From know-how to know-why-- a three dimensional model of project management knowledge

Janice Thomas, PhD, Program Director, MBA in Project Management,
Centre for Innovative Management, Athabasca University;


This paper introduces a three-dimensional approach to intelligence to develop a more comprehensive understanding of project management knowledge and project manager skill development in the past, present and future. Based on the concepts of “intelligence”, “emotional intelligence”, and “spiritual intelligence” the authors categorize the knowledge requirements of the project management field in various project environments. As a result, three dimensions of project management knowledge are presented: Expertise (Know-how and Know-what), Management knowledge (Know-where, Know-when, and Know-who), and Leadership Knowledge (Know-why). Insights from this paper will help project managers understand the steps necessary to move from know-how to know-why.


Project management is a knowledge-based occupation typically practiced by well-educated professionals and supported by professional associations. While much has been done in the last 35 years to improve the practice of project management, it continues to deliver disappointing results. We suggest that this is because the formal development of project management knowledge has focused on only one of the three “kinds” of intelligence that are required to manage complex and uncertain projects. This paper introduces a three-dimensional approach to intelligence and develops a more comprehensive understanding of project management knowledge and skill development in the past, present and future.

Concepts of Intelligence

Introduced by Binet (1916), the concept of “intelligence” and testing a set of cognitive skills and abilities started decades of psychological research and the development of numerous testing tools (Fancher 1985). Based on his studies of performance in leadership, Daniel Goleman (1995) presented his concept of “emotional intelligence” and the importance of feelings for high performance in the work environment. Finally, Zohar & Marshall (2001) argued that there is a third and “ultimate intelligence”, which we use to discover values and find meaning, the main motif of human action (Frankl, 1984).

“Cognitive” Intelligence

Quantifying intellectual capabilities stood at the beginning of research on and application of intelligence testing. Diagnosis of the “intelligence quotient (IQ)” (Binet, 1916; Fancher, 1985; Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985) measures the ability to solve logical or strategic problems. The results of the respective diagnostic tools are still used for prognosis of cognitive capabilities and performance in various settings.

The higher the test scores, the higher the “intelligence” of the tested person, is the basic concept of this approach. In fact, studies have shown the significant relationship between cognitive intelligence and job performance (Hunter, 1986). However, discussions about what set of capabilities should be included and with what weight still go on and a variety of diagnostic tools exist.

Sternberg (1985) has made the point in particular, that “analytic” intelligence needs to be enhanced by “practical intelligence” (capability to solve problems) and “creative intelligence” (capability to find new approaches). Most modern concepts of cognitive intelligence seem to include the three categories of “crystallized intelligence” (ability to apply acquired knowledge to current problems), “visual-spatial reasoning” (ability to apply visual representations to problem solving) and “fluid intelligence” (ability to develop problem solving techniques for problems unknown to the problem solver) (Cattell, 1971; Horn, 1985; Hunt, 1995).

All three categories seem crucial for the project management profession: While crystallized intelligence helps us apply the body of knowledge to our project requirements, visual-spatial reasoning supports system-thinking and many other tools and techniques used in our profession, and fluid intelligence lets us cope with the non-standard problems we may encounter. However, the focus still remains on intellectual and cognitive capabilities.

The major anthropological assumption appears to be the perspective on human beings as being rational information processing and problem-solving species. However, philosophers and psychologists have continuously rejected the notion of intellectual capabilities being the only or most important characteristic differentiating human existence from other species.

“Emotional” Intelligence

Probably the most influential approach introducing an additional dimension into differentiating between high and low performance in management and leadership was Goleman's (1995) concept of emotional intelligence (EI). In integrating similar approaches of other neurologists and psychologists (Rosengren, et al. 1993; Gardner, 1993; Lewis et al., 2000) Goleman has discovered the ability to access one's own and others' personal feelings as crucial for both, the cognitive intelligence to become effective and for achieving high performance in professional settings and work environments.

