therefore used to provide their input to career path by getting their opinion of competencies and levels. Senior management also gave strong commitment and support, which was of extreme benefit. It showed that the organization is valuing project management competence as one of strategic business competencies.

Secure Human Resource department ownership

The HR department should, together with other career models in the organization, also own the PM Career Model. Senior management support proved to be extremely valuable in getting the HR ownership quickly. HR appointed an experienced HR consultant, who started consultations with all three PMO representatives and prepared a draft document. As there were a number of groups involved, each with different opinions, getting HR ownership also proved to be helpful in mediation, dramatically shortening the time needed to get the consensus on paper. The working principle introduced by HR was “the minimum that everybody can live with”.

PMO representatives brought expertise related to job descriptions, experience, and competence needed for different levels. They were also the single point of contact between the group and divisions, being responsible to consolidate input from project managers and functional managers and achieve buy-in.

Agreement between PMO representatives – working draft

This proved to be the most important part of the process. Any proposal that had the consensus of the PMO representatives would carry significant weight and as such would have good chances of being approved and accepted with minor changes. At the same time, it put pressure on PMOs to discuss and resolve any differences that they might have. Two major points that needed to be discussed were as follows.

  1. What is the importance of telecommunication/software development (application domain) competence for successful project managers and how should that be captured in the career model?

    Using role models was a very helpful tool in reaching consensus. It was agreed that a good level of application domain competence is needed to be a successful project manager in the organization, but it doesn't make a distinction in senior project management levels. As application domain competence is crucial in technical promotions leading to the project manager position, it was considered to be sufficient from the PM Career Model perspective.

  2. If we select a model which is competency based, how can we connect it to the job size of the projects the person is currently running? Should there be a connection?

    This question is actually not a question once you select competence based model, but it does reflect organizational concern that more senior project managers could lead less complex projects and less experienced project managers might end up being in charge of more complex and bigger projects. Also, using a competency based model, there is a concern that the organization might end up with more senior project managers than it actually needs. As recent workforce studies show, highly skilled resources are becoming scarcer in every organization, so the first concern is really theoretical more than practical. The question about the number of senior project managers in the organization is a more difficult one, and the solution implemented was a centralized appointment system.

As soon as PMO representatives agreed on the final proposal document, they took the proposal in respective units to get both comments and buy in from the organization.

Get project managers and functional mangers comments and buy in

This is a vital step. All project managers must have a chance to review the proposal and respond with their comments. As some of them have been pushing for some time to get a career path up and running, they might have some valuable input that would cover both the personal and organizational impact they believe a career model should consider. When it comes to functional managers, they have strong views about project management as they usually work in a close and intense relationship with project managers and their input can not be neglected.

This was also an opportunity for PMOs to achieve buy-in from project management community, which is essential for the success of the career model. As stated before, the fact that the proposal presented to project managers was a joint consensus proposal by PMOs, speeded up the buy in process at the same time taking into consideration most inputs.

Approval from senior management

Once the group got a proposal that had buy-in from project management community, it was relatively easy for senior management to approve it. Still, it was an important step that senior management reviewed the PM Career Model and ensured it is in line with company expectations and strategy. The main purpose of starting the process with senior management, going through project management community and finishing with senior management was to ensure that both views on project management competence that contribute to project success are taken into account.

Deployment - Promotion

It is expected that in any organization that practiced project management as a partially institutionalised career path, there might be people that are already operating on senior project management levels. As this was felt to be the case in R&D Ericsson Ireland, it was decided to put the people through the process and aim for promotions immediately after the PM Career Model was published. Two main reasons for that were to show to the organization that this is a living model with achievable targets and to identify role models that project managers could refer to when aiming for more senior levels.

Developed package consisted of PM Career Model description, templates for proposals for different levels, and after promotions there were also two examples of how to put proposal together.

Project Management Career Model in R&D Ericsson Ireland

Application of the model

PM Career Model in R&D Ericsson Ireland defines three levels in project management career, describes the principles of application of the model and details competence requirements for every level. It is important to emphasise at this point that it is not “tick the box”, binary type of model. It is not the case that every specific criterion in every single competence must be met in every occasion. Pragmatic implementation of the principles rather than literal application is more in the spirit of the PM Career Model. Promotions are based on a written proposal and an interview, where the interview panel makes a recommendation and R&D manager makes an appointment based on it.

Three levels as defined by career model are :

  • Project Manager
  • Senior Project Manager
  • Master Project Manager

Two main parts of the PM Career Model are modified Ericsson competence model and the table with complexity factors. Appointment to each of these levels depends on demonstrated competence in all three areas of competence model through delivering projects with increasing levels of complexity.

The modified Ericsson competence model defines three parts of competence, all three with equal importance: professional/technical competence, human competence and business competence (Exhibit 1).

Ericsson Competence Model

Exhibit 1 – Ericsson Competence Model

Technical and Professional Competence
  • Project Management Competence – A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMOBK® Guide) knowledge, application of PMBOK® Guide process areas
  • Specialized Technical Competence – telecommunications, SW development knowledge
Human Competence
  • Relationship Builder – build teams, inspire trust, communicate effectively, create an open working environment
  • Competence Developer – manage and develop competence, foster lifelong learning, provide feedback recognition and reward
Business Competence
  • Business Manager – customer-oriented, business minded, market focused, leading change, promote one Ericsson
  • Innovator – process and performance oriented, promote empowerment and creativity, ensure fast moving results, entrepreneurial, operational efficiency

Project Complexity Factors (Exhibit 2)

Project Complexity Factors

Exhibit 2 – Project Complexity Factors

Project Manager Criteria

This is entry-level position for project managers. The candidate is promoted to a project manager position when the organizational need arises. They have to have high degree of results orientation as a prerequisite for the promotion.

