A national dilemma

globally aligned project management practice appropriate for local implementation

Lesley Jane Rider, PMP, Principal, LJ Project Associates


This paper presents, as a case study, the work performed to develop outcomes based project management competency standards to be used within the national South African Qualifications Framework. Typical project management challenges such as the need for change, stakeholder identification and commitment, strategic alignment, identification of best practice, and local validation are addressed within the environment of an “organizational change project” at national level within a dynamic global context.

The Context—Our National Dilemma

South Africa (SA) is a country classed as an emerging economy, with one foot in the first world and the other foot in the third world. The political changes begun in the early 1990s have led to enormous change including new government legislation and structures, social change and infrastructure improvements such as health clinics, low cost housing, water delivery and increased telecommunication facilities. Local and international Aid agencies are funding much of the development and transformation process and hence are indirectly influencing policy and practice. Prior to 1994 SA business practice was designed to survive within the constraints of sanctions and the prevailing political climate. Since 1994 and the lifting of sanctions, South African organizations have faced major changes including “normal” downsizing, rightsizing and business reengineering, the pressures of globalization on emerging economies as well as the unique political, organizational and social transformation initiatives necessary to build the new democracy.

Against this background the dilemma that the SA project management community has is how to continue to apply international best practice to the first world projects while simultaneously extending those approaches to the emerging practitioners involved in social, community development and poverty relief programs.

SA is well known for its “first world” projects such the Benfield Column Repair and the Polypropylene Plant from Sastech (both projects were awarded the PMI® Project of the Year). Other recent projects include the building of a new aluminum smelter in Mozambique (MOZAL), the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, as well as the development and implementation of sophisticated information technology, e-commerce, telecommunications and mobile phone projects.

While SA has so many dreams and needs, there are just not enough project experts to service them. Also, many of the projects require new implementation skills. Our challenge is to build project management capacity for infrastructure, social and community development programs such as poverty relief, HIV-Aids, village water provision, day care centers in Soweto and youth work development projects in rural areas.

A major legacy of the South African apartheid era is a shortage of skilled personnel. A key government strategy for building a new South Africa and to support the growth of its economy is a 20 year Skills Development Strategy (SDS). One component of this SDS is the establishment of a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) based upon models utilized in British Commonwealth countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand. In the project context, a major driving factor is the need for the rapid development of competent project practitioners, at all levels, in all sectors, to facilitate transformation and growth within government, industry, entrepreneurs, non-government organizations and small, micro/medium enterprise.

South Africa has a track record of producing good project managers. Since its inception in 1986, the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Certification has been acknowledged by many individuals and organizations. Universities offer a range of short programs, modules within degrees and full Masters in project management and there are many excellent independent providers offering training for project practitioners.

So Why Change, Why Should We Do Anything Different?

That was the first question raised, and in fact continues to be debated. Do professional project practitioners need to comply with a recognized national qualification framework? Do we need certification and assessment tools that reflect different levels of workplace application of project management?

Project management practitioners and members of the PMI® South Africa Chapter found themselves caught between the well-established PMI® model and the demands of the South African Government for the transparent, participative development, by representative stakeholders, of globally aligned project management standards and qualifications to meet the current and future national needs of the required skills base for the emerging (new) South Africa.

In 1997 we began the process of discovery, change and growth. The needs to address these national issues contributed to the formation of the autonomous, independent national project management association PMISA. At the PMISA inaugural conference the keynote address by the Minister of Public Works Jeff Radebe featured a challenge to the project management community in SA to develop competent project practitioners to satisfy the growing and divergent needs of the country.

This challenge was taken up by PMISA and the SA Chapter of PMI® who took the lead to form the PM Standards Generating Body (PMSGB), under the auspices of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

Case Study

This case study describes the work that has been taking place in South Africa to create competency based standards and national qualifications in the subfield of project management. As at April 2001, the work is not complete but lessons can be learned.

The prime objective of this initiative is to provide by June 2003, locally and internationally acceptable outcomes-based project management standards, to a predefined format, and to recommend combinations of those standards to be used as national qualifications. These qualifications are to be used for assessment, independently of training and education providers.