In his research, Goleman (1995, 1998, 2004) has collected and analyzed data from almost 500 global companies in order to identify the factors most influential on the organizations' performance. Besides technical skills and cognitive capabilities he studied emotional intelligence factors such as self-awareness and relationship skills. His findings confirmed earlier research indicating that in an environment of rather high IQ, technical skills and cognitive capabilities were of rather low differentiating importance compared to emotional intelligence factors. Hence, while the IQ seems necessary for professionals to do their job decently, EI competencies are the ones that seem to make them excel.

The sets of competencies that Goleman (2004) identified to account for high performance are as follows (ibid. pp. 253-256):

  • Self-Awareness: emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-confidence.
  • Self-Management: self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative, optimism.
  • Social Awareness: empathy, organizational awareness, service.
  • Relationship Management: inspiration, influence, developing others, change catalyst, conflict management, teamwork and collaboration.

Undoubtedly the capabilities to appropriately cope with the challenges of one's own personality as well as the skills to create and sustain buy-in and cooperation are of major importance in any project. Expertise may help to get professional assignments done. But when it comes to balancing the often conflicting and changing project requirements, project managers additionally need EI competencies to meet the expectations of various stakeholders. By incorporating emotions and the management of relationships, this approach goes beyond the approach of cognitive intelligence. It fails, however, to explicitly refer to the human ability and need to strive for values and a meaningful life.

“Spiritual” Intelligence

While values and meaning have increasingly come to the forefront of management theory and education (Paine, 2003; Covey, 1989), the concept of Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) introduced by Zohar & Marshall (2001) and based on respective neurological, psychological and anthropological research (Frankl, 1984; Singer & Gray, 1995; Chalmers, 1996, 2004; Llinas, 1998) is the first comprehensive model of human intelligence incorporating the human search for values and meaning. By SQ Zohar & Marshall (2001) refer to “the intelligence with which we address and solve problems of meaning and value, the intelligence with which we can place our actions and our lives in a wider, richer, meaning-giving context, the intelligence with which we can assess that one course of action or one life-path is more meaningful than another” (ibid. p. 3f). Integrating all our intelligences and making us the truly human being, SQ is the “ultimate intelligence” (ibid. p. 4).

Based on Frankl's (1984) research indicating that “man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life” (p. 121) Zohar & Marshall (2001) hold that SQ is the major capability of asking “why?” and of answering that question by being able to find meaning in everything we do and experience. Thus, we are also able to question the rules and situations we are confronted with. Therefore, SQ goes beyond the abilities to intelligently think, feel, act and behave within a situational context or a given framework. SQ allows human beings to reflect on the very situation and frame of reference they find themselves in and creatively and meaningfully transform it into something new and more valuable if they so choose.

These spiritual capabilities are crucial when it comes to intelligently and comprehensively identify project requirements, to meaningfully communicate with project stakeholders and create buy-in based on a joint vision and shared values, and to transform organizations into something new and more meaningful by coping with the challenges of change, crisis and loss that we inevitably face in most of our increasingly complex projects and project environments (Mengel et al., 2004).

From “accidental” project manager to PMP®

Since the late 1960's project management organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI®) have tried to increasingly replace the “accidental project manager” (Jafaari 2003) by developing various Project Management standards and foster adequate training. In order to apply the three levels of intelligence introduced earlier to project management major representations of codified project management knowledge and related documents (Project Management Institute 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004) will be examined for evidence of the differing intelligences.

The PMBOK® Guide: Codified Know-what and know-how

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (Project Management Institute 2000, 2004) represents “the sum of knowledge within the profession of project management” (p. 3), serving as a basic reference and common lexicon within the project management field.

