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  • Building a credible, capable and competent workforce – an enterprise-level approach. Part 2

Building a credible, capable and competent workforce – an enterprise-level approach. Part 2

Welcome to the second part of our blog on building a credible, competent and capable workforce. In part one, we looked at formalising job families and selecting the right competencies; in part two we will look at building a rating system that works for your teams, and running an assessment.

Establishing a competency rating

Once the selection of applicable competencies is complete, the next step is to define what ‘competent’ looks like for that job role in terms of both knowledge and experience. My preferred method for this is to review a completed ‘role profile’ with the level of management above it; for example, asking the senior PMs whether the role profile for the junior PM is accurate from their perspective.

Warning: knowledge may not be linear and senior people may not be practising to expert level. Instead, they will be leading and managing the experts and, ideally, your scoring will reflect this – giving credit for evaluating and optimising approaches alongside ‘expertise’ in a specific competence.

Continue this activity with a series of workshops until you have created and agreed a complete list of competencies that ‘apply’ to each job role.

One factor we must include at this point, which we touched on earlier, is complexity. This is an essential parameter for the measurement of competence, and accurately reflects a typical PM’s career path – becoming involved with progressively more complex and risky projects over time. The APM scoring system for whether or not a project is ‘complex’ is certainly good enough to start the debate within an organisation, against which an organisation can then map its own version of complexity, or from which a bespoke version is likely to be created.

The first part of this discussion is inevitably the ‘big equals complex’ argument. Well, to use a time-honoured phrase, ‘it ain’t necessarily so...’. For example, laying 100 metres of pipework under a road is unlikely to be considered complex, but does it follow that laying 100 kilometres of pipework, by virtue of being ‘big’, is automatically complex? To answer this question, we must consider other factors: where is the road? Which road are we talking about – the M25 or the B350? Is the road in continuous use? Who are the stakeholders, and do their views of success differ? What technology are we using? Are there likely to be challenging risks – archaeological, unexploded ordnance etc.? Who is paying, and how firm is the funding line? Depending on the answers to these questions, and many others, it is possible that the project may indeed be considered complex, but it is evidently not decided merely by ‘size’ or ‘capital value’.

This factor throws up considerable problems in the accuracy of individual scoring. Without prior briefing, or preferably some form of system-automated prevention, anyone carrying out a self-assessment of their competence may see a score of 6 or 7 out of 10 as being ‘OK’. In reality, according to APMCF1, a score of 7 would actually indicate the following:

  • Knowledge – has a detailed understanding of how the competence element is practised within complex projects and can critically evaluate and optimise as required
  • Experience – has managed others practising the competence element in a number of complex projects.

Clearly these criteria will not apply to a typical junior PM, assistant PM or PM – it may apply to a senior PM, but it is more likely to apply to a project director or programme manager. It is imperative, therefore, both for accuracy of scoring and managing the P3 workforce expectations, that a decision is made locally as to what does and what does not constitute a ‘complex’ project. Many of the software tools available for competency management will have this built in, but check to see if the generic approach is suitable in your environment.

Setting up a pilot study

Once an agreed definition of complexity has been established, you are almost ready to pilot your competency framework. Referring back to the opening paragraph – going into the ‘lion’s den’ with all the data, and a strategy on how to move forward without the prior involvement of the board – is unlikely to work. So, I would suggest obtaining the necessary board-level agreement much earlier, and in stages. Do this by leading a series of briefing sessions, starting with the reasons behind the competency-based approach and the many significant benefits it will deliver, and against which you should request their visible and vocal support as ‘champions’. Follow this with a discussion as to which department or division will take the lead as the pilot. These briefing sessions will aid you later in the process, once the results start flooding in, as you will be able to show a league table of ‘completion’, which should drive engagement as no director will want to be seen publicly as ‘bottom of the table’.

Prior to go-live, I strongly recommend a series of briefings or GoTo/Webex meetings to discuss with the P3 workforce what the process entails, what it means to them and the advantages, both to them as individuals and the organisation as a whole. This should be supplemented by some intranet guidance on completion of the competence questionnaire, and a timeline for when each department or division should be complete.

So, a quick canter through the intricacies of setting up an enterprise-level competency approach – it is hard work, but unquestionably worth it. However, to prevent this article turning into a book, and to hopefully persuade you to ‘have a go’, I will leave the final words to one of the most influential men I have ever met – a former CEO of QinetiQ, who referred to the outcome delivered by this competency-based approach as having “delivered a sea-change improvement in the capability of our project management community”.

ILX’s consultants can help you to map your team’s competencies and identify any skills gaps, using our proprietary 3CAT assessment tool. Using the results of the assessments, they will then work with you to prepare and facilitate development workshops. To find out more about our services, visit our website, or get in touch with us on 01270 611 600.