PMO competencies

how to define, assess, and plan

Americo Pinto, PMP

Marcelo Cota, PhD, PMP

This paper introduces an unprecedented model proposal for defining, assessing, and planning competencies, developed exclusively for PMOs (Project Management Offices).

The proposed model is part of a series of solutions jointly developed by 19 experienced PMO leaders in major Brazilian organizations who took part in the 2011 class of the PMO Master Class Program (Programa PMO Master Class), a pioneering advanced training initiative of international level, aimed exclusively at experienced professionals with high potential.

Further information about the PMO Master Class Program can be found at www.pmomasterclass.com.br.

INTRODUCTION

PMO is an organizational entity that centralizes and coordinates activities related to project management and can operate in different scopes of influence, ranging from the entire enterprise to a single specific department.

Among the authors and researchers on the topic, there is strong consensus that a successful PMO is able to adapt to different organizational needs. As a service provider, a PMO has clients with specific needs that must be met through services/functions performed by this organizational entity.

Thus, in order to meet such different needs, a PMO can provide functions that are classified into five groups according to their frequency (Hobbs & Aubry, 2007):

• Monitoring and Controlling Project Performance

• Development of Project Management Competencies and Methodologies

• Multi-Project Management

• Organizational Learning

• Strategic Management.

Recently-conducted researches (Hobbs & Aubry, 2007) show that the role of developing competencies in project management is one of the main services provided by a PMO. Naturally, in this case, PMO is seen as an active agent aiming to spread knowledge on project management throughout the organization, developing the required competencies in clients so that they are successful in their projects.

As a parameter to achieve this goal, a PMO has the Project Management Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) at its disposal, published by the Project Management Institute (PMI). It includes detailed information on which competencies a project manager should have.

On the other hand, when dealing with the specific competencies required by PMO professionals, a knowledge gap is observed in literature. While some of the competencies of a project manager may also be applicable to PMO members, many others are required when a PMO is expected to perform roles different from those played by a project manager.

Thus, it is possible to conclude on the need to establish a specific model of competencies aimed exclusively at PMO professionals, involving technical and behavioral skills specific to each service or function to be implemented.

The model presented hereafter seeks to provide a reference to help PMO managers define, assess, and plan the necessary competencies for each service and function implemented by a PMO, serving as a guide for the development of a PMO team of professionals.

DESIGNING A PROJECT MANAGEMENT COMPETENCY MODEL

Definitions in literature agree that competency is a set of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to fulfill a certain purpose (Durand, 1998).

The first part of this definition reproduces a well-known abbreviation: KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes). This concept summarizes the traits or abilities that are inputs for demonstrating competency. However, many forget the second part of the definition: competency is required to accomplish something, i.e., it is applicable.

In this article, we will therefore address PMO professionals competencies, consisting of knowledge, skills, and attitudes applied to real-life PMO operations.

When we observe competency-based management models adopted in organizations, several supplementary approaches and concept adaptations that are often times similar are found. For example, in a particular organization competencies can be more focused on behaviors (attitudes) required for occupying a position of a given hierarchical level (operational and strategic). On the other hand, in another organization competency may have a greater focus on applied knowledge or technical skills, both contributing to the job performance.

The following list of competencies (Exhibit 1) was the result of extensive discussions based on the PMO Master Class Program experience of the participants who are PMO leaders in Brazil. Therefore, to achieve this, a brainstorming process was used in which 10 competencies were consensually identified and defined taking into account the degree of alignment with regular tasks of the PMOs analyzed and the weight of direct contribution to the performance of the PMO and its professionals.

This list should be used as a starting point for PMOs adopting this competency model, but it is necessary to observe the reality of each PMO within its own organizational context, which will allow the model to be adjusted, either inserting or deleting competencies. Therefore, it is noteworthy that, even though the model represents an important reference, it should not be generalized to each and every situation.

Exhibit 1 – List of Competencies Identified in the Model

List of Competencies Identified in the Model

DEFINING PMO FUNCTIONS/SERVICES

The functions or services provided by a PMO will indicate the set of competencies necessary for good performance or proficiency. Therefore, it is important to have a clear definition of these functions, so that identifying the required competencies is possible.

In the research performed by Aubry and Hobbs (2007), 500 PMOs worldwide were analyzed, identifying the 27 most common functions in these PMOs (Exhibit 2). These 27 functions were analyzed in order to identify which skills would be applicable to each one of them.

The functions analyzed were as follows:

Exhibit 2 – List of Frequent PMO Functions and Services (Hobbs & Aubry, 2007)

List of Frequent PMO Functions and Services (Hobbs & Aubry, 2007)

SETTING THE COMPETENCIES FOR EACH SERVICE AND FUNCTION

For each PMO function or service, there is a set of competencies required by the professionals responsible for it. Once the possible competencies for each function are identified, the next step is to reach more representative groups.

