Developing expert project managers

Thomas A. Carbone

Fairchild Semiconductor

The paper provides a background to understand the differences in the various project management training available and the scope of curriculum needed for project manager competency development. Project manager competency development is explored through a review of project management education from graduate, certificate, and organizational programs. Survey results of current practitioners with regards to project management training are provided. Standards for project management competency building are explored to understand the gap between recommended practice and actual progress. A detailed overview of a program that has been designed and deployed is provided with the experience and learning to date. Recommendations are provided for employees, employers, and academia to help bridge the gap between current training and necessary skills for project managers.

Introduction

Project management competence is becoming necessary for organizations since projects are at the heart of successful new product introductions, capital expansions, business process changes, and new service offerings. However, the reality is that many projects are not successful for time, budget, scope, profit, or customer satisfaction measures (The Standish Group, 2001; Adams, 2004). Additionally, it is reported that billions of dollars are spent each year on projects that are not aligned with corporate strategy (Project Management Institute, 2003). Due to the impact of project success on organizational success, the project management function is receiving increased attention as an enabling position in the organization.

Developing skills in project management takes more than just experience and practice; it requires competency development based on best practices and knowledge. Haransky (2000) stresses that a program to groom managers is vital to performance, profitability, and competitiveness. Studies of project success factors show that 97% of successful projects have an experienced project manager at the helm (The Standish Group, 2001). Reginato and Ibbs identified ways that project management can be a core competency of the organization to create and sustain value (2002). The Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework standard provides guidance on how to manage the professional development of the project manager (Project Management Institute, 2002). The PMCD framework aligns required project management knowledge and performance directly with the knowledge areas from the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), and it includes guidelines for developing a project manager's personal competence (Project Management Institute, 2004).

The PMCD framework, while providing the outline of what must be demonstrated across knowledge, performance, and personal competence, does not specify the details on how an individual or organization should go about gaining the required skills and maturity to gain competence in project management. Crawford and Gaynor (1999) have cautioned with regards to generic standards that, “employing organizations have a responsibility to identify the specific competences required to successfully deliver projects in the context of their corporate structure and culture, the technology and application area of the project, and the market or markets in which the business operates.”

Regardless of guidelines and best practices, it has been reported that project manager skill development is often left to on the job training (Matson, 1998; Pressman, 1998). Others reported that only about half of the respondents indicated that their project managers had any type of management training (Tippett and Peters, 1995). Even if the project manager pursues skill development, research has found that, “the vast majority of PMI's Registered Education Providers, as well as university educational programs on project management, fail to address the complex work environment to train and educate master-level project managers fully,” (Jedd, 2005).

There are a number of ways to develop the required skills and competence in project management. Described within this paper are the results of research into some of the project management skill development activities that are available. An example of one project management development program that is aligned with both the PMCD Framework and application area specific knowledge is highlighted along with the learnings to date. Recommendations are provided for project managers, organizations, and academia for developing and enhancing project management skills.

Methodology

In order to design a project manager development program, research was conducted that included a survey of project management practitioners, benchmarking organizational programs, and a detailed review of existing programs and course work from universities and training vendors. A gap analysis was completed for an internal assessment of project management maturity using methods as recommended in the literature (Ibbs, 2000; Kerzner, 2001; Legin Group, 2002), to what was found from the research, and compared to the recommendations in the PMI PMCD Framework.

Surveys

A survey of project management practitioners demonstrated that very few organizations had any comprehensive training program (Carbone and Gholston, 2004). From the survey results, 73% of the respondents noted that there were zero project management training hours required per year by their organization; while 74% noted none to minimal company training in project management. For most of the respondents, they sourced their own training development when it came to project management education. Lueders and Kotnour (2001) found a similar result within NASA and other organizations that, “a project manager may take a hodgepodge of project management classes but these accumulated classes may not provide the project manager with the basis and tools to succeed in the organization.” More recently, the Association for Project Management (APM) Continuing Professional Development (CPD) survey (2005), found that, “whilst CPD is important to people, only 46% of respondents have a professional development plan.” The APM CPD study found almost a uniform distribution across 19 CPD activities. This is consistent with the hodgepodge approach to development activities and lends evidence that there is no structured planning for project management development by the employers or employees. All too often, as stated by Moore (2004), “it becomes a case of suggesting the employee source his or her own training and let the boss know the cost,” and even then, “too many trivial issues get in the way to actually do it.”

Organizational Programs

There have been a number of project manager development program models reported in the literature. Hoffman and Boyle et al. (2004), in their pursuit to develop a certification program for NASA project managers, reviewed six programs and found a large range of methods in use to certify and develop project managers. This result was similar to earlier research on seven organizational programs that found no comprehensive development program covering all prescribed areas of the PMCD with additional application area specifics (Carbone, 2002).