This project is one of many in the program of the national 20-year Skills Development Strategy. This has meant endeavoring to “fast track” the production of the project deliverables within a national environment subject to continuous change, as the national strategy was refined and implemented. Allowing the process to evolve has been as important as reaching the original goals for competency standards. The output from the project is a set of “standards” and recommendations on groupings of those standards to form National Qualifications. The resultant standards will be used by a wide group; including learnership programs in the workplace, training providers, academia and professional bodies. The assessment criteria link to assessment processes and their utilization by supervisors, workplace assessors and independent external assessors and verifiers. They have to take into account recognition of “prior learning” that may be knowledge or experienced based (without formal learning) and also be interpreted in a consistent manner when developing competence through learning programs and experience in the workplace.

The Project Management Standards Generating Body (PMSGB) decided to concentrate upon “generic” project management skills and to leave sector specific skills to groups writing standards in those sectors (e.g., construction, mining, IT) However, even related to generic skills many debates have been held upon the differences between “engineering versus business versus developmental/aid projects.”

The tangible results from this project are working sets of competency styled standards that are being used in learning programs, qualifications and individual performance assessment. Whilst developed within the South African context they build on global best practice and will be available in the public domain for direct usage and further development. See www.saqa.org.za for continuing progress.

The Participants

Debates within the PMI® Chapter, PMISA and at various conferences indicated a wide and diverse stakeholder community and some areas of resistance to local standards and qualifications. The first action, therefore, was to start the change process amongst the stakeholders. Considerable time was spent identifying, contacting and involving stakeholders. They are drawn from:

• Project Management Professionals (PMP®)

• Project management practitioners

• Project team members

• SA Professional Bodies such as PMI® SA Chapter, PMISA, Cost Engineering Association SA, SA Institute of Building, Association SA Quantity Surveyors, Computer Society of SA

• Training providers and Education Institutions

• Individuals from school level upwards

• Government Departments

• Aid Agencies

• Organizations in a wide range of sectors, especially Engineering, Construction, Information Technology, Mining, Agriculture and Forestry, Manufacturing, Retail

• Department of Education, South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)

• Department of Labour, Skills Development Strategy Programme and Directorate

• Sector Education Training Authority SETA

• Education Training Quality Assurance Body ETQA

• International Professional Bodies such as PMI®, APM (UK), IPMA, AIPM (Australia)

• UK National Vocational Qualification Bodies

Having gained stakeholder interest and agreement that the project profession did need to participate we stepped onto the rocky road to building our national standards.

SAQA and Key Aspects of the South African Model

Three government departments are involved in the establishment and ongoing operation of processes to build skills in South Africa.

• The Department of Education (DoE) incorporates SAQA which has 12 National Standards Bodies (NSB) and each NSB has several Standards Generating Bodies (SGB), one per sub field.

• The Department of Labour (DoL) has a National Skills Agency, under which there are 25 Sector Education Training Agencies (SETA).

• Each SETA then has several Chambers to represent specific interest areas, e.g., the Project Management Chamber. The Industry Training Boards have been disbanded and converted into SETAs and areas that previously had no Training Board are now represented by SETAs. The SETAs are involved in administration of the Skills Levy, including refunds to employers for producing skills plans, conducting training and paying for employees to be assessed against the national qualifications. DoL have a large Skills Development Programme in operation that is funded by several aid agencies, the largest contributor being the European Union Commission.

• The SA Revenue Services administers the collection of the Skills Levy.

• An additional key institute is the Education Training Quality Assurance Bodies (ETQA). These sit between DoE and DoL. The creation of these bodies began during early 2001.

Our Next Step Was to Decide What Was Meant by Best Practice and Where to Find It?

The good news is that there is an excellent pool of standards, glossaries, bodies of knowledge, research and ideas available in the global project community. The challenge was to align and obtain stakeholder agreement on the validity of these practices in the South African context and how we should use this global pool of information.


The SGB project is resourced on a voluntary basis and no start up funds were made available by government. The professional bodies and supportive businesses have assisted with the initial funding. Government funding is beginning to be available in 2001.


There are many constraints, the major ones are:

• No official funding

• The work is to be completed by June 2003

• SAQA specify a predefined structure and template for the two major products, viz Unit Standards and National Qualifications

• The PMI® policy on copyright of the PMBOK® Guide placed significant constraints and uncertainty on what content could and could be used. As the standards would ultimately be in the public domain this severely restricted their use

• The project management Subject Matter Expert's (SME‘s) responsible for generating the unit standards lacked the new skills required to enable them to generate standards and recommend combinations of standards to form national qualifications. These skills had to be acquired and in many cases external experts had to be contracted for advice.

