Developing project management competency and a participative-empowering culture
synergies between the PMBOK® guide, the Project manager competency development (PMCD) framework and the people CMM®
CEO and Founder, SpaceMinds S.L. - Vice-president, PMI® Spain Barcelona Chapter
SEI – Authorized Instructor for the People CMM®
Developing Organizational Project Management Competency is addressed by integrating the Project Management Institute's (PMI®)Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) framework, the People Capability Maturity Model (People CMM®) and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). An integrated approach that serve as a roadmap for implementing practices that continuously improve organizational capability is presented. The keys to effectively establish a participative “project management” empowering culture are discussed. The ideas presented show how the integrated approach helps consolidate and accelerate process improvement initiatives by growing a competency community.
Several studies highlight that traditional training methods frequently fail to deliver long-term change in the behaviours and skills of the people attending such development activities. At the same time, many technical and management personnel require knowledge and skills that must be current to the latest technologies and methodologies. It is in this context that organizations face the challenges of having a prepared workforce that is properly trained and knowledgeable on its core competencies; by defining, developing and rolling out competency models and development practices that allow them to achieve long-term success.
The dilemma of short-term training versus long-lasting competency development is at the heart of many company decisions in the present (that is short-term) that affect the organization's future. So, in this controversial cost versus investment dual-challenge, numerous questions might be raised such as: why are so many organizations sacrificing their future for the immediate present? What can they do about it? How can empowerment and participation help overcome these issues? Can project management, as a workforce competency and professional activity, contribute to organizations that need to stay current and agile? In this paper, I will try to answer these and other related questions. So, let's start by looking at some foundational aspects of learning and competency development.
The foundations of individual and organizational learning
Stages of driving competence
Last summer I was visiting my friend in Cleveland, Ohio (USA) and one day I had the opportunity to drive her car. Just as I sat into the car and got prepared to drive, I realized it had an automatic-gearshift car – one without a stick, as many cars in the United States are. As most of driving experience had been acquired by driving cars with manual-gearshift I knew in advance this was something different (or “new” if you will).
It was not long after I started driving that we reached the gate of the compound where she lives, and I needed to stop. It was then that I stepped with my left food on the break with all my force and you bet we almost jumped into the windshield… Of course it was not my intention to scare my friend neither to test-drive the breaks of the car. What happened was that I was “unconsciously” stepping on the “clutch pedal”, though the car had any – automatic cars just have two pedals: gas and break. Captive of my habits, I was driving like in a “manual” car. Even though I knew the car was “automatic”, I was unable to avoid this automatic behaviour. That is the power of habits!
The incident described above also reflected a key characteristic of a stage of learning known as “unconscious competence” of the widely referenced “competence-learning model”. The competence-learning model is commonly used to explain the steps in learning, practicing and acquiring a new skill. Though the origins of the model are not completely clear and several people and organizations reference related concepts and ideas at least 35 years ago (Chapman, 2007), its validity and application is well accepted and understood, perhaps due to its simplicity and intuitive nature.
Basically, the competence-learning model states that when learning or acquiring a new skill people pass through different stages. In the first stage “Unconscious incompetence” (UI) people are not aware of their incompetence or lack of knowledge. You could say “They don't know that/what they don't know”. In stage 2 “Conscious incompetence” (CI) people are already aware of their incompetence and therefore “They know that they don't know”. In stage 3, people “know that they know”. “Conscious competence” (CC) implies a sufficient level of knowledge and skill to perform the activity at hand. Nevertheless, to properly perform such activity you need to focus and concentrate. In other words you need to consciously apply the acquired skill. And, at stage 4: “Unconscious competence” (UC) people exhibit a level of performance where they are not aware of the details of their behaviours as they have developed “unconscious competence” for those skills and activities. So, at stage 4 “they don't know that/what they know”.