The PMBOK® Guide contains a project management framework as well as project management knowledge areas. While general management and application area knowledge are briefly mentioned (ibid. p. 24), the major focus is on a detailed description of project management processes (ibid. pp. 29-159). They are interactive components organized within five process groups and related to nine project management knowledge areas. Furthermore, the PMBOK® Guide presents the basic knowledge necessary for professional project managers to know what to do and how to do it by logically and linearly decomposing the body of knowledge into processes with inputs and outputs and with tools and techniques to use. This level of knowledge is congruent with Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986) categorization of novice or advanced beginners on a scale of developing expertise and may enable project managers to better understand and solve project situations and problems that present themselves in a way congruent with this way of logic and linear representation.

OPM3: The Know-what and know-how of organizational project management

The Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) (Project Management Institute, 2003) is a “standard applying project management principles at the organizational level” (ibid. p. XI). Based on the PMBOK® Guide, OPM3's “knowledge foundation” identifies and organizes 600 “generally accepted and proven project management practices” (ibid.) and capabilities as its foundational concept and as a basis for organizational assessment and improvement. The Best Practices described focus on developing, utilizing, standardizing, prioritizing, controlling and improving structures, processes, projects, commitment, competencies and teamwork.

While OPM3 describes practices and processes that require emotional knowledge (e.g. the capability to “facilitate” project management activities), it does not describe the required knowledge itself. Consequently, the organization will need additional knowledge not provided by OPM3: the emotional capabilities that actually are necessary to facilitate project management activities (build relationships, provide feedback etc.). In other words: OPM3 focuses on the know-what (processes and structures) and the know-how (best practices and capabilities) in logical and sequential terms. Although this knowledge includes people related issues, knowledge about the relationship between the people itself (emotional knowledge) is outside of the scope of OPM3.

The approaches presented in both the PMBOK® and OPM3 are the basis of what Jafaari (2003) calls the “Normative…and contemporary model of project management” (p. 55). On the Dreyfus (1986) scale this level of knowledge would be required for the competent performer to make choices among goals and analyze masses of data. This model can also be linked to Lester's (1994) A-model of professionalism (rational, problem -solving, logic). The shortcomings of both models in dealing with complexity appear to be the reason for “reported project failures in complex IT and software systems, new complex products and organizational transformation” (Jafaari, 2003, p. 55). Hence, as Aram & Noble (1999) point out, the normative model covering the cognitive approach and touching slightly on emotional capabilities may suffice for the “entry level” of professional project management. In order to successfully reach and maintain the “survival level” of project management mastery, to graduate from the level of project management expertise to the levels of managing expertise and leading change, we additionally need the full spectrum of emotional and spiritual capabilities.

Project Management Competency Development: From knowledge to personal competency

Based on the performance of individual project managers, the Project Management Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) “identifies competencies in three dimensions – Knowledge, Performance and Personal” (Project Management Institute, 2002). While Knowledge and Performance refer to the demonstration of PMBOK®-based knowledge and its successful application, “Personal competencies are those personal characteristics (core personality, behavior, and attitudes) underlying a person's capability to manage a project” (ibid. p. 57; see exhibit 1).

Project Management Competency (Project Management Institute, 2002)

Exhibit 1: Project Management Competency (Project Management Institute, 2002)

While these competencies clearly include capabilities earlier identified with emotional intelligence and relate to Lester's (1994) creative-reflective Model B of professionalism, they lack other elements of Lester's Model B like synthetic thinking, ethical reasoning and decision making, identifying values and finding meaning.

Beyond control: the limitations of professional project management knowledge

Codified project management knowledge is presented by “breaking it down” into various areas. Thus, traditional models of project management knowledge analyze the basic know-how (“cognitive intelligence”) necessary to become project management professionals (Jafari, 2003; Project Management Institute, 2000, 2004; Zwerman et al., 2004). This level of knowledge is associated with high levels of analytic skill and a focus on control. Enhancements of standards put this knowledge into a situational perspective. Hence, they provide initial insights into the know-where, -when, and -who (“emotional intelligence”) to manage the knowledge application in a way responsive to its environment (Goleman, 1995, 2004). This knowledge may be sufficient to provide project managers with the knowledge and management tools necessary to master the challenges within a project environment of low or moderate complexity and uncertainty. However, it appears to be insufficient to enable them to lead the changes inherent in complex adaptive organizations (Aram and Noble, 1999; Jafari, 2003 ; Ruuska and Vartainen, 2003).

