Using the Project Management Competency Development Framework to Improve Project Management Capability
The Project Management Institute (PMI®) has revised the Project Management Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) and published a second edition. The framework is now based on a major research project that PMI conducted to support the PMP examination process. This paper will introduce the framework and explain how to use it to improve individual project management competence and organisational project management capability.
The Standards Members Advisory Group (MAG) commissioned a project in 1998 to develop a competency-based framework to support individual project managers and organisations that wished to be assessed against a common set of project management performance criteria. The initial project team based its work on the PMI standard, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 2000 Edition, and the Australian Institute of Project Management's (AIPM) National Competency Standards for Project Management. The first Project Manager Competency Development Framework Standard project team also included information derived from the then current literature on project manager competence, competency modelling in general, and other information derived from generally accepted project management sources. The result was that the document used the nine knowledge areas of project management to define the performance competencies. The document also used the behavioural competencies identified and documented in the competency dictionary developed by Lyle and Signe Spencer.
The Framework was well received by the project management profession, and in 2004 the MAG decided to refresh the document as part of the normal standards development process and called for volunteers. The MAG was changing the approach to developing PMI standards; it decided that all standards would be based on solid research. In this area a project team had done a great deal of fundamental research on what a project manager does to successfully deliver a project. This research was published in the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Examination Specification.
The research showed that project management professionals viewed project management from a process viewpoint rather than from a knowledge area viewpoint. The PMCDF – Second Edition project team used this research to reconfigure the framework. The team followed the PMI standards writing process to develop the refreshed version of the framework and released it at the PMI Global Congress in Atlanta in October 2007. It is now available for purchase.
Purpose of the Project Management Competency Development Framework (PMCDF)
The PMCD Framework is sponsored by PMI and was first released in 2002. It was developed to guide individuals and organizations on how to assess, plan, and manage the professional development of a project manager.
The primary purpose of the PMCD Framework is to provide a guide for the assessment of project manager competence. It is aimed at a project manager who:
- has the necessary practical project management knowledge, skills, and experience as outlined in the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Examination Specification requirements and PMP® Role Delineation Study
- has demonstrated knowledge competence by recently passing a suitable exam (PMP® or equivalent)
- is able to provide evidence of performance and personal competencies identified in the Framework
- is a project manager with 3–4 years of experience managing medium-sized or larger projects, and who may be under the guidance and direction of a program or portfolio manager, or senior project manager
The framework is provided for individuals and organizations to assess project management competence as part of an individual's development process.
What is Project Management Competence?
Project management competence can be described as consisting of three separate dimensions:
- project management knowledge competence—what the project manager knows about project management
- project management performance competence—what the project manager is able to do or accomplish while applying project management knowledge
- personal competency—how the project manager behaves when performing the project or activity
To be recognized as fully competent, an individual would need to be successfully evaluated against each of these dimensions. It would be impossible for project managers to be judged competent if they did not possess the expected combination of knowledge, performance, and personal competencies.
A project manager can demonstrate knowledge competence by sitting for and passing a suitable examination on the principles and practice of project management. An example is the PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification.
A project manager can demonstrate performance competence by providing evidence that they meet the performance criteria set out in chapter 2 of the PMCDF.
A project manager can demonstrate personal competence by providing evidence that they meet the performance criteria set out in chapter 3 of the PMCDF.
When a project manager is assessed against the PMCDF there is normally a gap that can then be closed with some type of learning activity.
The competencies defined in the PMCDF are generic in that they address most project managers most of the time. An organisation may wish to compliment the framework with organisation- or industry-specific competencies to tailor the framework to meet its needs.
The PMCD Framework
The PMCDF makes the assumption that knowledge competence can be assessed with a suitable certification process, such as PMI's PMP® certification. The framework then provides the detail to assess performance and personal competencies. Research from the Role Delineation Study provided the basis for the structure of the performance competencies. The performance competencies in the PMCDF are now viewed from a process perspective, making the model simpler and easier to use. The personal competency section now includes professional responsibility and ethics, and has been restructured to reflect project management personal competencies. The chapter on developing competence now includes a model for assessment, personal growth, and learning.