A debated 5th stage
Through the years of existence of the competence-learning model there have been attempts to add a fifth stage. This fifth stage has been referred to in several ways such as “meta-conscious competence” (Chapman, 2007). I usually call this fifth stage “continuous learning competence” (for developing oneself) or “competence-aware leadership” (for developing others). There is also an additional parallel that can be found in relation to Stephen Covey's 7th habit of highly effective people, namely “sharpen the saw” (Covey, 2004). This again reinforces the view of this fifth stage of learning-competence as a mechanism for continuous personal improvement. Despite the “debate” to name a fifth stage, there is a lot of consensus that most competent people exhibit and ability to “abstract” and reflect on how they can improve they competencies. This is definitively a most needed skill or ability in the context of organization, where learning needs to be ongoing and is faced with numerous challenges.
Challenges of learning in organizations
It might appear contradictory at first, but despite the apparent simplicity depicted by the “competence-learning model”, the capacity and need of organizations to create an environment, programs and situations where learning is effective and continuous is frequently challenged by one or more of the following issues.
Significant challenges of learning in organizations:
- - Developing a common understanding and language among members of the organization
- - Lack of awareness of training needs and development opportunities
- - Conflicting-limiting views of T&D as cost vs. investment
- - Competence obsolescence (Competence, just as knowledge, is perishable!)
- - Miss assigned or confused responsibilities (who should provide, take care and look after development opportunities?)
- - Dealing with culture and change-resistance, or “do what I say not what I do”.
- - Lack of effectiveness of training and other organizational developmental activities
- - Lack of alignment of training and business needs
- - “Tool-sititis” (The lack of systemic view of organizations)
- - Lack of consistency and integrity of training and methods across units and departments.
And the list can go on… The issues presented above affect training and development activities of any kind of competencies in organizations, not just project management. For tackling these challenges, in this paper we will discuss an integrated approach which has been found to address many of these issues. We will first present several models to address project management competency development and discuss its relation to empowerment and the emergence of a participative culture.
Overview of the Project Manager Competency Development Framework
Since its foundation in 1969, PMI has been leading the organization, creation and divulgation of the project management body of knowledge and tools, via numerous standards. Two very significant ones are A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (PMI, 2004) and the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCD Framework) (PMI, 2002). The PMBOK® Guide is perhaps the most widely known project management standard. It is composed of nine knowledge areas, containing each a set of processes which are usually used or involved in the management activities of a project. We will discuss later the value of these “generic” processes outlined by the PMBOK® Guide in the quest of project management competency.
What is the PMCD Framework?
As of the date of preparation of this paper, PMI is conducting a project to update the PMCD Framework and release its second edition. Therefore it is worth mentioning that the information and comments in this paper refer to the first edition of the PMCD Framework.
The PMCD Framework has been the first standard which addresses the improvement of the performance of project personnel and was released by PMI in 2002 (PMCD Framework - first edition). As pointed out by Rebecca Ann Winston, Esq. 2002-Chair of PMI Board of Directors, the PMCD Framework is intended to assist project managers and those aspiring to be project managers in guiding their professional development.
As described in the standard itself, the PMCD Framework defines the key dimensions of project manager competence and the competencies that are most likely to impact project manager performance as they lead most projects most of the time (PMI, 2002).
The three dimensions of project manager competence identified by the PMCD Framework are: Knowledge competency, Performance competency and Personal competency. Knowledge competency deals with the knowledge project managers must have to apply in their projects. On the other hand, project management Performance competency deals with the outcomes of applying the project manager knowledge, through its abilities and skills in the execution of project management tasks. Finally, Personal competency focuses on how a project manager behaves and deals with his/her attitudes and core personalities traits.
The PMCD Framework describes competency elements and performance criteria for each competency cluster and unit of competence identified in each of the previous three dimensions. One might well consider organizing (decomposing or grouping) competency related concepts in different ways than the one available in the PMCD Framework. Nevertheless, the benefits of using any such decomposition or grouping in a standard might be in the easiness of comprehension and tailored application it provides to organizations and individuals.