For this purpose, among several methods that could be adopted, the AHP - Analytic Hierarchy Process (Saaty, 2001) was chosen, one of the major mathematical models to support decision-making.

Applying the AHP method, it was possible to prioritize which competencies would be more important for each function or service performed by the PMO, linked to the percentage of representation that indicates the degree of contribution or its relevance to the performance of the function analyzed.

Exhibit 3 shows the result in one of the functions: Report project status to upper management.

Competencies Selected for <i>Report Project Status to Upper Management</i>

Exhibit 3 – Competencies Selected for Report Project Status to Upper Management

SETTING PROFICIENCY LEVELS FOR EACH COMPETENCY

Assessing a PMO professionals’ competency can be tough work if the right approach is not used.

If we consider that most competencies presented in this model reinforce the attitudes of the professional rather than their technical knowledge, the creation of a way to assess proficiency without being subjective to a certain point becomes even more challenging.

We can say that a PMO is competent when it is functional. However, PMO is not an impersonal entity, but rather is formed by a group of professionals with different backgrounds and experiences; therefore, many skills need to be assessed.

Along the lines of the Project Management Competency Development Framework (PMCDF), which focuses on the evaluation and development of individual skills of project management professionals, we aim to expand and direct the focus to professionals who perform PMO functions, seeking to enhance individual and group PMO performance.

Thus, as a next step of the proposed model, defining how to assess this proficiency in the critical competencies for PMO functions was necessary.

Therefore, a growing scale of proficiency levels was established for each competency, ranging from the absence of the proficiency to a manifest level of high excellence.

Four levels were defined, listed in Exhibit 4 for the competency “Customer Focus”:

Competency: Customer Focus

Exhibit 4 – Proficiency Levels for Customer Focus

Proficiency Levels for <i>Customer Focus</i>

Proficiency levels were created for each of the 10 identified competencies enabling the identification of the assessed professional's current status, as well as setting development goals, in view of the PMO objectives.

APPLYING THE PMO COMPETENCY MODEL

The use of the PMO Competency Model should be guided by the following methodology:

Methodology for Applying the PMO Competency Model

Exhibit 5 – Methodology for Applying the PMO Competency Model

STEP 1 – Identify the functions implemented by the assessed PMO. Occasional functions not listed as part of the 27 functions assessed may be included, using the same logic described in this paper.

STEP 2 – Review the competencies suggested for each function, including, excluding, or modifying the representation previously suggested by the model.

STEP 3 – Assess the required competencies according to the suggested levels of proficiency, building up a “preferred” profile for the function or service. These profiles can be adapted to different seniority levels. Example: The person responsible for “Providing reports” should have level 3 proficiency in a particular competency. On the other hand, the professional who provides assistance in this function must have level 2 proficiency in the same competency.

STEP 4 – Assess the professional responsible for each function, taking into account the suggested competencies and the “preferred” proficiency levels. Thus, a gap analysis in terms of the expected performance is possible.

STEP 5 – Formulate individual development plan aimed at competencies. Once the gaps are identified, it is possible to set an action plan to improve the performance of the professional and, consequently, the function implemented by the PMO.

STEP 6 – Monitor the development of competencies and implement continuous improvement. The last step of the methodology represents how established competencies are managed and the model is renewed, depending on the analysis of the achieved results. The performance of the professional or the PMO itself in a particular function may trigger the need for improvements, review of critical competencies by function and even a review of the functions implemented by the PMO. This step should be repeated at least on a semiannual basis.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

Based on the experience of the organizations involved in the proposal of this model and on existing literature, it can be concluded that there is not a de facto standard for assessing and developing competencies of professionals working at PMOs, which makes this paper an initial taxonomy proposal that can – and should – be adapted each time it is applied in an organization. This taxonomy will remain under study by the authors of this paper aiming at its improvement and extension.

Even organizations that do not adopt the Competency-Based Management Model as a rule can use this model to conduct independent assessments of their PMO professionals. The results can offer a feedback to internal processes of staff development, as well as the PMO performance objectives as an entity.

The creation of a competency model for PMO professionals works as a management tool and, therefore, a key element for selecting, assessing and developing its professionals and, consequently, the PMO.

This model is beneficial in many ways:

• Creation and/or Standardization of Job Descriptions and PMO Team Recruitment

• Use of Assessment Model for Individual Competencies and Preparation of Development Plans

• Assign staff to functions according to their profile

• Thread way through Team Development and Motivation

• Focus on High Performance and Achieving the Department's Objectives

• Assessing and Planning PMO Maturity Evolution.

