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OGC white paper highlights the need to broaden what makes a project professional

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Posted by APM on 29th Mar 2010

The recession has hit practitioners hard. With the sector shrinking by -4.8 per cent (according to the latest Arras People Benchmark Report), 2009 was a tough year not only for those who lost their jobs, but also those who continued working, many of whom saw their pay frozen or reduced and their working hours extended.

As a result, organisations are increasingly looking to hire experienced practitioners, with a proven track record who can deliver during these challenging times. But how do you define competence in the field of programme and project management?

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) views competence as “the ability to use knowledge, understanding, practical and thinking skills to perform effectively to the standards required in employment. They are identified and demonstrated through sets of behaviours that encompass the skills, knowledge, abilities and personal attributes that are critical to successful role accomplishment”.

The “ability to use knowledge” in this context is a key factor in understanding what makes a good project professional and what contributes to the successful delivery of projects and programmes.

At present, there are many methods, notably PRINCE2® focusing on key processes and theories – but those tend to be ‘technical’ in nature with less emphasis on the management skills needed to deliver the project successfully.

Indeed, on the subject of professional development the Arras survey concludes that the present “curriculum is too narrow”, adding that “we need to recognise the breadth of knowledge and experience required to make effective practitioners”.

To underline the point, analysis of the top three competencies revealed that ‘technical’ skills (in this instance, methods, tools and domain knowledge) were less important than the so called ‘softer’ skills – communication, leadership, relationship management.

The results suggest a real need to manage not only the process of delivering a project but also the people involved as well. In other words: the framework or method to aid delivery together with knowledge of how it is done.

This balancing act is neatly summed-up by Graham Williams in the OGC White Paper, APMP for PRINCE2 Practitioners. In it he describes why any individual who has the PRINCE2 practitioner qualification, or any organisation which employs PRINCE2 practitioners, should consider the merits of the APMP qualification – and vice versa.

He states: “The key point… is that PRINCE2 provides a structured framework for the successful management of projects, however, a PRINCE2 project is more likely to be successful if those responsible for the management of the project also have sound project management knowledge.”

To impart this knowledge, APMP covers 37 knowledge areas from the APM Body of Knowledge, knowledge, which APM, describes as “fundamental to the professional management of projects”. Among the areas covered are disciplines relating to people and the profession. These include communication, leadership and teamwork.

PRINCE2 on the other hand, describes the application of seven themes according to where the project is within its lifecycle, and which level of management is involved.

In what he terms, a broad discipline versus narrow discipline-based approach, Graham explains the differences in each approach – but also how each could be used to complement the other.

“PRINCE2,” he says, “provides a step-wise framework within which its themes are applied; it does not describe the detailed techniques and leadership capabilities that will need to be applied during the project lifecycle.”

Stakeholder management is a case in point. PRINCE2 mentions the importance of engaging with stakeholders; provides examples of procedure and explains a typical Communication Management Strategy, APMP explains the typical barriers to communication and how they can be overcome.

Of course, it’s not all plain sailing and there are elements of both APMP and PRINCE2 that may be considered incompatible. The most notable amongst these is language. PRINCE2 refers to Project Initiation Documentation; APMP a Project Management Plan. But this is far from insurmountable.

No, the real challenge is the ability to apply knowledge-based learning, whether PRINCE2/APMP or both, to achieve the desired outcomes. Project failure is a source of constant news with many high profile examples dissected to highlight the associated costs and an apparent lack of improvement in delivery capability.

Practitioners often attribute this failure to a lack of executive support, poor requirements, scope creep and expectations not being set or managed. But the real failure, especially in the current climate, is not investing in key competencies that have the potential to make a real difference both now and hopefully, in brighter times to come.


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