The Professional Project Manager

This series of articles examines, and offers insights and opinions, on all aspects of the profession of project management. I welcome your comments, feedback, support or dissent. I am passionate about the profession of project management and if, through our discussion, we can add value to the profession and practitioners then I am happy.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

What Exactly is a PMO?

How To Develop a Project Manager Competency Framework

Artificial Intelligence and Project Management

Travel Tips for the Project Managers Who are Always on the Road

Let's Talk About Personal Wellbeing for Project Managers

What Exactly is a PMO?

As a consultant who works with organizations around the globe, I get to see many forms of a PMO and I get to see what works and what doesn’t.  A well thought out and value adding PMO can add measurable strategic and operational value to any organisation regardless of its size or maturity. Getting the right PMO for your organization can be a challenge and I want to share with you some thoughts and observations on what exactly a PMO can be. Hopefully from these thoughts you can take some tips on what your PMO should be.

Let’s start with what do the letters “PMO” stand for? Well the “P” can stand for Portfolio, Programme or Project. The “M” and the “O” generally stand for Management Office. You can add an “E”, for Enterprise, in the front to get an EPMO to indicate it stretches across the entire organization. You can have individual PMO’s that answer into an EPMO. It can even not be called a PMO at all, and there are many other names it can go by. You can call it what you want as long as the name is an accurate representation of what the function actually does.

Answering the question about what a PMO can be takes a bit more time. It is not a single standard format you can apply to your organization which makes it a little hard to define appropriately. The easiest why I have found to describe, at a high level, what a PMO is, is that it should be the center of excellence, whatever that means, for professional project management in your organisation to support the current and future portfolio, program and project management aspirations of the organisation. That is a long winded way of saying that your PMO should support what you currently do but also take you into the future and a better, more mature state.

At one end of the spectrum I have seen a very low maturity organization have a ‘PMO’ that was as small as a few ring binders with templates in it that were regularly updated. At the other end of the spectrum I have worked with large and complex PMO’s which can be a fully separate and resourced unit that does full portfolio management, strategic alignment, governance, project selection & reporting, and also employs, deploys, & trains all the project management personnel. Somewhere between these two extremes is the PMO that is right for you and your organization.

Here is a list of functions that a PMO might consider:

  • Governance and sponsorship
  • Developing standards, methodologies, processes, tools and templates
  • Maturity improvement
  • Strategic alignment
  • Project selection
  • Full control and reporting of all initiatives
  • Assurance
  • Benefits management at all levels and at all stages
  • Programme management
  • Allocation of project management resources
  • Recruitment of project managers
  • Training and development of project managers

What have I missed?

These are the types of things to consider when thinking about introducing or upgrading a PMO:

  1. Maturity of your organization – a low maturity organization may want a PMO that helps it increase in maturity in specific ways, while a high maturity organization will want a PMO that supports and maintains its high level of maturity.
  2. Size of your organization – larger organizations generally need a larger and better resourced PMO
  3. Complexity of the work that you do – the more complex the work that you do the more complex the PMO will need to be to support your efforts
  4. C-Level understanding and support – without full support from senior and executive management your PMO will never be considered a full-time part of the organisation.

Unfortunately, the research tells us that there are many threats to a PMO and its success. These include the following:

  1. Making a PMO a bureaucracy
  2. Not proving the value a PMO brings to the organization. The PMO, whatever its form and name, must deliver real value to the organisation, and not be afraid to tell everyone how good they are. I’ve seen great PMO’s fail because they kept their success to themselves
  3. Lack of senior management support
  4. Tough financial times – it seems that when finances get tight for an organization the first thing to go is the PMO
  5. Trying to be everything to everyone – focus on what you do well, and just do that
  6. Being under resourced and overworked and letting everyone down
  7. Looking backwards at what you have accomplished and not looking forward to the value you have yet to create
  8. Assuming a PMO is static – a PMO should change with the organisations needs. If your PMO is the same as it was 2 years its probably out of date.

Just a reminder, this is just a high level introduction to the PMO. There has been plenty of research done on the topic and if you are academically minded you can easily find some serous pieces of research out there on the topic. There are also many people more on who I know would love to share their experiences, both bad and good. So don’t be afraid to reach out and find out as much as you can before deciding on what sort of PMO is right for you.

Posted on: May 29, 2019 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

How To Develop a Project Manager Competency Framework

The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to some concepts that you will find useful for developing project management practitioner competency. I will introduce you to the concepts of competency and capability, and will also introduce you to some of the more widely known competency models, and take you through defined steps for building your own competency assessment tool.