Once the structure of the performance competencies was established, the PMCDF team then reviewed the PMP Exam Specifications and the initial PMCDF document to define the competence units and then the elements.
An output-oriented set of words was used to define each element. “What is the outcome required?” was asked. Each element was broken down into performance criteria and evidence was developed for each. An example of this is shown below.
Performance competence is demonstrated when an individual is able to provide evidence of meeting the performance criteria, normally concrete evidence. It may be project metrics to show compliance, feedback from a stakeholder, or a document the individual was responsible for preparing or approving. Normally there will be a one-for-one relationship between performance criteria and evidence when assessing performance competence. In most cases assessing performance competence is reasonably “black and white.”
By contrast, personal competencies are more difficult to assess—there may be a one-to-many relationship with the evidence. There may appear to be many shades of grey.
The project team asked “What behaviours do we need to see?” when defining the elements for personal competencies. The team used the original framework as the basis for the elements of personal competence.
When the elements were agreed upon, the team then broke these down into performance criteria and provided types of evidence. An example is shown below.
The shape of the document grows very quickly when you realize that for each dimension there are up to six units, each unit may consist of up to eight elements, and each element may have up to eleven defined performance criteria. The pyramid builds very quickly.
Using the PMCDF
Now that the PMCDF - Second Edition has been published, one could ask, “How do I use it?” Several issues need to be clarified. The first is what outcome is needed: does an individual need support or is an organisation pushing for improved project management capability? The PMCDF can be used at a number of levels, the individual level, the organisational level, and the consultancy level. Different levels of rigor are needed for each.
What Level of Rigor?
The PMCDF can be used by a wide range of constituents for a range of outcomes, from deciding what training an individual needs to setting up a complete certification program.
Low-rigor competence assessment typically involves casual self-assessment, or informal assessment of the competence criteria; its primary use is in personal development planning and improvement. An appropriate subset of the framework can also be useful for team assessment and risk avoidance as a part of project kick-off. The disadvantage of self-assessment is in each person's self-perception—some people know themselves very well, others do not. One can compensate for this disadvantage by doing the self-assessment with a peer or manager.
Medium rigor is less casual and begins to add an appropriate selection of the following elements to the assessment process:
- review of the suggested evidence for each performance criteria
- 360° evaluations
- second and third-level questions about each criteria
- specific recording of action items to work upon
- re-assessment after completion of the development plan
Note that medium rigor requires the person performing the assessment to have the necessary range of competencies to enable them to assess the performance. Also, medium rigor takes more time, perhaps as much as two to four times the amount of time as the low-rigor approach. But the results are more repeatable and useful.
In addition to the above elements, high rigor adds the following, where appropriate:
- Assessment by a pair or a board of qualified, independent assessors, to allow better observation of the ehavioural attributes of the person being assessed. This also allows increased recording of the open items.
- Preparation and assessor review of a project report, where the person being assessed describes how he or she demonstrated each of the criteria in a recent project.
- Workshops or simulations, to distinguish ability to convince from ability to perform.
- Careful recordkeeping of each assessment judgment and reconciliation of assessor differences in independent scoring. This is essential for legal reasons, as well as for assessor evaluation.
High rigor further increases the assessment effort and the consistency of the results. The ultimate in high rigor is certification-level assessment, which is beyond the scope of this paper. However, performance competence certification represents the current pinnacle of competence development.
Why Rigor Is Important
Rigor is important because if too little rigor is used for the intended application, the results are meaningless and time is wasted. On the other hand, if more time and effort are used than called for, time is wasted producing information that may never be used, and the credibility of the process may be lost. Also, this may cause a bias against further assessment. If an assessor spends two full days with a project management office assessing 200 performance criteria just to identify a two-day basic project management class to attend, this conclusion is easily understood.
Thus the scenarios set out below help identify the audience and use of the framework at several different levels of rigor.
