Assessing Project Management Competencies in Practice: The Case of a Mining Company
BY JACQUES GOUWS, MSC PM (LIVERPOOL), PMP
ProjectLink’s technical project management competency assessment (CA) model utilizes a competency dictionary linked to a five-point Likert scale, which is broadly based on PMI and APM’s respective competency dictionaries. It differentiates between Novice, Participator / Contributor, Specialist Practitioner, Expert, and Innovator. The specifics are beyond the scope of this article, but essentially the different levels involve progressively more stringent requirements in relation to a list of 18 competencies, each of which are regarded as a “unit of competency” (UC). These UC cover the span of project management technical competencies, which involve the 10 project management knowledge areas as defined by PMI, namely project integration, scope, schedule, cost, quality, resource, communications, risk, procurement, and stakeholder management. Eight further UC, broader than project management, are also covered, namely management regarding benefits, governance, finances, program integration, strategy, portfolio performance, portfolio risk, and strategic and business management.
The level of competency, as per the competency dictionary, is mapped in relation to a specific project management role, with cognizance of seniority, against each of the UC applicable to that role. For example, a project cost controller is required to be at least a “specialist practitioner” for the project cost management UC, but only a “participator / contributor” for project scheduling, and might not be required to possess any competency regarding, say, strategic management. A project planner, in turn, must obviously be more proficient at scheduling, and less so at cost management, etc. Aside from the obvious differentiation based on role, another variable is the specific environment in which an individual operates. E.g., in some companies, project managers are not required to develop and maintain project schedules, while in others it is regarded a primary responsibility. To account for these variables, ProjectLink’s model involves a calibration exercise with the client, resulting in a company-specific “footprint” per role and level of seniority.
For this article’s case study, such a calibration exercise was performed with a mining company in March 2018. It primarily involved a workshop attended by key representatives from the company’s project controls department, the result being a “footprint” for roles such as project planner, cost controller, estimator, and a few more, each further defined for the levels of junior, intermediate, senior, and so forth.
Ordinarily, calibration is followed by having the incumbents perform a self-assessment against the relevant UC, using the competency dictionary. It includes a consolidation of their technical project management qualifications and experience. ProjectLink then, ordinarily, holds an expert panel review, and, for UC for which insufficient substantiation could be found, earmarks competency tests for the incumbent to practically demonstrate his/her level of competency per identified UC.
In the case of this client, however, it was decided to take a different approach. Prior to performing any competency self-assessments or tests, the incumbents were enrolled in a practical project controls management course. The course is currently under way, and was designed to address a few specific UC, requiring incumbents to perform planning and controls on a case study involving the building of a house. They work in teams, consisting of a planner, estimator, and cost controller, and are required to perform a set of assignments on project controls-related work associated with the lifespan of a construction project. For example, assignment one involved the creation of a work breakdown structure, which then formed the foundation for the activities, resources, etc., that were required to be estimated during assignment two, and so forth. One of the primary objectives of the course is the demonstration of proper project management integration (UC1), which is achieved through having the team members working as a team, and ensuring synchronization in their outputs (e.g. the schedule, budget, cashflow, etc.) throughout. At the time of the writing of this article (about halfway through the course), the participants were in the process of developing basis of scheduling and estimate documents.
Competency development in the course is ensured through formative (developmental) assessments (peer assessment and feedback), which, on completion of the course, will be followed by a summative assessment (grading) of Portfolios of Evidence (PoE) (one per group). Each participant will then, based on his / her role, be judged against the relevant UC, thereby informing a score against the specific “footprint”.
The self-assessment and qualifications and experience review will follow in due course, and serve as an input to career path planning.
In conclusion, in the case of the mining company, PoE for the project controls management course replaces competency tests. These PoE will, therefore, upon completion, serve as evidence regarding the achievement of UC as earmarked per role according to the “footprint” determined during the calibration exercise. An article about the results will follow on completion of the course later this year.
Association for Project Management., 2015. Competence Framework. 2nd ed. APM.
Project Management Institute., 2017. Project Manager Competency Development Framework. 3rd ed. Newtown Square: PMI.
Project Management Institute., 2017. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide). 6th ed. Newtown Square: PMI.
Voorhees, R.A., Bedard-Voorhees., 2017. ‘Principles for competency-based education’, in A.Reigeluth, C.M., Beatty, J.B., Myers, R.D. (ed.) Instructional-Design Theories and Models, Volume IV: The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition, pp. 33-63.