The expected outcomes are that you will have an awareness of what project management competence is and why it is important for project and strategic success; you will also understand the difference between some of the more popular models for defining and assessing competence, and you will have some basic tools to begin developing or improving your own project management competency assessment tool. 

Defining Competence

Let’s begin by defining exactly what competence is. The Project Management Institute (PMI), in the third edition of the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) publication, defines competence as “the demonstrated ability to perform activities within a project environment that lead to expected outcomes based on define and accepted standards”

This definition is a little bit broad and after reading it you may still be wondering what exactly competence is, and exactly how is competence different from capability. Let’s begin by defining what a capability is. A capability is a description of how an expected task should be carried out. For example, you could require a project manager to have the capability to drive a car. Now you can go ahead and describe exactly how you want the car driven but without a description of the competence you won’t know how well somebody drives the car. Are they a learner or a world class rally driver?

Obviously, using this example there are many levels of competence when it comes to carrying out this particular task, driving a car. So, for particular roles you may want different levels of competence to be displayed for different capabilities. This is particularly important when you want senior project managers to demonstrate higher levels of competence of a particular capability than junior level project managers.  

Why is Practitioner Competence Important?

Before proceeding it is important to discuss why exactly that assessing and defining project manager competence is important. We must start by reminding ourselves the projects are not delivered by processes, tools, methods or techniques. Instead projects are delivered by competent individuals. Furthermore, they are delivered by groups of individuals working as teams. So, it is the personnel that deliver the project, and the more competent the personnel are the higher the chances of success are for the project. Developing practitioner competency is a critical part of project success, as it is individuals that deliver projects not processes, tools or techniques.

As such, appropriate competency assessment and development ensures that each individual working on the project has the right skills, experience, aptitude, and attitude to appropriately and effectively contribute to project success. 

In addition to identifying different levels of competence for different levels of practitioners there are a number of organizational benefits from having a well-developed and tailored competency development framework for practitioners. These benefits include the following:

  • A reduction in staff turnover due to an increase in staff morale because they feel supported in their professional development, and they are being allocated to projects which they can manage.
  • Increased competency in your project management practitioners which leads to increase in the success of projects and ultimately this leads to organisational strategic success.
  • A well developed and regularly applied project management practitioner competency framework will also make the organisation attractive to new staff and make recruiting easier.
  • A competency framework can also provide a rational basis for rewards, promotions, transfers and succession planning.
  • And finally, an organisation can use its individual competency assessments and build these up to ensure that organisation wide it has the correct spread of experience and skills, and can plan for any forecast shortages or excess skills in the future.

There are also a number of individual practitioner benefits from having a defined project management practitioner competency development framework. These include: 

  • Having a defined career path and job description,
  • Visible and defined developmental goals,
  • Increased confidence at completing assigned tasks
  • Organisational support for ongoing professional and personal development for the individual practitioner.

Having a practitioner competency framework is also an integral part of organizational project management maturity. The research is very clear in this area, that higher levels of organizational project management maturity are a clear indicator of greater project success. Therefore, committing to fleshing out all aspects of your organizational project management maturity including practitioner competency is a way to ensure greater project success.

Competency Assessment Models

What all models for competency assessment have in common is that they seek to assess, develop and continuously improve practitioner capability and competence. Regardless of which model that you’ll end up using you will find that they start by addressing at least the following two questions:

  • What is usually done in this occupation, profession, or role by competent performers?
  • What standard of performance is usually considered acceptable to infer competence?

The three most widely used competency models for project management practitioners are:

1. The Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) from the Project Management Institute. Version 3 of this document takes into account portfolio, program and project management competencies. Furthermore, it also aligns with the talent triangle from the Project Management Institute.

2. Another competency framework is from the International Project Management Association (IPMA). The IPMA provides a competence baseline for the project management practitioner and it is called the eye of competence. It separates the competencies into either behavioural competencies, technical competencies or contextual competencies.

3. The third and final model is from the global alliance on project performance standards or GAPPS. This can be viewed and downloaded for free from 

Note that there is currently an ISO standard under development, ISO 21510 Project manager competencies. This is a new release and still undergoing review.

Let’s take a closer look at the project manager competency development framework from PMI. 

It begins with three foundational elements of personal competencies, knowledge competencies and performance competencies. 