The Risks

The first risk identified and potentially the highest risk was the acceptance and utilization of the output of the PMSGB, by as many stakeholders as possible. In other countries the take up of such standards and qualifications has been slow and there has been resistance, particularly from the Higher Education Authorities.

The approach taken has therefore been to keep communicating to as many stakeholders as possible, in as many ways as possible, to overcome resistance and to educate on the reasons and benefits of the outcomes of the PMSGB. This has meant accepting the frustrations of apparently slow progress. The formation of the PMSGB involved a wide stakeholder polling and has been relatively successful as members come from Higher Education organizations, training providers, professional bodies and practitioner/learners from government and business and industry such as, financial, engineering, telecommunications organizations.

The second major risk is the lack of funding and the voluntary nature of the functioning of the PMSGB. This means that commitment is limited and only a few hours a month is being spent on the work. The delivery is therefore taking a long time. After three years work the volunteer fatigue factor is becoming evident. This is compounded by the flow of funds to other parts of the SAQA/SDS model and the resultant clash of time expectations and priorities between participants from funded versus voluntary operations.

The third major risk is gaining consensus locally and internationally to the content of the standards that we produce. This is being managed by constantly consulting with international experts and referring to the global pool of standards from PMI®, IPMA, AIPM and APM. This information is then cross-referenced in the standards that are being written. The local content is being reflected in the way that the standards are being identified and scoped. The assessment criteria, embedded knowledge and critical cross-field outcomes also may contain local needs. The recognition of prior learning is of particular importance as studies of South African project practitioners show high practical experience but limited formal knowledge.

The Process—Method

Momentum was derived from requests by organizations for certification and assessment tools that would reflect competence of team members, team leaders, project managers and managers of project managers. These requests align with the intent of the South African Government to implement a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) that spans from schooling to Doctoral level.

In 1996 the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management were published by the Australian Institute for Project Management (AIPM). Several major organizations in SA began using those standards to develop career paths and assessment programs.

Debates began to occur within the PMI® SA Chapter community as to whether the PMP® was sufficient for all of the needs and how the local Chapter should become involved with the SA Government initiative.

In 1997 a National Association, PMISA, was formed to represent the Project Management profession within South Africa. This association works intimately with the PMI® SA Chapter and maintains close working relations with PMI®. As a national association, PMISA sets out to represent the specific needs of project management in South Africa, to deal directly with government and to build working relations with a range of national and international professional organizations that have an interest in projects in a range of sectors.

In late 1997 a national Conference was organized by PMISA and the PMI® SA Chapter. This provided a forum to begin stakeholder management on the implementation of South African standards. The conference was supported by a People to People delegation from the USA, and Ron Waller (PMI®), Lynn Crawford and Roy Sargent (AIPM), Gilles Caupin (IPMA), Frank Toney (PMI®) and Helen Cooke (PMI®) were amongst the contributors. This provided an opportunity for extensive debate on the merits of the different approaches to assessing and developing project management abilities as well as imparting information about available standards and certification programs.

Having started the debate a team was formed that began researching the way forward and to communicate the need for change. In February 1999, in a plenary session, attended by 130 people, a steering committee was formed to create a Project Management Standards Generating Body (PMSGB) under the South African Qualification's Authority (SAQA). This was achieved in February 2000 by formal announcement in the Government Gazette.

The PMSGB is a representative collection of 25 people from academia, professional bodies, industry and government. They form a kernel of SMEs to develop and guide the standards that will be proposed for acceptance by SAQA. There were the usual hoops that a “government” body needs to jump through in order to be officially formed.

During the time that bureaucracy was being satisfied a subgroup of the PMSGB researched existing standards and knowledge that should be taken into account as well as the needs of SAQA. The formation of the PMSGB required us to gain an understanding of the government regulations and proposed structures and taxes. As fast as we thought we understood what was required, new processes or policies appeared. Each time a new person becomes involved we have to repeat the learning processes for them, i.e., the complexity of the structures creates a need for induction of newcomers to the “world of SAQA.” This is described on the SAQA web pages (www.saqa.org.za).