Research suggests that “leadership and socio-cultural competencies become critical …[while] the current models for professional preparation and certification tied to the normative approach are ill-suited to the emerging complex society” (Jafaari,2003, p. 56; Lester, 1994; Robinson, 2000). Stacey (1993) even suggests that the simplified model of reality as input-process-output may be a distortion that should not be applied at all to organizations where events and encounters may anytime change the future in a unpredictable way. Thus we have to acknowledge the need for a much more creative and reflective approach in addition to the normative base as suggested by our bodies of knowledge.

“Professional” project managers must understand why things work to be able to adapt practices to situations. This capacity to discover and contemplate the know-why (“spiritual intelligence”) will empower the project manager to synthetically “break up” frameworks and references that are no longer of value. Thus, spiritually intelligent project managers will be able to lead the way to creating and implementing new visions by transcending traditional frameworks and by finding new meaning for activities, projects and programs on any level (Zohar & Marshall, 2001; Jafari, 2003; Mengel et al., 2004). The knowledge requirements of this values-oriented leadership approach (Mengel, 2003, 2004) are explored in the next section.

Towards Values-oriented leadership: the knowledge of creativity and discovery

To reach the leadership level we need to recognize and better understand our biases that are related to our focus on problem solving rather than on “seeking first to understand” (King, 1999). At first, the rush to solve the problem in front of us by immediately applying the models at hand and without questioning their assumptions and implications may hinder discovering the model to be part of the problem. Our linear logic restricts awareness and understanding of context and relations. Thus creativity and holistic thinking should be the focus of our education.

Furthermore, people tend to feel safer in a familiar and well-organized environment where they appear to be at home and in control. Especially in stressful situations typical for most project environments we tend to avoid further exposure to insecurity and focus on solving problems within the frameworks we feel comfortable with rather than trying first to understand.

Finally, we need to unlearn the “ideal of scientific detachment” (ibid. p. 125), the logical myth of reason and emotion being separate. Only if people succeed to emotionally identify with common objectives are they willing to understand individual behavior, goals and motifs and share values.

In order to “discover” new meaning and values (Frankl, 1981), King (1999) suggests that we first need to uncover and overcome our biases by learning to withdraw temporarily from comfortable environments like prophets. This will enable us to get to “know ourselves” and to discover new values and meaningful perspectives. Only then will we be able to understand how to transform reality accordingly.

Moving from analysis to synthesis, from breaking down to integrating, from knowing to understanding, from asking “how to” to “when, where, why?” (King, 1999, p. 116; Lester, 1994) and integrating emotional and spiritual intelligence into our cognitive approaches will move us ahead. It will help us grow from novice to competent and proficient performers and finally to become experts (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986) that are emotionally and spiritually intelligent. As leaders we will be capable of leading, creating and transforming our environment rather than reacting to the inevitable changes and challenges facing us. Cognitive approaches will help us identify what is, emotional approaches may provide us with insight as to how people feel about what is and thus help us to intuitively understand the dynamics of where we are going. Finally, the spiritual capabilities may help us grasp new meaningful options of where to go. Personal development towards knowing ourselves (the ability to understand why we do what we do and the way we do it) is a major step towards understanding others (the ability to understand why others do what they do and the way they do it) and towards learning how to influence both towards solving crucial problems ahead of us.

This comprehensive knowledge will enable us to intelligently apply our bodies of project management knowledge successfully. Meaningful communication based on listening and striving for mutual understanding will help us to gain “a shared understanding of the project as a whole” (Ruuska & Vertainen, 2003, p. 307). Thus we may get closer to what Ruuska & Vertainen (ibid.) called “collective project competences”.