Highlights of the PMCD Framework
Using the PMCD Framework definition of competence and its three key dimensions, one is able to organize and set up a competency development program, specially taking into account the PMCD Framework strengths and derived benefits.
Some of the strengths of the PMCD Framework are listed below:
- Alignment with the PMBOK® Guide, so that the profession's best-practices are leveraged and people knowledgeable about the PMBOK® Guide can easily work with the standard.
- Granular decomposition of competency related concepts making it easy to adapt to specific organizational contexts.
- Competency descriptions include knowledge elements and performance criteria with several examples of assessment guidelines, useful for designing training requirements and assessment evaluations.
- The Personal Competency dimension exceeds the “pure” project management knowledge and skills, including more personal traits and attitudes. This is a good example on how to extend a competency model into new areas or dimensions of competency.
On the other hand, the PMCD Framework scope does not cover specific guidelines to integrate the competency development activities in the organization, leaving these issues to be covered by other sources. It explicitly mentions PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model Knowledge Foundation (OPM3®) (PMI, 2003) and the importance of organizational maturity in achieving higher levels of performance in projects and organizations. It is outside the scope of this paper to discuss the details of OPM3® and how it can assist in enhancing an organization's maturity. Instead, in the next section another important reference for developing organizational capability through maturity improvement programs is presented: the SEI's People Capability Maturity Model®.
Overview of the People CMM®
The People Capability Maturity Model® (People CMM®) is a state-of-the-art organizational change management model to help organizations improve their workforce capability and effectiveness (Curtis, 2002).
The People CMM® was developed under the leadership of the Software Engineering Institute of the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA. It was inspired by the success of its sister CMM® models, such as the SW-CMM®, and developed to address additional areas of organizational performance and improvement not covered by other maturity models.
People CMM® is designed following the maturity framework of all CMM® models. It consist of five maturity levels, 1-Initial, 2-Managed, 3-Defined, 4-Predictable, and 5-Optimizing (Exhibit 3). Each maturity level, starting at Level 2, is composed of several Process Areas (PA) describing practices for implementation and institutionalization of key issues.
The evolving organization
One of the key features of People CMM® is that it describes the evolution of an organization from an initial stage of inconsistent, ad-hoc practices to a continuously improving and optimizing change management and innovative stage. This evolution is achieved through the organization's maturity transformation produced as a result of implementing the process areas of each new maturity level.
At People CMM® Level 2 – Managed, the transformation is focused on establishing a management framework and culture centred on the units and unit-managers who will assume the development of their personnel as one of their key responsibilities.
Managers in “Level 2- Managed” organizations will take the advantages of performing proven success practices dealing with “tactical” issues such as the followings.
- Balancing the resources needed and the committed (approved) work,
- Coordinating and communicating in all directions in the organization,
- Properly managing transitions in and out of their teams,
- Assuring people are compensated with regard to their contribution and value to the organization,
- Having the appropriate work environment in place so that work can be performed efficiently,
- Ongoing feedback-mechanisms for managing performance and related issues,
- Training the individuals so they are apt for their current assignments,
- Preparing the workforce for future assignments through developmental activities.
A culture of professionalism
As the title of this section suggest one of the key features of a consolidated People CMM® “Level 3- Defined” organization is the emergence of a culture of professionalism. This is part of the maturity transformation of organizations that reach Level 3, and is mainly achieved due to a great focus on the definition, development and deployment of an organizational competency framework. Therefore, a key concept in Level 3 – Defined, is that of workforce competency, which in People CMM® is defined as a bundle of knowledge, skills, and process abilities to performs one's job.
