Exploring Project Management Competence
The Competence Development Ladder: ASK
How do you achieve competence? Can you teach it? And if not, how do you get there? Starting from the base of our Competence Development Ladder, see Figure 2, you must first understand the differences between Project Management Knowledge (K), Skills (S), Attitudes and Behavioral Attributes (A) and Competence (C). A key point is to assure that your PM training efforts contribute to project success, as distinct from merely consuming staff time and training funds with no effective improvement.
Figure 2: The competence development ladder
The basis of our Competence Development Ladder is the classic training and development "ASK" model: Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge. Familiar to many as a categorization of learning objectives and a foundation of instructional design, you begin with Knowledge, apply it to develop Skill, and then receive rewards and recognition to reinforce the behavior (i.e. reinforcing Attitudes). To complete our Competence Development Ladder, and to reflect the role of Competence, we have added "C" to this classic model, thus: CASK.
So, let us look more closely at each of the Competence Development Ladder components.
Learning about Knowledge
Knowledge is an important foundation. But by itself, it accomplishes nothing. It is potential energy, as it were, just as we learned in physics. It must be applied to accomplish something and, once applied, it turns to kinetic energy. Kinetic energy can accomplish great results. But knowledge decays if it is not applied.
We have tracked the half-life of unapplied or unused new learning at 6-10 weeks. Clearly, we need more than knowledge, even with some of today's most effective project management training.
Moving to Skills
Skills move us higher up the ladder towards project management competence. They come from experience with the proper application of knowledge. While skills degrade more slowly than knowledge, they do require coaching, redirection and reinforcement to sustain and grow. Case study or simulation-oriented workshops can help to build skills, but most skill building occurs in the real world, and on real projects. Skills are not competence. We have farther to go, before we reach a real level of competence.
Attitudes and Attributes
Note that we are moving from factors that are easy to measure (Knowledge), to those that are harder to measure well (Skill), to factors that are very difficult to measure (Attitudes). Attitudes affect your inclination to change behaviors. Without willingness or eagerness to apply them, knowledge and skills are wasted. Moreover, without rewards attitudes dissipate. This shows the importance of understanding your (as well as others') motivational needs.
What about your Behavioral Attributes? These reflect your essential self, your personality. They involve social competences, and include thinking, behavior and leadership styles. They reflect willingness to learn, and to change. They are affected by your value systems, are harder to evaluate, and are, in our opinion, 90% of project success. We combine attitudes and behavioral attributes as one crucial step in the PM Competence Ladder.
And Then There is Competence
Applying the preceding steps can lead to project manager competence but for many there is still one missing ingredient: Opportunity. Some never get the opportunity to grow, others do, but are not successful. Some succeed, and understand why.
Thus, given opportunity and the right experience (in A+S+K) repeated correctly, you can get to competence. And the result is demonstrated project benefits.