In summary, the following model (Exhibit 2) suggests how to relate the three concepts of intelligence introduced earlier to the various levels and codifications as well as to the three dimensions of project management knowledge. This model further indicates how increasing complexity and uncertainty call for a more comprehensive inclusion of managerial and leadership knowledge respectively into our “bodies of knowledge”.

Three-dimensional model of project management knowledge

Exhibit 2: Three-dimensional model of project management knowledge


The problems project managers face in a world of complexity and uncertainty are “wicked” rather than “rational/analytic”. Today's project managers need to be more than proficient in their ability to flexibly and creatively adapt to and transform the rapidly changing complex systems they work in. The nature of the intelligence and knowledge base to work in this world is far broader than simply analytic. While cognitive intelligence and expert knowledge enables us to manage projects within a controllable environment of limited complexity and low uncertainty, emotional intelligence and management knowledge are required when dealing with increasingly complex project environments. In order to be able to provide leadership in highly complex and uncertain project environments project managers additionally need spiritual intelligence, the leadership skills and wisdom to help discover meaning and to help create new and valuable environments.

The efforts of PMI to develop codified project management knowledge have improved our ability to measure and understand the IQ elements of project management. Elements of EQ are beginning to be incorporated into standards. The SQ capabilities, however, need yet to be woven into a more comprehensive body of project management knowledge.


Aram, E., Noble, D. (1999) Educating prospective managers in the complexity of organizational life. Management Learning, 30(3), 321-342.

Binet, A. (1916) New methods for the diagnosis of the intellectual level of subnormals. In Kite, E. S. (Trans.) The development of intelligence in children. Vineland, NJ: Publications of the Training School at Vineland. (Originally published 1905 in L'Année Psychologique, 12, 191-244.)

Cattell, R. B. (1971) Abilities: Their structure, growth, and action. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Chalmers, D. (1996) The conscious mind: In search of a fundamental theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chalmers, D. (2004) How can we construct a science of consciousness? in M. Gazzaniga (ed.), The Cognitive Neurosciences III. Massachusetts: MIT Press. Retrieved 8/5/04 from Website:

Covey, S. (1989) The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Cherniss, C. & Goleman, D. (eds. 2001) The emotionally intelligent workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Dreyfus, H.L., & Dreyfus, S.E. (1986) Mind over machine. The power of human intuition and expertise in the era of the computer. New York, NY: Free Press.

Eysenck, H. J. & Eysenck, M. W. (1985) Personality and individual differences: A natural science approach. New York, NY: Plenum.

Fancher, R. E. (1985) The intelligence men: Makers of the IQ controversy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Frankl, V. (1981) The will to meaning: Foundations and applications of logotherapy. New York, NY: Meridan.

Frankl, V. (1984) Man's search for meaning. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam.

Goleman, D. (1998) Working with emotional intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. & McKee, A. (2004) Primal leadership. Learning to lead with emotional intelligence. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Horn, J. L. (1985) Remodeling old models of intelligence. In: Wolman, B. B. (ed.) Handbook of Intelligence. Theories, Measurements, and Applications. New York, NY: Wiley, 267-300.

Hunt, E. (1995) The Role of intelligence in modern society. American Scientist. July-August 1995, 356-367 retrieved 8/5/04 from website:

Hunter, J. E. (1986) Cognitive ability, cognitive aptitudes, job knowledge, and job performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior 29, 340-362.

Jafaari, A. (2003) Project management in the age of complexity and change. Project Management Journal 34(4), 47-57.

King, J. (1999) On seeking first to understand. Teaching Business Ethics 3/1999,. 113-136.

Lester, S. (1994). On professionalism and professionality. Retrieved 1/19/04 from website:

Lewis, T., Amini, F. & Lannon, R. (2000) A general theory of love. New York, NY: Random House.