It is perhaps worth noting that the third element of the workforce competency definition, namely process abilities, is a key contributor to the effectiveness of People CMM® when it comes to addressing competency and professional development programs. Process abilities are the specific skills one must have to apply his or her knowledge and skills in one organization's context (using the organization's tools, techniques, systems, etc.). Therefore process abilities directly link what an individual must know and be able to perform (skills) with the processes an organization has. One direct consequence of this fact is that when performing “competency analysis” in the People CMM®, one not just looks at or defines the competencies of the workforce but also the organization's processes, known in People CMM® as competency-based processes. As a result, the People CMM® approach and resulting competency framework provides an excellent systemic view of the organizational competencies and allows the organization to develop the capability to manage the workforce as a strategic asset.
The competency framework developed in Level 3 – Defined is reinforced by several process areas which support it. In exhibit 4 some process areas and additional related elements which significantly impact the competency framework are presented.
Another significant feature of People CMM® competency related concepts is that of a Competency Community, defined as a group of people who share and practice a workforce competency. Although People CMM® competency community definition refers to a workforce competency, and therefore a competency community will be by this definition “organization-specific”, the concept is easily extrapolated to an industry-or sector-wide competency community or “community of practice” in a more general sense, which might be nurtured by active participation in professional associations and institutions (for example, PMI would be a global project management competency community). Additional benefits are also drawn from implementing the concept of competency community through the organizational structure of a Project Management Office (PMO).
When an organization has consolidated the Defined Level, it is in the proper situation to reap the benefits of managing and exploiting the capability of its workforce competency framework. This improved capability will provide great trust organization-wide in the performance of the competency-based processes defined at Level 3 – Defined. Therefore, managers will feel very comfortable by transferring responsibility and authority to their people. So, workgroups invested with this additional authority will be able to decide on their work processes, commitments and even on some workforce practices in a fully-competent way (being competent themselves, having proven “effective” processes and an environment where participation is possible).
It is worth mentioning that although it is only in Level 4 – Predictable, where the organizational environment is most adequate for empowerment; it does not come “out of the blue”. In previous maturity Levels 2 - Managed and 3 – Defined, several process areas provide the foundations for professional empowerment such as Communication and Coordination (L2) and Participative Culture (L3).
People CMM® Level 4 – Predictable is not only about empowerment. Additionally, at this maturity level three additional significant aspects characterize organizations: 1) there are formal mentoring programs in place, which assist in transferring the knowledge of more senior members of competency communities to the less experienced members; 2) the organization integrates selected competency-based processes into multidisciplinary processes; and 3) since people trust the defined processes, there is a strong reuse of selected process results as competency-based assets.
Personal leadership and continuous improvement
An organization that reaches Level 5 – Optimizing is precisely doing what this maturity level name suggests: optimizing or continuously improving its performance through three main areas of activities 1) aligning performance throughout the organization, so making sure individuals, units and workgroups and the organization as a whole are all “pushing” in the same direction; 2) looking for, evaluating and deploying innovative workforce practices; and 3) continuously improving the capability of individuals and workgroups. At level 5, continuous improvement is so much ingrained in the organization's culture that many capability improvement opportunities arise as a result of individuals' initiative to improve their personal work processes and to share these improvements with other members of the organization. In this sense, many learning opportunities take place in the organization as a result of the personal leadership of many of its individuals.
The organization as a system
As might be already clear from the discussion in the previous sessions, the People CMM® is a model with a systemic view of the organization. This is immediately evident by looking at the relationships among the process areas and the practices they include. Additionally, there are some other elements of the model that also emphasize and build upon this systems view.
One such element is right in the structure of the model and is the treatment the model gives to the institutionalization of the practices it includes. Institutionalization is addressed by goals and practices defined and included in each process area for this purpose. They address the desired situation and necessary conditions for defined practices to last and be repeatable.
Institutionalization practices are grouped into four categories which are: commitment to perform (actions the organization should take so the practices are established and endure), ability to perform (preconditions necessary for proper practice implementation), measurement and analysis, and verifying implementation (steps to ensure compliant performance). Exhibit 3 illustrates the relationship among these practices.
