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Training project managers for life

David Hudson
August 24, 2011

We need more project managers and we need them now, but there’s a lot more to becoming a project manager than three days training and a piece of paper.

In this decade and beyond, the issue of human capital will be a dominant constraint to organisational project delivery capability. We’ve known for over five years of this looming issue and it is now really starting to hurt. The typical segment of ‘accidental project managers’, a critical segment to total numbers, is now reaching retirement age. And we simply can’t develop the emerging segment of ‘aspirational project managers’ quickly enough.

If that wasn’t tough enough, the market is becoming increasingly selective in its definition of ‘project manager’ in terms of capacity, experience and certification. The solutions do not rest with recruitment, even internationally: that trade is already very mature and we are close to simply shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic when it comes to traditional recruitment markets.

When we look at an enterprise project management (EPM) model, that is, the broad organisational elements needed to comprise genuine enterprise wide project capacity, human capital exists as a discrete and essential component.

To put it bluntly but simply, without people, the rest of the model is just a pretty methodology and a tad pointless. Smarter organisations now recognise that not only does human capital require specific and ongoing attention, flexible and innovative human capital solutions are also critical to success. In my experience, several examples of leading solutions are:

  • Acquisition of a small recruiting firm as part of total capability;
  • A 20-day curriculum for the development of project management capability;
  • Integration of ‘centres of excellence’ in PMOs and equivalent;
  • Worldwide categorisation and resource management of project managers; and
  • Separating education requirements for several tiers of project management accountability.

Trends in certification and training

Most of the leading professional bodies have now adopted certification at team member, project manager and program manager level. Most professional bodies talk about competency models but the Australian Institue of Project Management (AIPM) compared to the Project Management Institute (PMI) and others is significantly advanced in competency assessment in certification. It is fair to say that PMI is so entrenched in its commitment to the current examination-based Project Management Professional (PMP) model that a competency-based model is out of practical reach for them.

Major employers are adding a further dimension by seeking to differentiate in scales of delivery at the project manager level, but how do we tell the difference for example between three, four or five different levels of project challenge and accountability?

It would be nice to say that training delivery has kept up, but this is simply not evidenced in the current market. Most training providers have hitched their cart to various cash cows, such as the Certificate IV or Diploma of Project Management: there is nothing wrong with these training products, but they are not total solutions.

Industry wants more, and is finding it hard to source that differential, often because training providers are educationally focused and don’t have the talent or professional depth to see far beyond the obvious competency models. Industry increasingly demands advanced, topic-based training models so that flexible, practical and relevant training can be sourced for senior practitioners, not just the eager novices.

David Hudson
David Hudson is the principal of Primal Solutions, a specialist project management consultancy. He is a board director of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) and its Queensland Chapter President. He is also the program lead of the Consensus v4 Program for the International Project Management Association.
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2 thoughts on “Training project managers for life

  1. David’s article addresses probably the most important subject in the development of the emerging project management profession and he is to be congratulated in addressing the need for project managers to have a robust understanding of the project management body of knowledge – an essential requirement for a professional. Every recognised profession that I can think of requires a related Bachelor Degree, but the AIPM ‘knowledge’ requirement is satisfied by short courses under the Australian Qualification Framework. This is an overly simplistic statement, but there is no doubt in my mind that we have to significantly lift the knowledge bar before we can claim to be professionals.

  2. I agree with so many of the points that David makes in this article – especially the trend of so many trying to rush through – no short cut the training of themselves or their staff in the name of economy when in actual fact they get short changed on professionalism. It seems so convenient to go straight to a RPL/RCC Assessment to get an AQF qualification but in most cases even people with a lot of experience in the real world could do with some time to consider what they should be doing, why they do the things they do and how it all fits together. You certainly shouldn’t get industry certification by reading a book and passing an exam. Project Management isn’t something picked up and mastered in one or two courses – it is a long road of learning, experience and self reflection mixed with independant competency assessment. That should be the journey to professional certification. There are no quick trips to reach professionalism so stop rushing and enjoy the ride!

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