A scorecard approach to PPM talent management

Abstract

Hiring project managers and developing project management talent in an organization can be accomplished efficiently through the use of customized scorecards. Portfolio and program managers need to find the manager that is best suited for each program and project. Maintaining an appropriate project manager (PM) talent pool is essential to staffing readiness and successful delivery. This paper describes a PM scorecard framework that has been applied successfully to resource management, career development, training, and recruitment.

Introduction

Every project is unique and every project manager brings his or her own unique mix of experiences, skills, knowledge, and motivation to it. From an organizational perspective, there is a need for consistently high-quality project management practices regardless of the inherent variations in projects and people. A crucial component of fulfilling this portfolio and program management (PPM) need is effectively staffing upcoming projects. This in turn is dependent on selecting the right project manager, because he or she will be responsible for hiring the remainder of the project team.

However, not every project needs the world's best project manager. The key is to match the project's specific requirements with the appropriate candidate in terms of skills and experience. This task is in reality often hampered by the lack of time as well as the challenge of juggling the needs of several projects at a time.

Using a project manager scorecard can significantly ease the complexity of this task (Salasoo, Boyle, & Root, 2012). A scorecard not only helps to match the right candidate with the right project, but also ensures the best use of the resources available. By clarifying both the specific needs of projects and the relevant attributes of project managers, it can contribute to organizational efficiency. The scorecard sets standards of performance that can be applied in recruiting, training, and career development, thereby increasing organizational maturity in project management.

The Challenges of Hiring

One of the challenges that a portfolio or program manager faces in hiring a project manager is selecting the candidate best positioned to succeed in the given assignment. As businesses focus on time to market, incremental benefits, and ambitious if leanly staffed programs, there is rarely the luxury of time for an exhaustive search. If an Information Technology (IT) organization or a development center exists within the business, its resources are almost automatically considered for the software development PM assignments that come up. Juggling these resources is commonplace in an effort to meet the needs of ongoing as well as new projects. The objective is to provide the most appropriate resource to ensure the success of the project. (Although this paper uses IT and software development as its context, the framework applies to all domains of PPM.)

Now add scalability factors to this scenario. You may have 50 or more active projects at any time. At the same time, the work intake process for new projects is not predictable.

In such a scenario, hiring appropriate resources quickly calls for first classifying both the projects and the potential project managers. However, this is no easy task. On the resource management side, there may be 40 or more project managers on the team, each working on one or more projects of varying durations. Each of the project managers would like to have the “ideal” project for the next assignment; however, some may not be ready for the most challenging project as the next project; others may be overqualified for the project.

To mitigate delivery risks, project managers who are likely to succeed on a given assignment need to be selected. However, to garner support for the decision, all the project managers in the resource pool need to be able to understand the rationale for the decision. Communicating this rationale is therefore not only necessary, but can also be an opportunity to encourage the project managers to focus on specific areas of improvement so as to qualify for more challenging assignments in the future.

A Tool for Rational Staffing Decisions

The search for a robust tool to enable rational staffing decisions was what originally prompted the development of our PM scorecard. As the leaders of a global development center for a client, our primary objective was to develop and support world-class project managers, achieving a distribution of performance levels that matched our project portfolio. Project management excellence was critical for the success of the center, and project failure was a significant risk. Our focus was on raising the overall project management expertise in our center and that of the individual project managers. The PM scorecard helps to measure and understand project management competency at the center level and identify any areas for improvement. Individual PMs are able to use the scorecard to understand how they are perceived by center leaders and to understand their specific project management strengths and areas for improvement. Similarly, ensuring an optimum mix of project management experience has been made easier with the PM scorecard.

How the Scorecard Works

The PM scorecard comprises 21 evaluation criteria that have been developed based on our observations of leadership styles and effectiveness. They include project management skills, client relationship skills, team leadership skills, independence, contribution to the center, and compliance with standards, etc. We organized the criteria into two basic categories. The 11 “skills and experience” items capture the candidate's relevant project management experience, training and certification, size of the largest project managed, and other historical factors that are traditionally considered important. In addition, 10 “competency” items deal with the capabilities and behaviors required in the specific PM roles. While every item on the scorecard belonged to either the “experience” or the “competency” broad index, after some usage, some items were more predictive of performance and those items were also part of more specific indices. This is explained in more detail in the section on “Scoring and Indexing.” Exhibit 1 illustrates sample evaluation criteria used in the PM scorecard and the mapping to broad and specific indices.