Llinas, R., Ribary, U., Contreras, D. & Pedroarena, C. (1998) The neuronal basis for consciousness. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 353, 1841-1849.

Mengel, T. (2003) Values-oriented leadership: Designing personal and corporate future. Colloquium within the Graduate Program in Counselling Psychology. Trinity Western University. November 1, 2003. Website:

Mengel, T. (2004) From responsibility to values-oriented leadership - 6 theses on meaning and values in personal life and work environments. International Network on Personal Meaning. Positive Living E-Zine, August 11, 2004. Website:

Mengel, T., Christenson, D., Thomas, J. & Trisko, C. (2004) In search for meaning – Project management perspectives on change, crisis and loss. Symposium and Presentation at the Third International Conference on Personal Meaning, Vancouver, July 2004.

Paine, L. (2003) Value shift. Why companies must merge social and financial imperatives to achieve superior performance. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Project Management Institute (2000) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Newton Square, NA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute (2002) Project manager competency development framework. Newton Square, NA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute (2003) Organizational project management maturity model (OPM3) Knowledge Foundation. Newton Square, NA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute (2004) Exposure draft of a guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Newton Square, NA: Project Management Institute.

Robinson, M. (2000) Transformational leadership defined. Retrieved 1/6/04 from Website:

Rosengren A., Orth-Gomer K., Wedel H. & Wilhelmsen L. (1993) Stressful life events, social support, and mortality in men born in 1933. British Medical Journal, 307, 1102–1105.

Ruuska, I. & Vartainen, M. (2003) Critical project competencies – A case study. Journal of Workplace Learning. 15(7/8), 307-312.

Singer, W. & Gray, C. (1995) Visual feature integration and the temporal correlation hypothesis, Annual Review of Neuroscience, 18, 555-586.

Stacey, R. D. (1993) Strategic management and organizational dynamics. London: Pitman.

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

The Wall Street Journal, Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Statement signed by 50 professors of psychology at colleges and universities in the U.S., UK and Canada, December 13, 1994. Retrieved 8/5/04 from website:

Zohar, D. & Marshall, I. (2001) SQ-spiritual intelligence the ultimate intelligence. London: Bloomsbury.

Zwerman, B., Thomas, J. & Haydt, S. (2004) Professionalization of project management: Exploring the past to map the future. Newton Square, NA: Project Management Institute.

© 2004, Thomas Mengel & Janice Thomas
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Proceedings – Anaheim, California



Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Getting Past the Editor's Desk member content locked

    By Klein, Gary | Müller, Ralf To reach acceptance, every research paper submitted to Project Management Journal® (PMJ) must pass several hurdles. This editorial aims to declare the editorial process and reveal major reasons for…

  • Project Management Journal

    Narratives of Project Risk Management member content locked

    By Green, Stuart D. | Dikmen, Irem The dominant narrative of project risk management pays homage to scientific rationality while conceptualizing risk as objective fact.

  • Project Management Journal

    Coordinating Lifesaving Product Development Projects with no Preestablished Organizational Governance Structure member content locked

    By Leme Barbosa, Ana Paula Paes | Figueiredo Facin, Ana Lucia | Sergio Salerno, Mario | Simões Freitas, Jonathan | Carelli Reis, Marina | Paz Lasmar, Tiago We employed a longitudinal, grounded theory approach to investigate the management of an innovative product developed in the context of a life-or-death global emergency.

  • Project Management Journal

    Investigating the Dynamics of Engineering Design Rework for a Complex Aircraft Development Project member content locked

    By Souza de Melo, Érika | Vieira, Darli | Bredillet, Christophe The purpose of this research is to evaluate the dynamics of EDR that negatively impacts the performance of complex PDPs and to suggest actions to overcome those problems.

  • Project Management Journal

    Navigating Tensions to Create Value member content locked

    By Farid, Parinaz | Waldorff, Susanne Boche This article employs institutional logics to explore the change program–organizational context interface, and investigates how program management actors navigate the interface to create value.