The Progression Towards Project Management Competence

The Progression Towards Project Management Competence

Gregory J. Skulmoski (Zayed University, UAE) and Francis T. Hartman (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-400-2.ch003
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The purpose of this research was to investigate the soft competencies by project phase that IT project managers, hybrid and technical team members require for project success. The authors conducted qualitative interviews to collect data from a sample of 22 IT project managers and business leaders located in Calgary, Canada. They identified the key competencies for the three types of job roles. The research participants offered their opinions of what are the most important competencies from the following competence categories: Personal Attributes (e.g. eye for details), Communication (e.g. effective questioning), Leadership (e.g. create an effective project environment), Negotiations (e.g. consensus building), Professionalism (e.g. life long learning), Social Skills (e.g. charisma) and Project Management Competencies (e.g. manage expectations). The authors discuss the progression of competence through these job roles. They identified and discuss the interplay between a change in job role and the required competencies necessary for IT project success from a neuro-science perspective.
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Project management is a relatively new discipline where its practitioners and researchers are increasingly interested in project manager competency (Leybourne, 2007; Loo, 2002; Morris, Jones, & Wearne, 1998). However, we also need to be concerned with the competence of other members of the project team because they are important contributors to project success (Artto, 2000). Understanding competency is important: “Today’s focus on competence is driven largely by economics: the fact is it pays to be competent” (Frame, 1999 p. 23). There is a positive relationship between project management competence and project management effectiveness (Crawford, 2005), as well as between project management competence and project success (J. Jiang, Klein, & Balloun, 1996; Lechler, 1998; Pinto & Kharbanda, 1995). Crawford (2001) links project management competence, project performance and organizational performance. Thus, we have a strong case for understanding and improving project management competencies of those who are involved in project work. This is especially important in the information technology and information systems fields where repeatable project success can be elusive (Anonymous, 2004).

Before delving too deeply into this research, we need to define competence. Competence is a widely used but problematic term; it means many different things to different people (Crawford, 1998a). Competence has also been used as an umbrella term covering almost everything that might affect performance (Bassellier, Reich, & Benbasat, 2001). There are no generally agreed upon definitions or theories of competence (Seppanen, 2002). Competency definitions are often poor and contradictory (Robertson, Gibbons, Baron, MacIver, & Nyfield, 1999), and too restrictive (Rolstadas, 2000). Indeed, definitions of competence change from one place or time to another (Sandford, 1988). It is problematic to define competency and competencies because these terms reflect both an individual’s perception and that of the organization’s culture (Holman & Hall, 1996). Frame (1999) suggests that socially rooted competencies – soft or personal competencies – are very subjective, more difficult to deal with than hard skills, and are more likely to lead to project failure if they are deficient. Some have even cautioned against defining competence because it may unacceptably narrow down the complex realities of managerial behavior (Robotham & Jubb, 1996). Some have argued that definitions should allow some ambiguity and reflect personal definitions (Holman & Hall, 1996). Indeed, some believe that the focus of human resource practice will increasing rely on less precise definitions of competency (Athey & Orth, 1999).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Open Communication: Is different from effective communication. Effective communication occurs when the receiver understands the message as intended by the sender. Open communication occurs when the sender and receiver share all the necessary information for both of them to complete their assigned tasks. There are no hidden agenda or misrepresentation of information. Open communication is facilitated by effective communication. However, open communication does not mean everything is communicated; sensitive or private information need not be shared. Researchers are increasingly recognizing the importance of open communication to IT project success.

Threshold Competencies: Threshold competencies include basic knowledge, skills, traits, motives, self-image and social role and are essential for performing a job. Without these, some areas of performance will be substandard. To move beyond minimal performance, additional competencies are required.

Competence: Is performance-based and includes knowledge, skills, traits, motives, self-image and social role that can be improved with experience and/or training. Knowledge is the understanding of some concept (e.g. to comprehend that IT projects face risks requiring risk management techniques). A skill is the ability to complete a task (e.g. determine the critical path through a logic network). A trait is a characteristic way in which a person responds to a set of stimuli [8]. People who believe they have control over their future have the efficacy trait. In projects, when these people encounter a problem, they take the initiative to discover solutions. They do not wait for someone else to fix the problem or expect luck to take care of it. Motives drive people’s behavior [8]. For example, people who are motivated to improve or compete against a standard have the achievement motive. When people with a high achievement motive are given measurable objectives in the project setting, they are more likely to work to achieve the objectives. Self-image refers to a person’s perception of himself or herself. A positive self-image of one’s capability will likely help a person work on a novel project even though the person has not previously performed the assigned tasks. Finally, social role is a person’s perception of the social norms and behaviors that are acceptable to the group or organizations to which he or she belongs. Professionalism, punctuality for meetings, and preparedness are all behaviors that may be important norms of a particular project team. Competence is performance-based because one needs to use a combination of knowledge, skills, traits, motives, self-image and social role to achieve the desired result. One is not considered competent if they have the necessary knowledge, skills, traits, motives, self-image and social role but do not use them.

Hybrid Role: Is performed by someone who is responsible for both technical and managerial tasks. This person may have started from a technical role (e.g. hardware technician) but with time, the person was given some management responsibilities (e.g. supervise junior hardware technicians during a hardware upgrade project.) Others have only a managerial focus with minimal or no technical responsibilities (e.g. project accountant).

Soft Skills: These comprise personal qualities such as traits, motives, self-image and social role that lie behind performance. Creativity and sensitivity are examples of soft skill competencies. Soft skills are recognized as being critical to professional and project success.

Hard Skills: Is the ability to successfully complete a technical task (e.g. calculate the load capacity of a network, construct a work breakdown structure or configure a firewall). Initially, the IT discipline was focused on identifying and understanding hard skills. However, the IT community discovered through research and practical experience that soft skills were just as important to achieve IT project success.

Neuro-Science: Is the study of the nervous system. It has become a multidisciplinary field of research that has attracted researchers from biology, computer science, statistics, pharmacology, physics and now, project management. A principle focus in behavioral neuro-science is to understand the relationship between brain activity and thought, emotion and behavior.

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