Knowledge alone is not enough! To be effective in any sphere of life you need to be capable of applying knowledge effectively to achieve an outcome; this is competency. However, to be really effective you not only need to be capable of being competent, you need to be willing to act, to use your capability effectively. Effective (ie, competent) managers need to know what should be done, have the skills to do the work and be willing to actually do the work.
Putting this into context, project managers agree that having an effective schedule is important and also know they need knowledge of CPM theory (summarised in Chapter 3 of the PMI Practice Standard for Scheduling) and their scheduling software to produce a realistic and achievable schedule. But simply creating a schedule is not sufficient – the project manager needs to make effective use of the schedule if it is going to add value to the project delivery process.
This makes measuring and assessing management competence difficult. Observing an artefact is not sufficient, it is the way the competent manger behaves that make the real difference. Fortunately, the definition and assessment of competency is based on a defined structure:
First, there are three basic elements within the project management competency framework,
– technical competencies – what you do or produce,
– contextual competencies – how you work within the organisation / environment, and
– behavioural competencies – how you operate in the workspace and interact with people.
Then each element of competence is assessed in terms of:
– knowledge (what you know – tested by CAPM and PMP exams),
– skills (the capability to effectively apply the knowledge in the workplace and the artefacts produced) and
– attitude (how willing or effective you are in applying the skills).
This is normative competence and is the structure of PMI’s Project Manager Competency Development Framework and virtually every other professional competency framework including those developed by the AIPM, IPMA and GAPPS. However, the framework dates back to the industrial age where task repetition was common and one could learn the best-in-class approaches and emulate these to deliver new tasks.
In the ‘age of knowledge’ this is probably not sufficient, competent project managers in the 21st Century need to grow beyond normative thinking and embrace transformative practice. Project management competence is shifting from a process view towards autonomy; self reference and group self organisation. These qualities empower professional project managers to perform well despite prevalence of complexity and rapid change. They develop customised solutions for each new, unique, occasion; implementing the new solution requires the use of existing knowledge but will also generate new knowledge.
This constructivism theory has a basic assumption that each time you perform a new activity you build on your existing knowledge to acquire new insight and competence, and consequently engage in continuous learning. To be really effective, the organic ‘on-the-job’ learning should also be reinforced with the acquisition new information from journals, innovative courses, discussions with colleagues and participating in communities of practice.
Consolidating the new learning into tangible and useful knowledge needs reflection (to understand what has been learned) and possibly the assistance of a mentor to help unlock the complex factors needed to grow within yourself, develop creative solutions, and find new ways to succeed.
Yesterday’s competence is the foundation on which you can build tomorrows, but relying solely on yesterday’s skills is insufficient! Competent project managers know they need to keep learning and developing.