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Project Management as a Core Corporate Competence

Envision a corporation where project management is a core skill. Where certified and fully competent project managers successfully execute technical and business strategic initiatives alike while managing large and complex teams. In today’s economy delivering effectively on strategic initiatives to gain business results and competitive advantage is not only a survival move but will help a company thrive.

Many organizations are challenged by how to assess competence in a project manager and certification alone may be just one component. But how can your company build project management as a core competence if certification alone is not enough? In this article we explore three components beyond certification that can help assess a project manager’s competence and steps to take to start building project management as a core corporate competence in your organization.

According to the PMI 2007 annual report the number of PMPs globally grew over 300% from 2004 to 2007. While the project management field has experienced tremendous growth the focus has been on the standards, the certification process and the recognition of project management as a profession. What has happened for many organizations over this period is the recognition that the certification alone may not be sufficient to measure competence in a project manager, and ultimately gain corporate competence that delivers results.

Competence is defined as a group of variables that can be used to accurately predict successful job performance. Research has shown that 70% of an individual’s competence is developed through their own experiences; 20 % is developed through feedback and only 10% is developed through structured training and seminars. Project management competence can be measured in three ways. First, assess a project manager’s knowledge of general management combined with previous applications of accepted project management practices. Second, evaluate personal attributes such as: the will to manage and lead others, the ability to manage relationships at all levels, the ability to adapt to different work environments and the ability to influence others. Other attributes to consider are: being results oriented, being proactive, being able to communicate well and being energetic. And third, establish the project management maturity of the individual. Since maturity can only be gained through ongoing experiences and skills development outside of project management, a mature project manager is also a mature individual that may have developed as a project manager after performing in a supervisory or managerial role.

As corporations adopt project management practices as a way to ensure that their strategic projects are executed well and achieve their intended objectives, executives are also becoming more aware of the need for project management competence. We are also seeing a trend to further develop that competence beyond the basics of project management to development of soft skills and people oriented capability. This is a sign of increasing maturity in the use and application of project management within a business environment.

Corporate managers that understand the concepts of project management can increase their probability of success. “Building project management leadership across the organization can deliver significant value when executing strategic and change management projects,” states Nick Kuryluk, Director of Strategy and Program Management Office at Amgen Canada. “Executives see the value of applying project management techniques and how it aligns with strategic initiatives to achieve the desired results of an organization.” Project management as a skill set is moving out of the project management world and into the corporate core and becoming a subset of a larger set of skills. As individuals progress through their careers they adopt more managerial responsibilities and eventually their technical responsibilities diminish to zero. This maturity is what a project manager needs to excel. Here is where project management partners with corporate management.

To build project management as a corporate competence, project managers need to become a strategic partner with senior management. Janice Thomas, author of Selling Project Management to Senior Executives and Researching the Value of Project Management promotes the view that project managers need to take on a sales role within their organization to promote and encourage an understanding of the value of best practices and project management as an essential competence to execution of strategy. Gaining the support, understanding and engagement of executives helps to better recognize the need for effective and efficient delivery of strategy. Historically, executives have often only used a “Call a PM only in a crisis” approach. In addition, project managers need to understand the concerns of senior management, be able to speak their language and demonstrate value by connecting with the business and building on earlier successes.

Today, project managers need to go beyond simply undertaking an initiative or project when it is handed to them. By becoming part of corporate strategic planning, aligning with project portfolio management and understanding the context of their projects within the big picture of enterprise-wide initiatives will also increase not only individual but corporate competence. In fact, project managers should eventually mature into project portfolio managers aligned with corporate strategic planning and move beyond managing multiple projects to managing enterprise-wide projects as an executive function.

To build a project management core competence, corporations need to identify individuals that have the traits of a competent project manager and develop career paths for them. Today, one such path we are seeing as a trend is moving from a managerial role into a leadership position as a Director overseeing programs or projects and then as head of a Project Management Office, managing a portfolio of programs and projects. Individuals without the managerial experience can enter formal management training or obtain business training to complement their learning. Implementing strategies that develop project managers and promote them as leaders in the corporation will also help to build project management as a core corporate competence.

Dr Jeffrey Gandz, from the IVEY School of Business and a leadership expert, strongly believes that leaders in corporations need project management to be effective; leadership is about getting results from your followers. Project managers and corporate managers have this in common; they both demonstrate leadership qualities such as obtaining buy-in from stakeholders, selling ideas to customers and project teams, earning respect and managing budgets. Project managers also need to understand and interpret the environment in which they operate, develop winning strategies and execute them brilliantly. For a corporation developing project management as a core skill, this means identifying individuals with high potential for leadership and providing them with a path to allow them to grow as leaders and project managers.

In conclusion, individuals developing as project managers need to develop not only the technical aspect of project management but also the attributes of a competent project manager, and combine it with business knowledge and leadership qualities. For corporations, developing project management as a core corporate competence includes making it part of how strategy is executed as well as identifying individuals with the right traits including leadership qualities, then providing them with a career path and a competenc framework. Corporations should start by identifying where they have project management gaps and define strategies to reduce these gaps. Building project management as a core competence is not an ending or a resting place, but rather, a constant journey as we adapt to the changing business environment.

Carlos Sanchez, MBA, PMP, CMC is a consultant at SPM Group Ltd. He has over 10 years of experience working in a variety of consulting projects both technical and business. His area of expertise includes project management, supply chain management, and software selection and implementation. Carlos holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the Rotman School of Business. He is an active member of the Project Management Institute and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Management Consultant (CMC).

Mike Morton

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