Sample scorecard evaluation criteria

Exhibit 1—Sample scorecard evaluation criteria

Five descriptors were created for each item, with each descriptor representing an increasing presence or capability of the attribute being measured. Each of the five levels of an item was associated with a rating score so that higher levels of performance had higher scores. For example, the five descriptors that demonstrate increasing performance levels for a “Relevant Business/Technical Knowledge” scorecard item could be:

Entry-level knowledge
On learning curve
Moderate expertise, support still needed
Significant experience with similar technology or industry
Guru in relevant domain

Exhibit 2 illustrates the 5 levels of descriptors used in the PM scorecard for several sample items.

Sample scorecard item descriptors

Exhibit 2—Sample scorecard item descriptors

Customization

The importance of each item in the scorecard will vary depending upon the context. The scorecard can be customized by creating items that are deemed critical for success in a given project management situation. Similarly, the mapping of evaluation criteria to experience and competency indices, especially the latter, can be modified depending upon the project.

It is important that the evaluation criteria be independent. When this is not possible, any correlations should be highlighted.

Scoring and Indexing

The scorecard generates an overall performance score for each individual project manager. In addition, there is a set of index scores that focus on key areas of interest. The broadest index includes every item on the scorecard; a more focused index may be selective and avoids repetitive and less-predictive items. The scorecard can be simplified by focusing purely on the specific index criteria. We note, however, that the expanded scorecard is useful in situations that call for the collection of longitudinal data. Also, the seemingly extraneous criteria can be valuable in certain situations such as when the organizational leadership team or project managers seek related information.

Implementing the Scorecard

The center leadership rated each project manager on each of the 21 criteria. A facilitated discussion session was used to arrive at the final rating and to ensure fairness and alignment of the specific ratings. While the initial discussions may tend to be diffuse, our experience has been that, over time, the scorecard rating process becomes much more efficient. The overall average score across all scorecard criteria determines a project manager's classification at a given point in time. Indices and item distribution patterns will help identify the project manager's specific strengths and areas for improvement.

The use of a metaphor for the classification of project managers and projects can be used in place of the scorecard assessment levels. For example, a boxing metaphor would lead to classification labels such as flyweight, welterweight, middleweight, heavyweight, and world class. Such labels, though they may not be tied to the company's formal performance assessment system, will enable clarity in conversations around project requirements as well as performance parameters, e.g., “We need a heavyweight project manager for the complex Project X” or “This training program is aimed at associates striving to become middleweight project managers in the next year”.

Exhibit 3 presents a sample of a PM scorecard results summary. The overall score indicates a welterweight level of project management performance and the specific strengths and weaknesses are shown in the individual item ratings. The descriptors for each level of each item provide additional clarification. Effective scorecards will require similar details and relevant descriptors to be defined.

Sample scorecard results

Exhibit 3—Sample scorecard results

Communication is Crucial

A crucial aspect of implementing the scorecard is communication between the senior leadership team responsible for staffing decisions and the project manager population before and after an assessment. The leadership should explain the need for a scorecard to the project managers. After the assessment is completed, the overall methodology and results should be presented to all project managers. Trends and other statistical analyses of the group results should be shared to help project managers understand the overall progress of the initiative, which is independent of their personal score. In addition to group communications, confidential individual consultations to discuss each project manager's ratings should be made available. The focus of these discussions should help the project manager understand the criteria, their relevance, and the meaning of the rating. This should be followed by additional discussions regarding coaching and development opportunities.

Conclusion

The PM scorecard is now widely used within our company. Multiple development centers use it in ways similar to our initial implementation. Pools of project managers are rated several times a year using the same scorecard instrument. This helps to assess and manage continuous improvements in the PM resource pools. In addition, at the center level and at the organizational level, the scorecard is used as part of the interview process for project managers. An even broader use of our PM scorecard has emerged for our central learning organization. The scorecard includes the soft skills that often require additional attention in technical organizations. The curriculum planners of the project management career track training program have therefore found it useful. The project management training curriculum is now based on the classifications and behaviors included in the scorecard. These experiences suggest that other program and portfolio managers and managers of project manager populations may benefit from developing and using a similar PM scorecard.

Portfolio management is driven by business objectives, but it ends up with a differentiation of project types and project manager resource needs. Using a PM scorecard is a step forward in the maturation of the PPM processes in an organization. Focusing on resource management and project staffing, the PM scorecard can help ensure a successful and efficient portfolio execution. Also, the scorecard potentially has broader enterprise-wide benefits and can be customized to address specific enterprise needs.

References

Salasoo, A., Boyle, J., & Root, R. (2012). A case for developing project manager scorecards. Retrieved August 25, 2013 from http://www.cognizant.com/InsightsWhitepapers/A-Case-for-Developing-Project-Manager-Scorecards.pdf

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.

©2013, Cognizant Technology Solutions U.S. Corporation. Authors Salasoo, Boyle and Root
Published with permission as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana

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