On the positive side there are reports of organizations that are providing employees with a development program aligned to strategy. The Project Management Leadership program at Marriott International included 21 days of training, delivered across a number of formats, throughout a given year (Iverson, Lau et al., 2002). Meloni (2005) illustrated a training program that had a defined end and beginning that typically lasts a year. Ono (1995) described an organizational program based on completion of a Project Management Master's Certificate offered through a graduate school. The theme was still consistent for these and other programs reviewed in that they provided a good start, but none of them had all of the elements of competency building as outlined by the PMCD Framework, added internal application area development, and included continuous improvement.

What's Available

Graduate Programs

Universities around the world offer courses and/or degree programs in project management. To help evaluate the quality of project management university programs, PMI has established the Global Accreditation Center (GAC). The GAC functions to accredit project management related educational programs (Zerby and Joiner, 2005). As of February 2006, six universities throughout the world have degree programs meeting this accreditation (PMI-GAC, 2006). PMI also lists numerous other schools with non-accredited degree programs in Project Management throughout the world.

Graduate programs in the review for this research ranged from the Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) to degrees such as the MBA with a concentration in Project Management, or a Master of Science degree entitled, the Project Management in Environmental and Energy Engineering. For this research, to develop a comprehensive project manager competency development program, the design focused on full project management degree programs. To be evaluated for the development program, the graduate curriculums reviewed had to cover at a minimum the nine knowledge areas as defined by the PMBOK® Guide (Project Management Institute, 2004) from PMI. Exhibit 1 lists examples of courses found as part of university project management degrees.

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Exhibit 1. Typical Graduate Courses in Project Management

Certificate Programs

The research then reviewed available short-course certificate programs. A query on a Web search engine for “project manager certification,” returns over seven million sites! The APM 2005 survey noted that more than 200 different types of certification qualifications were mentioned by respondents (Association for Project-Management, 2005). The review for this paper distinguishes between a certificate, a certification and a certificate program. Certificates are typically awarded for completion of a single course and are not covered in this review. Certifications are typically offered by some authority or professional organization. Some of the largest and most-recognized certifications are shown in Exhibit 2. However, certifications may not be linked to any training or education requirements whatsoever.

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Exhibit 2. Sample Society Certifications in Project Management, cited from http://projectmanagementcourse.com/project-manager-certification.html, February 2006.

For the project management development program the design focused on certificate programs that offered multiple courses leading to a certificate in project management that covered at a minimum the nine knowledge areas of the PMBOK® Guide (2004). Additionally, the certificate programs had to be offered in partnership with a university or college. The programs in the review were ranked for breadth of program across the nine knowledge areas, distance learning availability, reputation, practice, applications, cost, and experience of the provider. In general, the coursework from highly ranked certificate programs followed the topics in the more disciplined and higher ranked graduate programs.

Summary of Findings

From the survey, benchmarking and the review of education programs, it was realized that a customized program to develop a project management skill base that was aligned with the corporate strategy was warranted. While university, certificate programs and certifications have merit, they must be supplemented to be complete. The organization must commit to the evaluation of courses and then invest in the development of supplemental application are specific courses to complete the program. Crawford and Gaynor (1999) identified that, “It is in the best interests of employing organizations to supplement standards and certification programs offered by professional associations, with assessment and development programs relating to the specific competences required in their corporate environment.”

What's Needed: The Requirements Trilogy

In order to develop a complete project manager development program, one must consider three large groupings of knowledge. Exhibit 3 indicates the trilogy that should be considered to develop strong project managers within an organization. Project management theory and the accompanying organizational methodology around project management provide the common vocabulary and a solid understanding of concepts. Project manager skills cover the specific soft and hard skills a project manager must have. The organizational culture part of the trilogy acknowledges and facilitates both project management into the organization's culture and likewise the culture into the project management development program. With this trilogy in mind, the project manager development program was then designed for the organization's own situation, the geographically dispersed workforce, internal specialty disciplines, and cost.

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Exhibit 3. Project Management Requirements Trilogy

A Project Management Development Program Model

The development of project managers at Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation is based on skills and competencies needed for this discipline. These competencies are based on those identified by PMI (Project Management Institute, 2002), the best practice literature, and FSC specific business needs. Given the global nature of the organization, cultures and learning styles were also considered (Strother, 2003; Park and Kwon, 2004; Galpin, 2005). The Project Manager Development Program (PMDP) consists of five-tracks aligned to project management theory, project software, soft-skills for project managers, application area specific courses, and the PMI PMP® certification. In addition, mentoring facilitates the application of knowledge gained from the coursework to application on active projects. Exhibit 4 depicts the outline of the tracks.

The program courses are delivered through universities, vendors, and internal instructors. Vendors selected have a mix of training methods for the blended design that includes e-learning, public courses, onsite, Webinars, and self-paced courses. The blended learning design is described more fully in (Carbone, 2006). The main highlights for each track are as follows.