  • Personal competence reflects how the project manager is expected to behave when performing activities within the project environment and reflects the attitudes core personality characteristics and other traits including their communication skills, management ability, their leadership ability and cognitive ability and effectiveness. Proof of personal competence is through observation and documentation and support of the competence.
  • Knowledge competencies are a description of what the practitioner is expected to know in terms of professional knowledge.A closer look at the knowledge competencies reveals that it is up to the project manager to be able to demonstrate that they have a grasp of an understanding of appropriate professional knowledge proof of this can be via professional credentials such as the PMP or similar credential. The regularly updated role delineation study that defines the PMP exam outlines the tasks that a competent project manager should know.
  • Performance competencies are what the practitioner can demonstrate that they can actually do in practice. A performance competence reflects how the project manager applies the knowledge they have to the actual management of a project. Proof of this is gained via observing the project manager in practice or by gathering documentation in support of their performance.

There are two additional elements to this model that allow you to tailor it and make it reflect your particular organisation and your industry. These two additional elements are organisational competencies and industry specific competencies and they are not defined at all within the model as they are left up to you to define.

As a side note Crystal Consulting has developed our own competency assessment tool which utilises all five aspects of this model.

Developing Your Own Model

When it comes to developing your own model don’t be put off by the apparent complexity of the models. While they may appear at first glance to be complex they are in fact quite simple, and often involve merely documenting what may be part of institutional knowledge or within the heads of experienced project management practitioners already. Elements of your own competency model will be easy to develop and some will be hard though. You may choose to buy or use consultancies for some of the more complicated elements of developing your own model.

Please keep in mind that your own competency model must reflect and help deliver your organisational strategy. Also, the more that you customise your own model leads to greater competitive advantage as is difficult for competitors to replicate it so put some effort into making accurately reflect both your organisation and your industry.

Take the time to align it with established project management standards and frameworks for legitimacy and access to credentials. There are many of these from the Project Management Institute, the International Project Management Association, the Australian Institute of Project Management, the Association for Project Management and also a rapidly developing set of ISO standards as well. You are certainly not left wanting when it comes to establish project management standards and frameworks. My advice would be to start by aligning it with the PMI Project Manager Competency Development Framework and to keep an eye on the ongoing development of the ISO standard covering the same topic.

You will probably find that the development of your project manager competency framework has to be done by your human resources or organisational development department, as it will be able to be used for recruitment, remuneration and reward programs within the organisation. If this is the case, and it probably will be the case, then make sure that your practitioners, and if you have a PMO, are actively involved in the development of the model, the ongoing auditing and use of the model, and also the improvement of the model.

We are a firm believer in the KISS principle (Keep It Seriously Simple) when it comes the development of your own tool. We have provided the following 10 steps for you to follow to develop your own tool:

1. Gather all of your existing job or position descriptions. Note where none exist as these will need to be developed in order to make your framework complete

2. Ensure that all of the current or developed job or position descriptions contain clear descriptions of expected capability, competency, education and experience.

3. Standardise these descriptions across the organisation. We say this because we have come across a number of organisations that have wildly different job descriptions for the same role. The situation only leads to confusion and a lack of clarity about who does what.

4. Once again, and just to reinforce the point, take note of any missing documentation as this will need to be fixed.

5. Translate those competencies, education, and experience into your own tool. It’s pretty simple to do this you can start by using a MS Excel spreadsheet to list all the competencies and then use additional columns to indicate which roles should have which level of those competencies.

6. Once you have put all the competencies down into a spreadsheet, indicate very clearly an expected level of competence for each role in the organisation. Please keep in mind that it is always useful to involve practitioners, the PMO, and your human resources department in this.

7. Once you have the tool developed begin to assess individual practitioners against the various benchmarks of competence you have established. Note any discrepancies between what is expected of a practitioner and what they are able to demonstrate or be observed doing.

8. Using the information that you have gathered go on to develop individual professional development plans to ensure that everybody reaches the required level.

9. It’s a good rule of thumb to base all professional development on the 70:20:10 rule. This rule says that 70% of professional development should come from being assigned challenging assignments, 20% professional development should come from mentoring and coaching, and the final 10% of professional development should come from formal education and training.

10. Remember to review individual progress, reassess competency and adjust professional development plans accordingly.

There are some final points that I’d like to make. The first of these is that competency assessment is not a one-off activity. Instead it is an ongoing endeavour that starts at recruitment and is completed at regular intervals throughout an employee’s engagement with the organisation. You will use your competency framework during the recruitment process to ensure that you get the right people on board. You will then usual competency framework to take junior practitioners and turn them into senior practitioners. Your framework can also provide senior practitioners with clear guidance on where their career is heading as well.