Details of the Competency Model for the 27 most common PMO functions, developed by the 2011 class of the PMO Master Class Program, can be found at the Appendices of this document.

REFERENCES

Soler, A. (2011). Coaching para Gestores de Projetos de Tecnologia da Informação. Revista Mundo PM, Ano 2(7).

Cota, M. F. (2011). A Influência do Escritório de Gerenciamento de Projetos no Desenvolvimento de Competências do Gerente de Projetos, Tese de Doutorado. Universidade de São Paulo.

Fleury, A.C . C., & Fleury, M. T. L (2000). Estratégias empresariais e formação de competências. São Paulo: Atlas.

Hobbs, B., & Aubry, M. (2007). A multi-phase research program investigating project management offices (PMOs): The Results of Phase 1. Project Management Journal, 38, 74-86.

Mcclelland, D. C., & Spencer, L. M. (1990). Competency assessment methods: history and state of the art. Hay McBer Research Press.

Project Management Institute. (2007). Project manager competency development (PMCD) framework, second edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Saaty, T. (2001). Decision making for leaders: The analytic hierarchy process for decisions in a complex world. Pittsburgh, PA: RWS Publications.

 

APPENDIX 1 - KSA CHART FOR EACH COMPETENCY

Competency # 1 - ABILITY TO INFLUENCE
Being able to persuade, convince, influence, or encourage others to obtain support or produce effects on the tactical and strategic objectives related to portfolio, equal or similar to those that would be obtained through power or authority (hierarchical level), often non-existent for PMO.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Best project management practices, focused on the areas of knowledge defined in the PMBOK® Guide, primarily integration, HR and communication

Organizational Culture

Understanding of the Business

Stakeholder Analysis

Best Practices in Program and Portfolio Management

Corporate Strategy

Argumentation skills

Getting people's attention and respect

Convincing without authority or direct power

Negotiation techniques

Acting with interest and curiosity

Showing charisma in relationships

Sense of urgency

Communicative

Involving people in the decision process, assigning responsibility

Bringing about changes

Competency # 2 - INTEGRATION CAPACITY
Being able to identify interdependencies between various projects, programs and portfolios, collaborating with involved stakeholders in order to enhance their assertiveness in achieving related strategic organizational objectives. Implies the ability to influence and negotiate with internal clients with different interests.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Systemic and strategic (understands the political and economic environment of the organization and formulates strategies to achieve objectives).

Stakeholder Analysis

Best project management practices, focused on the areas of knowledge defined in the PMBOK® Guide, primarily integration, HR and communication.

Best Practices in Program and Portfolio Management

Negotiation Techniques

Corporate Strategy

Organizational Culture

Conflict management

Careful analysis

Applying multidisciplinary knowledge

Argumentation skills

Skillful transit throughout the organization

Articulation

Problem-solving

Logical, cohesive, coherent thinking

Negotiation techniques

Anticipation of facts, problems and opportunities

Synthesis

Conveying reliability and confidence

Observing the operating environment

Sensitivity in interpersonal relationships

Maintaining secrecy of matters and documents

Demonstrating critical stance

Trying to prioritize

Impartiality

Demonstrating reliability of information

Demonstrating clarity of purposes

Assertiveness

Conciliatory

Committed with the organization's interests

Competency # 3 - CONFLICT MANAGEMENT
Being able to positively manage and overcome resistance or break the stalemate between individuals or stakeholder groups in order to minimize the impact on project delivery or to portfolio performance.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Best project management practices, focused on the areas of knowledge defined in the PMBOK® Guide (integration, scope, time, cost, quality, HR, communication, risks, and procurement)

Organizational Culture

Stakeholder Analysis

Conflict Management Techniques

Negotiation Techniques

Carefully and critically analyzing different viewpoints

Submitting realistic and timely proposals

Considering other people's nature in dealing and relating with people

Problem-solving

Involving the project team and stakeholders

Negotiation techniques

Willing to listen

Demonstrating energy to solve problems

Impartiality

Communicative

Conciliatory

Interpersonal sensitivity (quality contacts with peers, customers and suppliers)

Competency # 4 - EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
Being able to promote effective communication of projects, programs and portfolios at various hierarchical levels, considering the depth and the information needed at each point of contact.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Organizational Culture

Stakeholder Analysis

Communication Techniques

Negotiation Techniques

Feedback Techniques

Encouraging decision making

Structuring consensus model for group decision-making

Ability to influence / direct

Active and attentive listening

Good oral and written communication

Synthesis

“Political” articulation

Conducting meetings

Showing Empathy

Acting impartially

Easily receives and transmits

information to various

audiences

Ability consolidating data

Interest in hearing.