An easy way to use the PMCDF is to build an assessment log to “score” an individual against the criteria. An example of a typical log is below shown.
Project Management Performance Assessment Log for Initiating a Project
The purpose of a self assessment would be to establish where the individual stands against the competence baseline of the framework. A project manager may wish to assess his or her own competence as a personal exercise or prior to assessment by a third party. The individual may apply the process less formally and the collection of evidence may be done over an extended period.
The individual will compare their performance against the individual criteria specified in chapters 2 and 3. The assessment may lead to a request for assistance to address a development need or an organizational assessment. This is the quickest way to define a development need and is done with a relatively low rigor. The project manager (or an individual who wants to become one) would sit down and collect evidence for each criterion and fill in the assessment log.
Assessment at an Organizational Level
If the assessment is being applied to an entire organization, the method of evaluation may be quite formal. Some organizations may be looking at a competency mapping process that selects those project managers with the highest levels of competence for managing critical projects. This will have more rigor than self-assessment but may still be with relatively low rigor. If the organisation is building an internal certification process then the rigor level will need to be higher so that the process and the final outcome has credibility. The assessor may be the individual's manager, a senior peer, or an external assessor/consultant. In many organizations a third party is involved to provide a consistent approach across the organization, and may be from a human resources or training division. The following approach could be used.
- Pre-meeting preparation—the project manager and the assessors each work their way through and complete the assessment log prior to the meeting. The project manager needs to ensure that there is evidence available for each criterion and the assessors need to collect stakeholder feedback to support their preliminary assessments.
- Assessment meeting—the lead assessor asks the project manager and the other assessors to give their scores and works towards an agreed outcome. There may not always be consensus but there must be an agreed factual basis for the assessment. The assessment log is completed as the meeting progresses. This meeting may last up to four hours.
- Documented result—this may simply be a “formal” version of the assessment log signed by the assessors and the individual or it may be a more comprehensive report, including project metrics and feedback data.
This type of process has a medium level of rigor and is used by many companies.
Certification by Consultants
This process requires the highest level of rigor and must be formally documented and supported by accessible, factual data. There may be a need to conduct 360 surveys prior to the assessment and the individual will probably need to prepare some type of portfolio that includes evidence of a number of successfully completed projects. Preparation and assessment will take a number of weeks, and in some cases, months.
It is critical that this type of assessment is evidence-based. In sorting and filtering the information provided, assessors can use any or all of the following:
- The evidence is factual.
- The evidence is relevant to this performance criterion.
- The evidence is firsthand.
- The evidence is related to a project the individual managed.
- The evidence is a “formal” document.
- The evidence is a released document. (One that has had review and approval, not version 0.1 or release A)
- The project manager being assessed is the author of this evidence.
- The project manager being assessed had a direct role in producing the evidence.
- The project manager being assessed had ultimate responsibility for the evidence and its effectiveness on project outcomes.
Before using the evidence, the assessor(s) must be satisfied that a majority of the above elements are satisfied. When using the evidence the assessor(s) must ensure that information is sufficient to:
- establish a rating against the performance criterion being assessed
- identify elements and/or specific items for further development
Plan Project Manager Competence Development
Once the assessment has been completed, a competence development plan should be developed. It is important for the plan to use the information gathered in the assessment to build on the strengths and to address the development needs of the individual project manager. The results of the assessment should be addressed in a timely manner, as the assessment may identify items that need to be corrected immediately. Furthermore, the plan should be prioritized to address areas which are most critical to the individual and organization. Once the areas have been prioritized, a realistic timeline for the plan should be established.
By focusing on the high priority items that require additional training, a more effective plan can be implemented. Just as a work breakdown structure is an effective way to decompose a large project into more manageable deliverables, the competence assessment helps to segregate the elements.
