Conceptual levels of competence
Developed by Ronglian Wei
When it comes to the term competence, there is not a consensus definition of it, because a variety of relevant researchers have their own interpretation. To be precise, it mainly refers to project management(pm-) competence in this article. Project management competence can be defined as the capability, to perform the project management process professionally. Pm-competence is not only related to individuals but also project teams and organizations. For different parties like individuals, project teams and organizations, their characterization of pm-competence is related yet different. Thus the following article mainly looks into these three aspects:
- pm-competence of individuals: the capability to fulfill all functions specified in the role description.
- pm-competence of project teams: the project management competences of the project team members plus the social knowledge and experience of the team to commonly create the “Big Project Picture” to produce synergies, to solve conflicts, and to ensure learning in the team.
- pm-competence of organisations: integration of pm-competence of individuals and project teams.
In order to have a thorough comprehension of pm-competence, besides what mentioned above, an outline of project-oriented organizations, project management, and project management process will be given. It is also worth demonstrating the practical application of this theory.
Project-oriented Organization(POO) is an organization in which a considerable part of its processes and activities take place in the form of projects. Its organizational structure has elements of matrix organizational structure. In the project-oriented organization, the project manager has full authority to set priorities and manage the work of the people assigned to the project. In the project-oriented organization, projects are a natural part of its operation.
A POO can be defined as an organization that:
- Defines “Management by Projects” as an organizational strategy
- Applies temporary organizations for the performance of complex processes
- Manages a project portfolio of different project types
- Has specific permanent organization structures to provide integrative functions
- Applies the “New Management Paradigm”
- Has an explicit project management culture
- Perceives itself as being project-oriented.
The POO considers projects not only as tools to perform complex processes, but also as a strategic option for the organizational design of the company, the division, or the profit center. By applying management by projects the following organizational objectives are pursued:
- Organizational differentiation and decentralization of management responsibility.
- Quality assurance by project work and holistic project definitions.
- Goal orientation.
- Organizational learning.
For processes of different complexities, different organizations are adequate. The POO perceives projects and programs as temporary organizations for the performance of complex processes. For unique processes of medium to high complexity and short to medium duration (three months to twelve months), projects are the appropriate organization form. Projects can be defined for contracts for external clients as well as for product development, marketing campaigns, or reengineering activities for internal clients. A program (of projects) is a temporary organization for the performance of a process of high complexity. The projects of a program are closely coupled with overall program objectives, overall strategies, and common processes and methods. A program has a time limit and is medium or long term (six months to thirty-six months) in duration. Typical programs are the development of a “product family“ (and not of a single product), the implementation of a comprehensive information technology (IT) solution (such as SAP software), the reorganization of a group of companies in a holding structure, and large investments, such as an oil platform. Consequently, the more different project types a POO holds in its project portfolio, the more differentiated it becomes and the higher its management complexity becomes.
A project can be used for product development, construction, product improvement, system deployment, process creation, process reengineering, new service initiation, software development and etc. The roots of modern project management are visible in the second half of the 19th century, a time when complexity started rising in the business world. Later during the 1970s, organizations realized that they had to run projects requiring the integration of many different disciplines and thus emphasis was given to teamwork and on how a team could perform as a united entity. In the 1990s, the dominant approach was to simultaneously integrate people and tasks and realize goals and means concurrently and interactively, rather than sequentially and separately. Finally, in the 2000s, three new trends emerged: adaptation, strategic focus, and globalization. The first has the meaning that one size does not fit all, and thus organizations must adapt their project management techniques to the particular project type. The second has the meaning that program management must be business-oriented and must connect projects with the broader business strategy. The third refers to globalization, with the meaning of increasing number of projects run by teams spread across the world. 
As for now, a clear and unified definition of project management in this industry has been made. Project management is an integrative undertaking that requires each project and product process to be appropriately aligned and connected with the other processes to facilitate coordination. Actions taken during one process typically affect that process and other related processes. For example, a scope change typically affects project cost, but it may not affect the communications management plan or level of risk. These process interactions often require trade-offs among project requirements and objectives, and the specific performance trade-offs will vary from project to project and organization to organization. Successful project management includes actively managing these interactions to meet sponsor, customer, and other stakeholder requirements. In some circumstances, a process or set of processes will need to be iterated several times in order to achieve the required outcome.