The technical aspect of our work was easier. A set of core reference documents were identified, details are set out in the reference section. These included:

• PMI® PMBOK® Guide

• APM Body of Knowledge

• AIPM Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management

• IPMA Competence Baseline

• Project Controls National Vocational Qualifications UK

• British Standard 6079

• PMI® role delineation study

The PMSGB has to propose standards and qualifications that will be suitable for academia, professions and the workplace. They must also span across educational levels and are currently aimed at Further and Higher education levels. The NQF is made up of eight levels, Level 1 being General Education/ Schooling, Levels 2 to 4 being Further Education and Senior School, and Levels 5 to 8 being Higher Education.

A fast-track approach would have been to adopt the Australian standards, as they have been built to a similar model as SAQA uses. This approach however, was rejected as local content is required and many stakeholders felt that the full spectrum of available standards should be consulted.

Understanding the format of the standards has been a learning exercise for all of us. Several work sessions took place to assist the PMSGB members understand the expectations of SAQA regarding outcomes and assessments

The standards writing process has been hampered by the lack of funding. Project Management spans ALL of the sectors and NSBs, so sourcing funds has been a begging exercise. Members of the PMSGB have provided much of the resources to date. The introduction of a Skills Levy in 2000 should have provided funds but to date this has not occurred and the opposite effect has been experienced as the levy has limited the willingness of organizations to donate funds to the PMSGB. The SETAs, who are supposed to provide the funds are being driven by qualifications rather than a foundation of standards. This has changed the emphasis that the PMSGB is taking.

The Services SETA has formed a Project Management Chamber and the PMSGB is now partnering with this Chamber for development and funding of standards and national qualifications.

In February 2001, a national qualification at NQF4 (top band of Further Education) was scoped. Standards will be written for this qualification and the SETA will fund this work. The qualification will be used to pilot a learnership for project practitioners as well as being available for entry-level project staff. Further qualifications and standards will then be written.

The Products

A key driver to the work and output is the need to build relevant skills across formal education and into the work place. The historical situation of different education systems and a “brain drain” has resulted in South Africa experiencing a severe shortage of skilled people. There is also a high unemployment rate. The first priority of government is to build skills in the population group that is aged 30 and under.

The SA NQF model has evolved from models used in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The SA model includes standards and linked qualifications, as well as a carrot and stick through a skills levy of 1% of an organizations’ salary bill.


The PMSGB began by focusing on the traditional “Professional Project Manager” role. However, the needs span a wider community and this has stimulated debate on the competencies of additional roles. Ten domains have been defined. These are Project Management Frameworks, Project Integration Management, Project Scope Management, Project Time Management, Project Financial Management, Project Risk Management, Project Communication Management, Project Human Resources Management, Project Procurement Management, and Project Quality Management.

The standards have to be created in each domain, be generic in application and span the work place from entry level through team members, Project Administrators, Project Leaders, Project Managers, Managers of Project Managers, Program Managers and Project Executives means that a clear understanding is required of how you would assess someone as competent in each of these roles. The creation of the standards has been the hardest exercise, as it requires a specific format to be followed. This format includes:

• Title, Credits (amount of time to develop competence), NQF Learning Level

• Purpose of the standard

• Learning assumed to be in place before this unit standard is commenced

• Specific outcomes to be assessed (an outcome may be a product, service or decision)

• Assessment criteria, including embedded knowledge

• Range statements

• Embedded knowledge

• Critical cross-field outcomes

An outcome statement is made up of verb, noun, and modifying statement. They should not be a task but instead focus on competence outcomes.

The assessment criteria capture the requirements for a fair, valid, and reliable assessment procedure and the underlying and embedded knowledge. They should be measurable and encompass such things as accuracy, presentation, quality, completeness, clarity, and time. The assessment criteria have to be written in such a way that all parties interpret them the same.

The positioning of a standard to a particular role or situation is clarified through the use of ranges statements. The embedded knowledge specifies concepts, procedures and techniques but also includes such things as sensory cues, property characteristics, categories, legislation, theories, policies and relationships between the components

Eight Critical cross-field outcomes are specified by SAQA and each standard has to set out how they are addressed within the standard.

Full details are set out in a large SGB Manual published by SAQA and available from the web.

An example is given below of a specific outcome and associated assessment criteria from an NQF4 standard

Demonstrate a basic understanding of project management concepts’.

