Organizational competence in the management and support of projects

Introduction

Why Conduct Research into Organizational Competence?

As with individual project managers, an organization needs to become more competent, i.e., develop the necessary skills, knowledge and attributes, to evolve and mature as a project-based organization. The ability of the organization to effectively manage a program or portfolio of projects, to support those projects in its operating environment, and to effectively apply best practice project management principles, processes and techniques is influential to the success of projects and the ultimate realization of organizational goals and objectives. Thus, by addressing these and other relevant issues, the more likely the organization is to evolve, mature, develop and be more successful.

Also central to this development of competence is the organization's ability to assess its performance both internally and in relation to its competitors. As with individuals, endorsed organizational competency standards would provide a foundation for (1) the development of an organization's project strategy aligned to corporate strategic goals, objectives and plans; (2) the professional development, selection and employment of project staff; and (3) the design, development and implementation of project management-related methods, standards and systems— all of which, in turn, would influence the evolving and maturing process, or the attainment of competence, for the organization.

Aim

The aim of this paper is to outline the findings, to date, of a research project to determine:

1. The components and dimensions of organizational competence in the management and support of projects

2. Those criteria critical to the achievement or enhancement of organizational competence

3. Benchmarks, or competency standards, for the measurement of organizational competence

4. Criteria for the assessment of organizational competence against endorsed benchmarks.

Components and Dimensions of Organizational Competence

The Components and Dimensions of Competence

For individuals, it is generally accepted that competence comprises the following components:

1. An individual's knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that are causally related to superior job performance (Boyatzis, 1982); and

2. An individual's ability to perform activities within an occupational area to the levels of performance expected in employment.

As well as these components, there are also the following dimensions of competence, which also have to be taken into account:

1. Input competencies: the knowledge and understanding, skills and abilities that a person brings to a job.

2. Process competencies: the core personality characteristics underlying a person's capability to do a job.

3. Output competencies: the ability to perform the activities within an occupational area to the levels of performance expected in employment.

(Finn, 1993; Crawford, 1997)

To be deemed or recognized as competent, an individual must be assessed against each of these components and dimensions, as well as endorsed competency standards.

The Components and Dimensions of Organizational Competence

The research has determined that these components and dimensions of competence can be articulated to organizations as well as individuals, and hence that a definition of organizational competence in the management and support of projects could contain the following components:

1. What the organization brings to its projects through its technical and/or product/service specializations, market orientation, business knowledge, policy/procedural framework, methods, and systems; and

2. What the organization brings to its projects through its structure, culture and behavior; in combination with

3. What the organization is able to demonstrate in its ability to successfully deliver quality outcomes through the effective management and support of its projects.

Exhibit 1. Proposed Dimensions of Organizational Competence

Proposed Dimensions of Organizational Competence

In a similar manner to that of individuals, a combination of these components and dimensions of competence provides an outline of an organization's competence as illustrated in Exhibit 1.

Implications for Organizational Competence

The similarity between the components and the dimensions of competence for individuals and organizations is significant. It essentially means that, if viewed from a competency perspective, organizations are able to be developed, assessed and recognized in relation to their level of competence against endorsed competency standards. Also, as with individuals, to be deemed or recognized as competent, an organization must be assessed against all components and dimensions.

Development could be facilitated by a number of initiatives, including the development, implementation and/or refinement of:

1. An appropriate management and support framework for the conduct of projects

2. An endorsed and accredited professional development program for project and associated staff

3. Best practice methods, procedures, processes, systems and tools.

As with development, assessment would also be based on endorsed competency standards and would be based on a balance of external, internal and self-assessment methods aimed at ensuring the organization is achieving its business-related outcomes based on its endorsed strategic goals, objectives and plans.

Recognition would be facilitated either internally for the organization's staff and/or externally within the industry sector, market and/or operating environment and again linked to the attainment of endorsed competency standards.

Critical Success Factors and Core Best Practices

For organizations to achieve or enhance their competence, they must progressively address certain factors considered critical to the effective management and support of projects. Through extensive consultation with organizations and industry, it has been determined that these Critical Success Factors (CSFs) are:

1. Project Strategy. The organization should formulate a project strategy in alignment with endorsed strategic plans, goals and objectives.