Theory Track. The theory track includes formal project management coursework from either an approved graduate or a certificate program. The courses in this track are provided by academic universities or an approved training provider. A knowledge certification is required for the completion of each course in the form of a grade as well as overall track completion.

Technical Track. The technical track focuses on specific software training used for planning and analysis. Specialized courses are used if the business unit requires specific use of templates, tools, or methodologies within specific information technology systems.

Soft Skills Track. The soft skills track deals with arguably the most important aspect of project management and management in general. The development of soft skills is important for project managers who are often promoted to the position based on technical ability (Nellore and Blachandra, 2001). Managing a team of multidisciplinary, cross-cultural employees, over which the project manager may have little direct management influence, requires additional leadership skill building. This track also serves to build the required project management culture to encourage the necessary behaviors for success. As an example, one of the soft-skills courses is based on, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People® (Covey, 1989), whose link to project management and continuous improvement is explained by Ross (1996).

Area Specific Track. The area specific track focuses on application area skills. For example, in the semiconductor industry, a number of both internal and external standards describe requirements and deliverables for projects (Carbone, 2005).

PMP® Certification Track. As with all training, there needs to be a method for continuous improvement and learning, especially since the completion of the PMDP is not expected to be a one time experience. The Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification from PMI was selected as the external certification required within the PMDP. The PMP certification is one of the most widely recognized project management credentials, which requires passing the knowledge based test, demonstrated prior academic achievement, and applicable work experience. The external certification provides an independent means of evaluating knowledge to a standard that is recognized beyond the one company or training provider. Part of the continuous education and improvement of the project manager's skills are wrapped into the program by the requirement to maintain the PMP certification as tracked by PMI.

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Exhibit 4. Project Manager Development Program Map

The percent of the certification tracks completed ties into the project management career path within the organization. Graduating from the program as a certified project manager requires completion of the curriculum as well as approval from internal management based on actual project experience as the project manager. At the completion of the certification program, the project manager is awarded the highest level of project management certification within the company.

Results to Date

The results from the program have been significant. The skills the project managers have gained have provided them with increased ability to perform their job through a common vocabulary and understanding of project management that reaches around the world. There has been an improvement in the project methodologies that are written and actually used. This translates to projects following a standard process that leads to improved project success. There is less scope creep and projects are kept on time and on budget more often. Increased emphasis is placed on the importance of project planning, tracking, and control. Stakeholder satisfaction has increased as they consistently comment on the improvement in project scoping, consideration of project capacity, and project reporting. Due to the infusion into the company culture, the benefits extend beyond the project managers themselves. Functional managers and executives now see similar project management tools, methods, and activity, which helps them better understand the status of projects and guide improvements.

The project manager development is evaluated by both the Project Management Office (PMO) and Human Resources (HR). Using a competency scorecard, like the one provided in the PMI PMCD Framework (Project Management Institute, 2002), project managers are coached on courses for their own personal development. Based on internal satisfaction survey results, the project managers give high marks for the development program design and quality.

Recommendations – How to Get Started

Creating a development program is not an easy venture. The upfront work of benchmarking and analysis is but one part; the acceptance and change management into the culture is another. Recommendations for organizations are to have an owner of the process, whether within the PMO or HR. The owner must evaluate what specific skills are required for the specific business unit and manage program design. As with all initiatives, executive level support is a critical success factor. For individuals looking to enhance their project management knowledge, this model serves as another reference for design of a personal professional development plan, even if the organization does not have a full curriculum. Academia and vendors involved in project management education should ensure their courses are aligned with the standards and should take into account the full scope of building competencies in project management. This might mean going beyond being accredited by the GAC or as registered education providers (REP) from PMI. For PMI, the standards of the PMBOK-G, the PMCD Framework and the GAC are appreciated. However, it is recommended that the PMI REP's be evaluated accordingly to ensure those providing educational opportunities continue to do so in a quality fashion and are in support of the PMCD framework.

Conclusions

The survey results and benchmarking show that while organizations have project managers in place; few have considered what is required for a comprehensive project management development program. A review of graduate coursework as well as certificate based courses in project management shows that offerings are abundant. The concern is that the organization are likely not seeing the benefits from a hodgepodge of training taking place that it could achieve when compared with a more focused and comprehensive approach.

A project management development program that encompasses training on project management theory, organizational methodologies, and leadership skills that also includes continuous learning and mentoring was highlighted. The program is global in nature and aligns to the standards provided by PMI. The development program ties individual skill building to the bottom line of the company to meet the needs of its customers. In addition, the program is an investment in the people assets of the company. By preparing the employees today for their jobs of tomorrow the company is proactively training the employees for the knowledge economy.

One of the greatest achievements has been in the recognition of project management as a profession. Manager's now call the PMO excited to report one of their employees has passed the PMP exam. It is even more of a shock to the employee when they find out their manager was so excited for them, they beat them to the punch and informed the PMO first! We are on the way!

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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.

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