Project management process
The POO is characterized by specific business processes.
Project management is the core business process of POO. It consists of the sub-processes project start, project coordination, project controlling, project discontinuity management, and project close down.
The project management process starts with the formal project assignment and ends with the project acceptance by the project owner. 
The PMBOK® Guide describes the nature of project management processes in terms of the integration between the processes, their interactions, and the purposes they serve. Project management processes are grouped into five categories known as Project Management Process Groups (or Process Groups):
- Initiating Process Group. Those processes performed to define a new project or a new phase of a fine a new project or a new phase of an existing project by obtaining authorization to start the project or phase.
- Planning Process Group. Those processes required to establish the scope of the project, refine the objectives and define the course of action required to attain the objectives that the project was undertaken to achieve.
- Executing Process Group. Those processes performed to complete the work defined in the project management plan to satisfy the project specifications
- Monitoring and Controlling Process Group. Those processes required to track, review, and regulate the progress and performance of the project; identify any areas in which changes to the plan are required, and initiate the corresponding changes.
- Closing Process Group. Those processes performed to finalize all activities across all Process Groups to formally close the project or phase.
Detailed definition of pm-competence
Pm-competence of individuals
The project management competences required by individuals differ according to the project roles to be fulfilled. The following project roles can be performed by individuals: project owner, project manager, project management assistant, project team member, and project contributor. Regarding the pm-competence of individuals, this part is mainly defined and analyzed in detail by the most characteristic role- project manager. It would not involve every role related to the project management given the length of this article.
The specific project management functions to be performed, e.g., by a project manager, can be described in a role description table demonstrated below.
|Role description: Project Manager|
|Functions in the project assignment process
|Functions in the project start process
|Functions in the project coordination process
|Functions in the project controlling process
|Functions in the project discontinuity management process
|Functions in the project close-down process
From the role description, it is obvious that the project manager requires knowledge and experience not only to apply project management methods but also to creatively design the project management process.
This ability relates to:
• The selection of the project management methods appropriate for a given project
• The selection of the appropriate communication structures
• The facilitation of the different workshops and meetings
• The selection of the participants for the different workshops and meetings
• The decision to involve a project coach
• The definition of the appropriate form for the project management documentation.
The project management competence of a project manager is the capability to fulfill all functions specified in the role description. Besides the project management knowledge and experience for a given project type, a project manager needs product, company, and industry knowledge. In international projects, cultural awareness and language knowledge are also prerequisites.
Pm-competence of project teams
In order to perform a project successfully, a project team requires competence. The competence of a project team can be defined as the project management competences of the project team members plus the social knowledge and experience of the team to commonly create the “Big Project Picture,” to produce synergies, to solve conflicts, and to ensure learning in the team.
A project team needs the ability to cooperates in workshops and meetings. The application of project plans, such as a work breakdown structure, a schedule, a project environment analysis, etc, have to be understood as tools, to support the communication in the project team.
Pm-competence of organisations
Not only individuals but also organizations have the capability to acquire knowledge and experience and to store it in a "collective mind" . Willke (1998) describes organizational knowledge as hidden in organizational principles, which define the way organizations work.. For example, such organizational principles, which define the way projects are managed, are project management procedures, project management templates and standard project plans.
The project management competence of the POO can be described and assessed with a "pm-competence" model. This model can be presented in a "spider web", with the axis project start, project controlling, project coordination, management of project discontinuities, project close down and design of the project management process.
The assessment of the project management competence of an organization is based on an IT-supported questionnaire, with about 80 questions. The questions, e.g. relating to the project start process, are grouped in questions regarding pm-methods for the planning of project objectives, project risk, project context relationships, project organization and project culture. For each question, the current pm-competence level is assessed according to the answering possibilities-"always", "sometimes", "seldom or never".
The overall project management competence of a POO is presented by the area, resulting of the connection of the project management competence points at the scale of the spider web axes. Further discussion is shown below.