As a result of this implementation-institutionalization synergic relationship, the model has an implicit mechanism for introducing changes in the organization in such a way that the changes are more likely to last. Especially significant is the expected involvement and participation of executive management, line-managers, HR and other organizational roles in several of the institutionalization and implementation practices.
Institutionalization is a key feature of the People CMM® that we exploit in our integrated approach for developing project management competency discussed in the next section. Finally, let's point out an important consideration regarding the use of the People CMM® model. That is, People CMM® is a staged maturity model, meaning that it is conceived as an evolutionary change management model, where each maturity level needs to be in place and consolidated in order for other levels to properly succeed.
An integrated approach to developing project management competency and an empowering culture
In this section an integrated approach for orchestrating project management competency development programs is presented. I have defined and developed the processes and steps in this approach by encompassing certain elements from the previously presented models. This integrated approach has been successfully used and deployed by SpaceMinds SL., a SEI-Partner for the People CMM® in several organizational improvement projects.
Foundational principles of the integrated approach
The integrated approach is characterized by a set of principles that provide great flexibility and have facilitated its application in the fore mentioned organizations.
The key principles that drive the implementation of the integrated approach are:
- A systems view including people, process and resources (tools, technologies, etc).
- Participative approach involving and committing all relevant stakeholders
- Best-practice deployment integrating, adapting and adopting appropriate external/internal models and references
- Gradual-incremental approach that facilitates continuous improvement and learning
- Results-value oriented, providing numerous quantifiable intermediate milestones
- Defined improvement process compliance
Overview of the integrated approach
The last of the foundational principles have been found to be a major key issue to assure success in the competency development program. Actually, it allows the defined improvement process to serve as a compass or guide especially valuable when “turbulent” times face the program as usually happens in major organizational change programs.
As depicted exhibit 5, there are four main flows of activities of the integrated approach: assessment, process improvement, competency improvement, change management.
As part of the initial assessment, sponsorship and stakeholders' analysis are conducted; the current situation is assessed by evaluating the processes the organization uses. The competencies of the people involved are assessed in qualitative terms by exploring key concepts, their knowledge and evidences of performing key processes. At this point, the PMCD Framework is a good reference, although it is usually extended or adapted to organizational specific needs. During the assessment the resources and tools are also evaluated in order to identify and prioritize improvement opportunities that might enhance the ability of the workforce in performing its critical processes. As a result of the initial assessment an integrated improvement plan is defined. Obtaining these results with a wide participation and involvement from key stakeholders – through several iterations of information collection and validation activities – allows generating consensus and becoming conscious of critical issues and how they affect performance. This organizational awareness can be seen as transition from the stage UI to CI of the competence learning model. In other words, the assessment constitutes a first step in organizational learning.
Taking the initial assessment results as a starting point, process and competency improvement actions are carried out in parallel. It is important to keep these two initiatives “synchronized” so that using the process abilities concept which is part of the People CMM® competency definition serve as a connection between skills and the specific defined organizational processes. When referred to project management competency, one key element of this improvement phase is the definition or improvement of the organization's project management methodology. It is this collection of methods, practices and procedures which help establish a common language and understanding among members of the organization who share this competency. When considered necessary defined procedures, improved tools and resources are piloted to refine and fine-tune them to the organization specific context.
Only then rollout actions are planned and carried out. It is worth noting that training, as can be seen in the exhibit 5, is just one step which takes place rather close to the completion of the implementation phase. Through all these steps, the individuals are acquiring new knowledge and starting to apply it in their daily work processes. Therefore the transition from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence is not just the result of training, but also consolidated via “on-the-job” practice. As depicted in exhibit 1, abilities start developing at this stage, and with sufficient practice and repetition will start becoming new work habits or replace existing ones. Individuals and the organization moves to stage UC – “Unconscious competence”. A smooth performance of the organization's processes is now in place.