Professional/Technical Competence

In order to be promoted to Project Manager level, candidates have to have a good track record in team leading roles and they can succeed without excessive support and supervision. They are aware of the nine PM knowledge areas and have demonstrated their ability to apply some aspects of this knowledge in projects. They have good level of knowledge of relevant business process and application domain.

Human and Business Competence

In most, if not all areas, candidates must have good knowledge and skills.

Senior Project Manager Criteria

PM experience and knowledge with excellent understanding of business and highly developed human skills are key attributes of Senior Project Manager. As organization would like these people to contribute by building other project managers and developing project management process, these two factors are built in the model as well.

Professional/Technical Competence

In order to be promoted to Senior Project Manager level, candidates have to have a consistent track record of delivering successful projects over a significant period of time. They have already demonstrated the ability to deal successfully with several of the complexity factors that form part of the Senior Project Manager's scope of responsibilities (Exhibit 2). They have highly developed knowledge and skills in the nine PM knowledge areas proven for example, by Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification. They have mentored less experienced project managers, developed and deployed PM process and have good level of knowledge of relevant business process and application domain.

Human and Business Competence

In most, if not all areas, candidates must have highly developed knowledge and skills. They should be able to investigate and solve complex problems, which require substantial analysis, through developing existing procedures/techniques/methods. They drive improvement, change, and provide guidance and direction.

Master Project Manager Criteria

Key attributes of Master Project Manager are to be recognized as an expert in project management in wider corporate context, as well as being able to deliver the most complex projects involving multiple parts of organization through innovation.

Professional/Technical Competence

In order to be promoted to Master Project Manager level, candidates have to have a consistent track record of delivering successful projects over a significant period of time. They have already demonstrated the ability to deal successfully with several of the complexity factors that form part of the Master Project Manager's scope of responsibilities (Exhibit 2). They have exceptional knowledge and skills in the nine PM knowledge areas. The individual has a proven track record of initiating and driving change and made significant contribution to increase the efficiency of project management. They have mentored less experienced project managers and have good level of knowledge of relevant business process and application domain.

They are acknowledged as leaders and experts in the discipline and are recognized as making a key contribution in the Ericsson international project management community. This contribution would include for example, outstanding project achievements, the ability to publish groundbreaking articles on project management practice, and the credibility to act as a guest speaker at international project management fora.

Human and Business Competence

In most, if not all areas candidates need to have exceptional knowledge and skills. They are able to investigate and solve complex problems, which require substantial analysis. Solutions normally require innovation of new procedures/techniques/methods. They initiate and drive improvement and change. They are perceived as an authority.

Basic Principles

These principles of application of the model are intended to be an aid to understanding the descriptions of the various levels in the competence career.

  • Candidates for promotion between levels must have demonstrated application of their knowledge; it is only in the application of knowledge that the individual can have an increasing influence on the company's output.
  • Consistently excellent performance at an existing level is a pre-requisite for promotion to the next level, but the higher levels are not just “better” versions of the previous level. Each level has distinctive attributes, which differentiate it from the previous one. Promotion shall not be used as a reward for good performance at the existing level.
  • A candidate shall be promoted when he/she has reached a level, not when he/she appears to have potential to reach that level. This “level” is what is defined in the promotion criteria.
  • The job content for a particular level is not the same as the promotion criteria for the next level.
  • Progression in the competence career is based only on competence; other criteria such as number of years of service, need for a particular role, etc. are not the basis for promotion.

It is important to realise that the skills required for the achievement of good results involve all dimensions of the competence model described here. The three competence areas - social, occupational and general - are, in principle, equally important. However, their relative importance may vary somewhat from level to level.

Conclusion

The PM Career Model was published in December 2003. As planned, two individual project managers were put through the process within the first quarter of 2004. Both of them were successful and were appointed as Senior Project Managers and are now in charge of strategic Ericsson R&D projects. Based on successful experience from Ireland, corporate R&D organization in Sweden was influenced to develop the corporate career model fully utilizing the main components of the Irish model.

Implementation of the PM Career Model in R&D Ericsson Ireland was a major step towards recognition and institutionalisation of project management as professional discipline. It was followed by revision of development plan for individuals practicing project management, career planning together with R&D organization in Sweden and facilitation of cross-functional job transfers and advancement opportunities.

Going forward, the main task of the organization will be to monitor business impact and value from career development in project management. Studies that would monitor retention and contribution to performance would be needed to put tangible value around the PM Career Model. As the organization gathers more experience in the application of the model, potentially together with external studies, further refinement of PM Career Model is expected.

References

Ericsson Ireland. (1996). Personal Career Path. “Internal document”

Ericsson. (2002). Project Management Career Path. “Internal document”

Hill, G. (2004). The Complete Project Management Office Handbook. New York: Auerbach Publications.

Project Management Institute. (2000) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) (2000 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2005 Armin Hamidovic
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Edinburgh, Scotland

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