The "pm-competence" model
An instrument for self-assessing and for benchmarking the pm-competences of organizations is the “pm-competence” model. The basis for “pm-competence” is the above-described pm-process, with its sub-processes. For the description and the measurement of the pm-competence, a“spider web”( e.g. Figure 4.1), with the axis project start, project controlling, project coordination, management of project discontinuities, project close down and design of pm-process is used.
The spider web presentation has the advantage, that it is a multidimensional presentation of the pm-competence, allowing the different maturities of different pm-sub processes to be visualized. The overall pm-competence of a company or a business unit is presented by the area, illustrated by the connection of the pm-competence points at the scale of the spider web axes( shown in Figure 4.1).
For the pm-subprocesses of the spider web, the four scales (“not defined”, “partly defined”, “defined”, and “standardized” ) are used to define pm-competence levels. And the specific description of the pm-competence levels of each scale is given as follows:
- Standardized: all required methods applied for all defined project types;
- Defined: many methods applied for all defined project types;
- Partly defined: few methods applied for many projects;
- Not defined: few methods applied for a few projects.
The gray shaded area in Figure 4.1 visualizes the current pm-competence of a Project-oriented Company, that has a lot of competence in project controlling, as it has a “standardized” controlling process, where it applies all required pm methods for all project types defined in this organization. The project coordination, the project start, and the design of the pm-process are scored “defined”. Further improvement is primarily necessary regarding the project close down and the management of discontinuities, where the pm-competence is “partly defined”, i.e. only a few methods are applied for a few project types only.
Project management can be perceived as a core competence of the POO, as it creates a competitive advantage. To ensure this competitiveness, permanent further development of the project management competence is necessary. Project management competences of organizations, teams and individuals have to be developed. The relationships between the individual, team, and organizational learning in the POO are shown in Figure 5.1.
Therefore, in order to improve pm-competence, we should make use of the learning relationship between individual, team, and organization to coordinate and promote the development of each part of the competitiveness, and use the pm-competence evaluation model to test the training results. Further, the concept of organizational learning and competence development should not only be applied to the POO overall, but also to its temporary organizations, i.e., to projects and programs.
- Gareis, R., Huemann, M. Project Management Competences in the Project-oriented Organisation, 2011
- Summary: a short but explicit elaboration of pm-competence has been made in this paper. It is really good for readers who want to have a basic understanding of pm-competence.
- Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). (2013). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (5th Edition). (pp. 48). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI)
- Summary: as a management reference book, it is quite reader-friendly. Chapter 3 groups project management progresses into five categories, each coupled with a detailed explanation.
- Gareis, R. and Huemann, M., A process-oriented pm-approach, IRNOP III – Conference of the International Research Network on Organizing by Projects, University of Calgary, 6-8 July 1998, pp 365 – 372.
- Summary: It mainly illustrated methodologies of assessment of the pm-competence.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Gareis, R., Huemann, M. Project Management Competences in the Project-oriented Organisation, 2011
- ↑ Project Oriented Organization. In: ManagementMania.com [online]. Wilmington (DE) 2011-2019, 08/24/2015 [cit. 02/22/2019]. Available at: https://managementmania.com/en/project-oriented-organization
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Gareis, R. (2000). Competencies in the project-oriented organization. Paper presented at PMI® Research Conference 2000: Project Management Research at the Turn of the Millennium, Paris, France. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute."
- ↑ Forsberg, Kevin, Mooz, Hal and Cotterman, Howard. Visualizing Project Management. A Model for Business and Technical Success. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2000.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). (2013). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (5th Edition). (pp. 48). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI).
- ↑ "Senge, P., The fifth discipline fieldbook: strategies and tools for building a learning organization, Doubleday, 1994"
- ↑ "Willke, H., Systemisches Wissensmanagement (Systemic knowledge management), Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart, 1998."
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Gareis, R. and Huemann, M., A process-oriented pm-approach, IRNOP III – Conference of the International Research Network on Organizing by Projects, University of Calgary, 6-8 July 1998, pp 365 – 372.