Specific Outcome 1: Differentiate between project and non-project work

Assessment criteria

1. Tasks specific to a project are correctly identified and prioritized within the objectives and scope of the project.

2. Differences between project and nonproject work are accurately discussed and explained.

3. The relevance of initiation and close out processes are motivated within a project context.


The SAQA definition of a qualification is “a planned combination of learning outcomes with a defined purpose or purposes, intended to provide qualifying learners with applied competence and a basis for further learning.”

They may be based upon exit level outcomes or unit standards. They span all NQF levels and the SAQA manual sets out the rules for how they are built. The intention is that a learner can also be assessed against certain national qualifications, through an assessment process administered by the ETQAs, independently of a training provider.

An NQF Level 4 national certificate in project management has been scoped to include the following unit standards:

1. Use mathematics in support of analysis of data and projections of data values.

2. Prepare presentations to support reporting and communication on a project.

3. Manage own time, tasks and priorities by applying time management techniques.

4. Conduct basic problem solving.

5. Work as a project team member.

6. Organize and support project meetings under direction of project manager.

7. Conduct project documentation administration.

8. Demonstrate an understanding of basic project management concepts.

9. Provide assistance with project change control (configuration management).

10. Plan, estimate and schedule own project work.

11. Maintain project organizational information as directed.

12. Maintain/assist with Quality Processes and procedures, standards.

13. Assist in preparing for workshops, internal or public.

14. Assist in development and maintenance of project schedules.

15. Assist with project procurement process.

16. Contribute to project cost control.

17. Contribute to project schedule administration.

18. Contribute to project risk management of project.

19. Utilize computerized project management tools and office support tools in project duties.

Lessons Learned

When standing back from the process and its frustrations we can see some good lessons and reasons for our many frustrations. These include:

The Successes

• The process has brought together many different stakeholders from different sectors, enabling a more unified PM profession in South Africa

• Government, in the form of many different departments, has become closer to the profession

• There is an increased awareness of the PM competencies needed in the workplace

• The need for different project roles is being understood in the workplace

• Different sectors are coming closer together

• There is increased standardization across practitioner training and service providers

• There is increased articulation across training and academic service providers

• There is an acceptance of international standards and best practice processes.

The Pitfalls

• Personal preferences can delay progress

• Lack of funding slows the process down and reduces motivation

• The voluntary nature of contributors causes missed deadlines, erratic progress and has probably prolonged what could have been a six month process

• The SAQA, SETA and ETQA rules, policies and processes are developing as we function so rework may occur and just as we understand what we are doing it changes! While this does hinder visible progress it is integral to a fast tracked organizational change project.


As project management practitioners, consultants, trainers and subject matter experts the authors have found the last four years to be a rewarding and unique learning experience. Our paradigms towards training and consulting have been challenged and in many cases changed.

Qualifications can be created and integrally related through common standards. Individual performance standards for project practitioners need unique characteristics if they are to be effective in assessing competence. We are committed to the outcomes based approach and are active supporters of the trend toward an increased emphasis on the assessment process backed by the production of portfolios of supporting evidence.

As active participants in a national organizational change project we have recognized firsthand that process and product must be integrally related in order to achieve broad stakeholder acceptance. The identification of global standards and best practice is the easy part; the real challenge lies in the culture change inherent in customization and internalization for local implementation.


Project Management Institute. 1996 & 2000. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Association for Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third and Fourth editions, 1996 and 2000.

British Standard 6079.

British National Vocational Qualifications for Project Controls and Project Management.

International Project Management Association Competence Baseline, 1999.

National Competency Standards for Project Management, Australian Institute of Project Management, 1996.

Project Management Institute. 2000. Project Management Professional Role Delineation Study. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. 2000. Project Management Experience and Knowledge Self-Assessment Manual. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Standards Generating Body documents. (Website: www.pmsgb.org.za).

South African Qualifications Authority Act, 1995 (Number 58 of 1995).

South African Government Gazette number 18787, 28 March 1998, regulations for National Qualification Framework, National Standards Bodies and Standards Generating Bodies.

South African Qualifications Authority for current procedures, policies and guidance. (Website www.saqa.org.za).

South African Government, Project and Construction Management Professions Act (48 of 2000), 2000.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA



Related Content