I want to reiterate that:

  • we know that organizations achieve their strategic goals with successful projects,
  • that competent and capable practitioners produce high performing competent and capable project teams,
  • that competent and capable project teams deliver successful projects
  • therefore practitioner and organizational project management competency as a key contributor to organisational success and competency development is not a cost it is an investment in organisational success.

If you have any questions about the information in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am always happy to chat about any aspect of the profession of project management.

Sean Whitaker

Posted on: May 28, 2019 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Artificial Intelligence and Project Management

A recent Gartner reports* state that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will assume 80% of all project management tasks by 2030.

I was giving this some thought and the thing that stood out for me is that those tasks that can be automated should be automated, and using it will assist the role of the project manager immensely when used appropriately.

However, I am always reminded that project management is not just about tools and techniques but about people. I do not believe AI will provide the best solution for managing people and that activity will always need a project manager with superior leadership, communication and team development skills. This is particularly important on complex projects. AI can free up project managers from the more mundane technical tasks and allow them to focus on, and develop, their people skills and their own personal development.

I think AI should threaten those project managers who do not have good 'people skills' as it is imaginable that AI could successfully manage low complexity and smaller projects completely. I can definitely see small projects that do not require much team building, have few stakeholder, or do not require leadership being completely lead by a task oriented AI.

So, in summary I believe AI is a great tool and can help in many ways but for large, complex and people centered projects it should best be used as an ancillary tool to a well-qualified and experienced project manager. What are you thoughts?

*Link to the report here

Posted on: May 25, 2019 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Travel Tips for the Project Managers Who are Always on the Road

This is not a normal post for this website as most of them focus on specific tools and techniques that help the management of projects. But as a project management consultant who works globally I am on the road (and planes, and trains, and Ubers) a lot and during my travels I have put together these tips for other project managers who may travel a lot.

I was born traveling and didn't really settle in one place until my early teens. I now live between two countries in different hemispheres, and as a professional consultant I spend a lot of my time traveling around the world. As such, I consider myself quite a seasoned traveler and I’ve learned a few things over the many many years I’ve been on the road. Here are my top tips for other professionals who travel a lot:

  1. Use a backpack with easily accessible laptop section for carry-on luggage. Single strap briefcase type bags get real heavy real fast if you have to walk a long way through airports. Having a wheeled carry on can be annoying when you collect your main wheeled luggage. A good quality backpack is easy to carry when pulling larger wheeled luggage.
  2. Use a range of different colored packing cells to pack all your clothes separately. The colors make it easy to find different clothing and having different types of clothing in different packing cells makes it easy to find shirts, underwear, gym gear or jeans really fast instead of rummaging through a suitcase.
  3. Use wheeled luggage for getting around easily. Make sure it works well being pulled on just two wheels. Only use four wheels for very smooth services. Oh, and make sure you weigh you bag before getting to the airport. Don't be the person who has to repack their bag at the front of the queue and move a book and a pair of shoes into your carry-on luggage to get your main bag checked in.
  4. Throw out 1/3 of what you packed - you won’t need it. You can prove this by checking out your suitcase contents when you get home and realize you didn’t need 1/3 of it.
  5. Find a laundry near where you are staying and use it. In a pinch use the hotel shower and let clothes dry overnight (a portable clothes line is great for this).
  6. Wear shoes that are comfortable for airplanes (e.g. the change in air pressure will make your feet swell), and that are easy to get on and off as you go through airport security
  7. Wear layered clothing so you can adjust your comfort temperature easily
  8. Get yourself ready to go through airport security before you get there. Remove metal objects and put them in your bag or coat. Loosen you shoelaces. Unzip your laptop part of the bag. Don’t be the person who holds up the line doing all this (and more) at the screening point.
  9. Know where your passport is at all times. Do not lose this as replacing it will take time and money and will interrupt your travels.
  10. Carry enough cash for a few days’ worth of incidentals. If you carry more than that you will worry about losing it.
  11. Only use your credit and debit cards at reputable merchants. If in doubt use cash. Also, use credit card over debit card as it’s easier to get your money back if it’s used for fraudulent purposes.
  12. Take and wear comfortable walking shoes that suit multiple purposes. My favorites are black fashion sneakers as they can be used for casual and semi-casual events.
  13. Take something to read or listen to while traveling. Make sure you have quality headphones.
  14. Take a spare lithium battery for recharging your devices (make sure it’s fully charged)
  15. Use Google maps and any other favorite travel apps. I have a folder on my phone just for travel apps of all sorts.
  16. Make sure you have purchased cell phone data for your destination. If you are there for a while consider getting a local SIM card and pre-pay plan.
  17. Make sure you have easy access to all your reservation details. You may need these to show customs officials, taxi drivers or to check in. Have them in the local language if possible.
  18. Know a few basic phrases for the country you are traveling to if it uses another language.
  19. Take a small bottle of hand sanitizer and use it frequently.
  20. Make sure you have travel insurance, and know the terms and conditions of it.
  21. Take a sealable laundry bag for your used clothing. Making sure it’s sealable ensures that the rest of your luggage doesn’t smell like worn clothing.
  22. Ensure that copies/photocopies of all your important travel documents are stored in the cloud or with someone back home. This way if you lose one you can speed of the replacement process by knowing numbers etc
  23. Take easy iron clothing. Some brands advertise themselves as non-iron but that simply isn’t true unless it’s 100% synthetic fabric and you don’t want to be wearing that. Take easy iron clothing and if the hotel you are staying at doesn’t have an iron you can hang it in the bathroom when you shower, and the steam will “iron” it for you.
  24. Do not look like tourist. Do not be the person wearing cargo pants, hiking shoes, fleece jacket, backpack and/or bum bag. You wouldn’t dress that way for wandering around the streets of your home town so why are you dressed like that now?
  25. Buy quality luggage. There is nothing worse than seeing your luggage come off a airport carousel with a broken zip or ripped surface.
  26. Dress for your destination. You may leave a warm destination and be dressed for that, but once you get to the other side of the planet and its winter and all your cold weather gear is lost with your luggage you will feel good knowing you have layers of clothing with you.
  27. Essentials are wallet, phone and passport - if you have these you can get other things you have forgotten.
  28. Make sure you have the necessary visa's etc. Nothing worse than getting to a new country and finding out you can't enter because you have the wrong visa.

