A Balanced Competency Model

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By Mario Trentim

A successful project requires a combination of technical and managerial activities at every stage to jointly deliver the final result and its benefits.

If you have high levels of maturity in project management without the equivalent technical knowledge, your project is doomed to deliver a poor solution. On the other hand, when you have best-in-class technical knowledge without project management maturity, your project is also doomed to be inefficient and maybe even inefficacious.

Many organizations have already developed competency models to encompass technical and managerial aspects of projects, describing overlapping areas and highlighting essential project management and systems engineering foundations of successful projects.

Consider the U.S.’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) competency model, which “outlines distinct competency areas for project managers and systems engineers, as well as shared competencies that encompass both disciplines.”

Examples of defined project management competencies include:

  • Stakeholder management
  • Safety and mission assurance
  • Cost estimating
  • Risk management
  • Project control

Examples of defined system engineer competencies include:

  • Technical requirements definition
  • Product verification
  • Configuration management
  • Technical data management
  • Interface management

Examples of shared competencies include:

  • Workplace safety
  • Communication
  • Team dynamics and management
  • Safety and mission assurance
  • Knowledge capture and transfer

You might be asking yourself what does NASA have to do with your own daily projects? Most of us are working in projects and programs far simpler than building space systems. However, my objective here is to call attention to the best in class so that we can contextualize and tailor their model to our own reality.

Of course, in order to achieve a proper balance in your projects, thoughtful tailoring is essential. Take the International Council on Systems Engineering’s handbook, A Guide for System Life Cycle Processes and Activities:

“On smaller projects, where the span of required communications is small (few people and short project life cycle) and the cost of rework is low, Systems Engineering activities can be conducted very informally (and thus at low cost). On larger projects, where the cost of failure or rework is high, increased formality can significantly help in achieving project opportunities and in mitigating project risk.”

Even small and medium projects can benefit a lot from the proper combination of project management and systems engineering. Systems engineering is helpful not only in developing complex products and services, such as a spaceship or an air traffic control system, but also in less sophisticated products such as a bicycle or an alarm system. In fact, systems engineering is even helpful when you are designing your new house.


What product development approaches are you using today? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: April 03, 2018 01:00 PM | Permalink

Comments (21)

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Thank you for your thoughts. Having the right resources or specifically competencies is key to a successful product development. I like to model the process when developing the WBS and identifying the Key activities and key resources required. Often this will reveal the need for external competencies such as marketing and logistic in either a minor or major activity.
The key is then finding a way to get or borrow the competencies when needed.

Thanks for a brief but holistic view into project management and it's competency challenges.

A strong competency model is especially required in cases where role transitions happen from SMEs on the project to pure-play project management.

It becomes very difficult when a project manager tries to second-guess an SME by wearing another hat. It's always painful when toes are stepped upon.

Thanks for good article.

Good examples Mario.

Great examples of which buckets they belong! Agreed with the classifications and generic enough to be applied across industries, with SaaS, PaaS etc becoming more and more common adoption these days, its timely to know i’m building the ‘defined systems engineering competencies’ when originally only my close rival (my sister) could boast about (being a ‘proper mechanical engineer’ herself!), thanks for sharing!

Those are good examples, Mario and thanks for sharing

Having system engineering competency alongwith project management competency is a great add-on, but it is only possible if you are handling projects in same field.
Thank you Mario for the article.

nicely presented

Mario I agree with you.
I believe both technical and managerial maturity is required for a project team and with a correct "split of work between team members" and "project work procedure" the project will be successfully done.

The real integration is simple! The best people with your best capacities, at the correct place, at the correct time.

Very good your article!

Great examples.
Thank you for the post

Nicely presented and well supported with examples .. Thanks Mario

thank you for your explanation,

Thanks for sharing..very informative

The models of traditional characteristics have been designed to meet the needs of the organization, however, most of the data processing processes such as design, as a model for capacity building in the competencies that I propose, are clearly oriented to the integration of work teams, the descriptors associated with each competence, are defined respecting the natural evolution of people in their jobs and allow a quick adaptation with the model of competencies in use in each company sin need to modify it or change it .

Thank you for this interesting vision!

What really can help is to not only define a competency, but an expected level of proficiency in this competency. This gives you more granularity for different project roles!

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