Addressing development needs can be done in a number of ways. This may depend on a number of aspects, such as available resources, cost, and time. Selecting the best method will require some analysis. The following are learning environments that may be used to address development needs:
- role playing
- on-the-job training
- group training
- in-house training
- CBT (computer-based training)
- individual training
- PMI®-sponsored programs
- PMI Global Congress
- PMI eLearning
- local chapter-provided educational opportunities
- public education
The Competence Development Plan follows a performance assessment and lists the activities to be undertaken. Each line represents a component of learning needed to reach an intended level of competence.
The assessor will work with the project manager to identify such items as priorities for action, PMCD Framework reference, learning activity type, timeline, mentor, sponsor, and level to be achieved.
Conduct Project Manager Competence Development
The project manager owns the plan and is accountable for delivering the outcomes. The project manager needs to execute the plan just as a project manager would execute a project plan.
While an organization may be involved in developing and supporting a project manager's competence development plan, it remains the responsibility of the individual to ensure the plan is followed and the benefits are realized. The outcomes of the plan will allow the individual to improve their performance and reap the benefits in their career. The plan should include activities to address developmental areas and ways to leverage strengths, and should include actual activities, timing, costs, and metrics. The metrics will allow the improvement to be objectively measured. Collecting the metrics is one way to show progress against the plan. While ownership of the plan remains with the individual, most plans will have a sponsor within the organization. This may be the direct manager or a senior mentor. Proactively including the manager/sponsor/mentor in monitoring the plan is one way for the project manager to ensure that higher management supports his or her career development.
Monitor the Execution of the Plan
Monitoring the plan should begin once there is an agreed framework for the plan. There may be cost associated with the execution of the plan and this needs to be approved and budgeted.
While the plan is being monitored it also needs to remain relevant. The situation surrounding the project manager may change: the current project may require a different type of support or may highlight a new strength. A particular activity may not be providing the necessary outcomes and may need to be realigned to better address a particular weakness.
The plan should be monitored regularly, preferably with a key stakeholder who can be the assessor or line manager. With each milestone in the plan there must be measurable outcomes, which may include:
- formal training
- feedback from stakeholders
- presentations to stakeholders
- delivery of project outcomes
- mentoring activities
- networking professionally with peers
Data collected against these outcomes will provide concrete evidence of progress. When an activity/outcome is complete this needs to be reported against the plan and communicated to key stakeholders of the plan. The project manager will regularly conduct an informal review of the plan, at least once per month. Formal review of the plan should be performed at the completion of major milestones, phases, or projects, and conducted with the manager/sponsor/mentor. Many organizations include this review as a major part of their performance management processes.
Support for the Plan
Successful completion of the competence development plan depends on the motivation of the project manager and the support given to the project manager. Within an organization this support comes from the immediate manager and senior peers. This support will need to be engaged and the relationship nurtured. Engagement requires an understanding of the plan, what it is, how it will be rolled out, and what is needed from them to support the project manager. The role of the project manager is to introduce the plan, explain the benefits expected, and ensure that relevant stakeholders are kept up to date.
Evaluate the Execution of the Plan
Progress against the plan will be evaluated continually throughout its execution. When the planned actions have been completed, the project manager should be able to demonstrate that the identified development needs have been addressed.
As with any plan that is executed, a formal review of the success of the plan is also needed. Did it really achieve the expected outcomes or did it fail to deliver what was expected? Some of the questions that need to be asked include:
- Was the plan suitable?
- Did the plan deliver the needed outcomes?
- Was there sufficient support for the project manager and the plan?
- Were there activities that would have provided better outcomes?
- Can others now use the same plan?
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Project Management Institute. (2000). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 2000 Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Project Management Institute. (2002). Project manager competency development framework. Newtown Square, PA:
Project Management Institute. Project Management Institute. (2004). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 2004 Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Project Management Institute. (2005). Project management professional (PMP®) examination specification. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Project Management Institute. (2007). Project manager competency development framework – Second edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Spencer, L.M. Jr., and Signe, M.S. (1993). Competence at work: Models for superior performance. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
© 2008, Chris Cartwright
Originally Published as a part of 2008 PMI Congress Proceedings – Sydney, Australia