What did I forget? What are your best travel tips?

Posted on: May 22, 2019 07:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Let's Talk About Personal Wellbeing for Project Managers

Let’s talk about personal wellbeing.

It’s not the normal topic I talk about. Usually when I post it’s about technical skills like maturity assessments, cost and time estimating, or practitioner competency development. If I talk about soft skills I talk about skills like leadership, communication and team development.

The thing I noticed about all of these skills is that they are all outward facing. They require the leader or the project manager to give something to someone else. I realized that maybe it’s time to start looking after our own wellbeing first. By doing this we can be healthier people and be better prepared for our personal and professional challenges.

This post is also founded in my own personal experience of letting a state of “ill being” sneak up on me in very small barely noticeable steps. I won’t go into too much detail but there was a point in 2018 when I had to admit that I had let several years of stress and lack of good health practices adversely impact my overall state of wellbeing. I am not the only hard working professional to end up like this, I won’t be the last and maybe you can relate or know someone who can.

What helped me recover and return to a state of wellbeing was positive psychology, signature character strengths and learning resilience techniques.

I’m going to leave you to google the science of positive psychology and it’s founder Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania. The elements of positive psychology that have helped me most have been learning about and focusing on my signature strengths, mindfulness and gratitude. If you bought one of his books I would recommend “Flourish”.

The science of resilience is an incredibly powerful set of tools and insights from Karen Reivich & Andrew Shatte, which at its heart teaches us that it isn’t the event we experience that shapes us, but the way we respond to it, and we can learn to have more control over the ways in which we respond. I’m going to encourage you to get their book “The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles” and learn some practical techniques for improving your levels of resilience.

If I could pass on two basic tips that you could use immediately to increase your levels of wellbeing it would be to start a simple gratitude practice. Each evening before you go to bed either write down, or share with someone, three things you are grateful for that happened that day. It’s a great way to end the day and it’s been proven that gratitude increases wellbeing.

The second tip would be to find out what your signature character strengths are and begin to leverage these more in your personal and professional life. Everything seems easier and takes less effort when you use your signature strengths. You can take the free assessment at the link below.

So, let’s keep sharing great ideas about leadership and project management. Let’s exchange ideas about Gantt charts, kanban boards and earned value management. Let’s debate agile versus waterfall approaches. Let’s keep inspiring others with stories of great leaders, communicators and team builders. But let’s also start to talk and share stories about our own wellbeing, and what works for each of us.

Find out your Character Strengths here:

Posted on: May 18, 2019 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

"In opera, there is always too much singing."

- Claude Debussy



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