2. Project Appraisal. The organization should formally appraise projects for inclusion in its programs and/or portfolios.

3. Management of Projects. The organization should manage programs and/or portfolios of projects within the operating environment.

4. Support of Projects. The organization should support programs and/or portfolios of projects within the operating environment.

5. Organizational Change. The organization should plan for and manage the change that is generated within it by the conduct of programs, portfolios and/or projects.

6. Project Management Methodologies, Procedures and Systems. The organization should develop and apply appropriate project management methodologies, procedures and systems in accordance with best practice.

Each of these CSFs have Core Best Practices associated with them which break them down and specify the actions which should be taken by the organization to achieve competence in the particular CSF.

The Measurement and Assessment of Organizational Competence

The measurement of an organization's competence in the management and support of projects and the method of its assessment involves:

1. The establishment of competency standards on which measurement and assessment can be based

Exhibit 2. Example of Competency Standards for CSF 1

Example of Competency Standards for CSF 1

2. The development of appropriate assessment criteria and their implementation in the assessment process

3. The consideration of the impact on what is being assessed of the components and dimensions of competence specific to either the industry and/or the organization.

Generic competency standards, assessment criteria and appropriate component and dimensional impact criteria have been developed by the project.

Competency Standards

Competency standards for organizational competence have been developed utilizing both these CSFs as well as the components and dimensions of competence identified by the project. It is these standards that provide the basis for the measurement and assessment of competence in the management and support of projects within the organization.

Competency standards are generally formatted as outlined in the example at Exhibit 2 and comprise:

• Units of Competency

• Elements of Competency

• Performance Criteria

• Range Indicators (or Range Variables)

• Evidence Requirements.

The example provided in Exhibit 2 outlines the competency standards for CSF 1: Formulate a Project Strategy. In this example, the Units of Competency was derived from the appropriate CSF, the Element of Competency from the Core Best Practices associated with the CSF, and the Performance Criteria from the activities required to satisfy the Element of Competency. Generic guidelines for Range Indicators and Evidence Requirements are also outlined.

Organizations aspiring to be competent in this Unit of Competency would be required to meet the Performance Criteria of each Element as set out in the Competency Standards. The organization would meet these criteria by providing evidence (e.g., in this case, a project strategy document) for assessment by either internal or external agencies. The type and nature of evidence to be provided would be guided by the Range Indicators, which place industry and/or organizational boundaries around the evidence and assessment requirements, and the Evidence Requirements.

Units of Competency. Units of Competency have been developed by the project for each of the six identified Critical Success Factors.

Assessment Criteria

The Units of Competency have been supplemented by Assessment Criteria, which specify what must be done by the organization to achieve competence in each Performance Criterion. This is designed to ensure that the organization is able to self-assess and provide evidence for final assessment, which is not deficient. It also has the purpose of indicating gaps in the organization's coverage of the requirements set out in the Standards.

Exhibit 3. Example of Assessment Criteria for CSF 1

Example of Assessment Criteria for CSF 1

An example of the Assessment Criteria and their application against Performance Criterion 1.1.1 of Unit 1 is outlined at Exhibit 3.

Linkage With Components and Dimensions of Competence

As well as specific Assessment Criteria being addressed for each Performance Criterion, those aspects of the components and dimensions of competence which impact on the Performance Criterion would also have to be addressed so that a complete assessment of competence is conducted. In the example presented above, these aspects are presented as Input, Process and Output competency requirements that are specific to the organization.

This consideration of the specific Input, Process and Output competencies in conjunction with the pertinent assessment criteria not only adds rigor to the assessment process but also assists in ensuring coverage by the organization of the requirements set by the Standards.

Further Research

The findings presented in this paper are subject to further research effort on the part of the project.

The project seeks to establish an Integrated Framework Model which organizations are able to implement to achieve or enhance their competence in the management and support of projects. This Model will be generic in nature with the necessary flexibility to allow its refinement to either industry- and/or organizational-specific requirements.

The results of earlier research (in particular the determination of CSFs, Competency Standards and Assessment Criteria) will be the subject of further industry and organizational consultation and, hopefully, endorsement by the various professional bodies for the project management profession.

The project is due for completion in December 2000.

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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.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA

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