Competency # 5 - PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Being able to plan, organize, assess, and monitor the management of projects, programs and portfolios, in conjunction with project managers, stakeholders, and senior sponsoring management / PMO services clients, promoting the maturity of this competency within the organization. Implies the ability to work in an environment marked by organizational change.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Best project management practices, based on the areas of knowledge defined in the PMBOK® Guide (integration, scope, time, cost, quality, HR, communication, risks, and procurement)

Best Practices in Program and Portfolio Management

Understanding of the business

Organizational Project

Management Maturity Models

Process Management

Management support tools (i.e., MS Project timelines, Primavera, portfolio: MS PPS, Clarity; processes: BPM, MS Visio, etc.)

Organizational structure of the company

Basics of Financial Mathematics

Good oral and written communication

Focus on internal client

Developing people

Ability to sell ideas

Leadership

Articulation

Self-confidence

Managing changes

Conflict resolution

Objectivity / assertiveness

Working with discipline and method

Organizing and conducting meetings

Bringing about changes

Proposing different ways of

working

Flexible to changes

Acting ethically

Sensitivity in interpersonal

relationships

Proactive

Entrepreneurial spirit

Critical

Cooperative

Coherent with what is said and done, serving an role model to be followed

Assuming responsibilities

Attention to detail

Self-control

Competency # 6 - ORGANIZATION & PROCESSES
Being able to structure activities and processes and to act within defined contexts in standards that support task accomplishment.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Quality assurance tools

Systemic and strategic (understanding the company's political and economic environment and formulating strategies to achieve the objectives).

Analytical skills

Logical reasoning

Designing and implementing new services / processes

Good oral and written

communication

Synthesis

Discipline and method

Organized

Attention to detail

Communicative

Objectivity

Proposing different ways of working

Accepting and adapting easily to change

Competency # 7 - ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Being able to seek and identify opportunities for action, propose, and implement solutions - in an innovative and differentiated way - in order to optimize the performance of projects and portfolio.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Innovation Management

Quality Management

Process Management

Discipline and method

Analytical skills

Logical reasoning

Organization

Doer's profile

Believing in own potential

Observing the operating environment

Attention to detail

Pro-active

Pursuit of excellence

Coherent with what is said and done, serving an role model to be followed

Versatility

Proposing different ways of working

Flexible to change

Competency # 8 - INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Being able to create, maintain, expand and use contact networks to ensure the delivery of expected results.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Stakeholder Analysis and Management

Conflict Management Techniques

Good oral and written communication

Good oral and written communication

Empathy

Objectivity

Eotional balance

Attention to detail

Observing the operating environment

Self-control

Empathy

Reasonableness

Demonstrating charisma in relationships

Clarity of purposes

Coherent with what is said and done, serving an role model to be followed

Demonstrating confidence in others

Available to listen

Respect for differences

Conveying reliability and confidence

Competency # 9 - CUSTOMER FOCUS (STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT)
Being able to identify and meet customer expectations and being flexible in the event of a change in the management model or in the organizational structure.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Stakeholder Analysis and Management

Team Management

Change Management

PMO Services

Best project management practices, based on the areas of knowledge defined in the PMBOK® Guide

Organizational Project Management Maturity Models

Good oral and written communication

Organization

Discipline and method

Empathy

Adaptability

Ability to listen

Objectivity and simplicity

Observing the operating environment

Rapid response

Proactive

Delegating and Following

Available to listen

Energy to solve problems

Seeking to identify and understand customer needs

Good relationship with the internal areas

Persistence and optimism in implementing changes

Flexible to change

Competency # 10 - KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT
Being able to spread the culture/discipline of project, program, and portfolio management within the organization/department, and ensure knowledge building throughout the development of projects and programs and after their termination.
KNOWLEDGE SKILLS ATTITUDES
Technique (KNOWING) How to Do (DOING) Willing to Do (BEING)

Training Techniques

Best project management practices, based on the areas of knowledge defined in the PMBOK® Guide (integration, scope, time, cost, quality, HR, communication, risks, and procurement)

Best Practices in Program and Portfolio Management

Organizational Culture

Taxonomy and Content Management

Good oral and written communication

Knowledge sharing

Empathy

Consolidating information

Interested in teaching

Proactive

Organized

APPENDIX 2 – SELECTED COMPETENCIES FOR EACH PMO SERVICE AND THEIR RESPECTIVE WEIGHTS

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APPENDIX 3 – PROFICIENCY LEVELS FOR EACH COMPETENCY

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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.

© 2013, Ana Costa
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana

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