A fourth flow of activities is that related to change management in the organization. Part of this change management takes place through actions that are implemented in the first three areas, although coordinated and supervised from this fourth area. Additional actions make sure risks and issues are identified well in advance and that they are properly managed. Communication plays a major role in this area, as in most change programs. Practices that ensure that relevant stakeholders are informed and involved properly are extremely important. For example, to make sure that the institutionalization-like practices, as described in the People CMM®, are performed systematically. The change management flow of activities can be seen as a “meta-process” of reflection and feedback on the rest of actions the organization is carrying out. So, again a parallel can be depicted with the competence learning model, with analogy to the “continuous learning competence” and/or “competence-aware leadership”. This is an area of activity where continuous improvement practices can drive the emergence of a participative culture, by empowering individuals and groups for their own continuous professional development.
Some direct benefits
Organizations that has applied and implemented the integrated approach has benefited in several ways. Perhaps the major benefits resulting from these improvement programs have been increased preparedness of the workforce, more effective processes and focused results. Well aligned with business expectations, these elements can definitively be a strategic competitive advantage.
Additional benefits of the integrated approach include:
- Organizational values are shared as a common language is established and consolidated.
- People take responsibility and ownership for their work processes.
- Leverage on existing resources, practices and methods internal and/external to the organization.
- Fast-track implementation with measurable incremental results.
- Build upon the profession's body of knowledge and standards, using proven practices.
- Provide opportunities for project managers to assume increased responsibilities. Actually, people with technical responsibilities who want to become project managers (or just managers) can start the progress towards this management positions, and perhaps continue to more “leadership positions”.
- Establish a solid foundation for empowerment, through project management.
- Ability to connect training and development activities with actual business processes and expectations.
- Higher probability that defined processes become part of the “actual” organization ways of doing.
- Enhance the value proposition-perception of the project management profession.
The previous list is not ordered, and of course, the validity, value and importance of each possible benefit will depend on each organization specific situation, where the approach is implemented. Nevertheless, some general guidelines can be extracted into recommendations for most organizations most of the time.
Guidelines and recommendations
In this final section some concluding remarks are summarized. These might be seen and used as recommended guidelines for considerations when implementing organizational improvement programs.
• Organizations are systems. And as such we need systemic-integrated approaches and views when we want to change and improve them. Models such as the People CMM®, the PMCD Framework and PMBOK® Guide can provide a great set of “building blocks” that complement each other in the quest for more effective organizations. These models provide many systems-views of organizations, so that improvement and change can be organized as a defined process of proven practices. You might then focus on creating new “vehicles” without having to “reinvent the wheel”!
• Continuous learning and the cost of investing in the future. I usually talk about “lessons to be (2B) learned”, strengthening the fact that perhaps the greatest value of learning lays in the future opportunities for applying the acquired knowledge or skill. Taking into account the constant change and innovation faced by organizations and society today, the “continuous learning competence” of individuals and organizations must be nurtured, you might guess it? … Continuously!
• Empowerment culture and the role of communities. As organizations grow in size and in business activities the demand for more agile decisions and shorter response time becomes a crucial business issue. Participation and involvement is critical to develop a sense of ownership and to assume “shared” values, goals, practices and ultimately results as ours. Competency communities can provide great vehicles for professional development and for practicing empowerment in work processes. As today's global economy demands more virtual and distributed work, empowered virtual teams and communities are to become a critical competencies of organizations.
• Project management as a flexible multidisciplinary competency. In the quest of more effective organizations, individuals with a versatile set of skills and abilities are a precious asset. Project management competency can provide a great source of flexibility and agility for organizations. Developing the organization's project management competency can enhance the ability of the workforce to assume increased areas of business activity and responsibility. Project management provides a solid foundation for empowerment and can become a catalyst that speeds up the advancement and development of mature organizations.
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PMI®, OPM3® and PMBOK® Guide are registered service and trademarks of the Project Management Institute in the U.S. and other nations.
CMM® and Capability Maturity Model® are service marks of Carnegie Mellon University.
© 2007, Yan Bello Méndez, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Budapest