Competent at Competency

Many of us have responsibility for the delivery of projects.  Many of us have responsibility for the people who deliver these same projects.  You may have a good view of an individual’s strengths due to previous dealings, be that communication skills, leadership qualities or technical ability. Instinctively we recognise who the most capable project managers are and, not surprisingly, tend to farm the more difficult, or most important projects to them.    Whilst this cherry picking is inevitable, how should we manage our portfolio of projects people in a more holistic manner and raise the game for all?

In this ‘age of austerity’ the efficiency of our project delivery capability as a whole must be more considered.

Those organisations that have formed a strategy to eradicate ‘cherry picking’ and create further efficiencies have recognised the need to clearly understand (a) the complexities and challenges within a project or programme; and (b) the skills and competencies and motivations of the prospective project manager.  Matching the two is the objective….. in reality, gaining clarity around project requirements and people capability is the challenge.

Assessing Capability

Various attempts have been made to standardise measurement of project management competency (e.g. IPMA/APM) to varying degrees of success.  Some clients cynically observe that many assessment programmes have been developed with the sole purpose of selling additional project training courses such as Prince2.

You have passed to Level 2.  Thankfully the training world has (largely) moved away from the “1. Junior Project Manager is capable of managing small scale project risk; 2. Senior Project Manager is capable of managing large scale project risk” scoring rationale. And most competency programmes will now include some element of behavioural, contextual and technical competencies – how these are defined and measured is a matter of further debate as to their effectiveness and accuracy (see notes on Project Intelligence on the Pelicam web site).

From personal experience I know I can complete a behavioural assessment and come out as the equivalent of ‘Mother Teresa’ or ‘Attila the Hun’ depending on what I want the observer to see (by changing my behaviour - not my personality).  The accuracy of desktop assessments is flawed for this reason (amongst others). Also the specific need to customise the assessment according to the context and environment at the client - it appears this customisation is not often done – clients can pay a small fee for the assessment or get it free of charge in lieu of training revenues.

One hundred and eighty!  The 180 or 360 degree review is common and has some merits for the behavioural aspects of a review.  The trouble is we (often) don’t know what we don’t know.  If those people providing feedback are not project intelligent the quality of the content will inevitably suffer.

Assessing Project Requirements

In order to match a project manager to a project you first need to understand the many attributes of the project work to be undertaken.  These considerations need to include: the context, complexity and do-ability of the project, the business drivers, the extent of the challenge, the risks to be faced, the levels of motivation needed. 

All this within the context of the peculiarities of the organisational environment and culture at the time.  In practice most organisations struggle to build a view of their portfolio that delivers this information.

The Perfect Match 

For this reason to accurately measure an individual’s contribution we prefer to review their actual work on site – in real time.  This means working through the project definition, reviewing the content of the risk log, determining if the issues are accurate, understanding the communications process (and its effectiveness) and how stakeholders are being managed.  We look at whatever the project manager is using to manage his project.  Findings are shared openly with the project manager and validated with two key stakeholders.

By doing this we get a very accurate view of what he/she is currently doing, their levels of motivation, understanding of the context and project intelligence, and therefore their capability to deliver the project/programme in question. Outputs vary but can include practical risk assessment, prioritised action plans, a real focus on delivery, and ultimately project correction.

It is designed to be a positive experience for the participant.  Engenders the right individual behaviours: active participation, precision, integrity, personal responsibility, problem ownership and resolution.  An immediate and sustainable uplift in project performance. 

We can only do this with our senior project/programme practitioners who are well versed in Pelicam’s Health Check process and are Project Intelligent themselves.  The Health Check is based on the premise – what is project success and how will it be achieved? Our PM Development Workshops ask a similar question of the individual – what does success look like for you and how will you achieve it?


2010, PeopleKatie MayerComment