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Training project managers for life

David Hudson
August 24, 2011

Part of the problem is that we are mesmerised with accelerated learning models, individual learning styles, and recognition of prior learning/recognition of current competencies. Having been in the training domain one way or another since the age of 19, I genuinely understand how these concepts work. But I also see, on a daily basis, how these concepts are misconstrued to provide inappropriate learning solutions. Recently, this was evidenced to the point of ridiculousness with a major federal agency seeking offers for the provision of a three-day Diploma of Project Management; no doubt they found plenty of eager providers able to provide a ‘solution’.

It is interesting that at the start of the decade a diploma curriculum was typically 10 days in length and frequently more. Around 2002, we adopted the fast track model of five days based on precepts such as screening of advanced candidates, accelerated curriculum models, and residential course programs. But all of these ideas have since dropped away and now we accept that it is reasonable to produce a practising project manager in three days of learning contact. Boil this down, and we find the ridiculous proposition that in three hours (including morning tea) it is possible to educate in the competency of planning, identifying analysing, treating, controlling and closing in project risk management. And we wonder why the end product of this sort of overheated training theory is not meeting genuine professional needs.

Caveat emptor: in my humble opinion, seven to 10 days of intensive workshop-based training, backed by offline assignments and holistic integrated competency assessment models is still the minimum requirement for the proper professional development of project managers. But for those organisations and individuals who just seek the piece of paper, don’t worry, the market will supply.

Many organisations have missed the point in a key area: the differentiation of various stages of professional development and the delivery of appropriate learning solutions to suit. If we examine an individual’s professional progress, we increasingly move from reliance on one-off learning strategies (e.g. courses), to intrinsic and in-built learning organisation strategies.

We can’t possibly support the development of the expert practitioner by course-based learning alone as they will only thrive in a learning organisation where strategies such as learning contracts, PM forums, special interest groups, knowledge transfer, and mentoring and coaching exist.

Which methodology?

This is one of the most frequent, but pointless, questions that a project management methods consultant receives, frustrating because it points out the immaturity of knowledge in the user domain. Let’s get the story straight; PRINCE2 is an accepted methodology, albeit a specific and relatively proscriptive one; PMBoK is a Body of Knowledge. Can an organisation develop a methodology from PMBoK? Yes, and it is not hard! Is there an essential disparity between PMBoK principles and the PRINCE2 method? No, certainly not at the principles level, only in the detail at the process level.

How do you compare a generic professional certification such as AIPM’s Certified Practising Project Manager (CPPM) to PRINCE2? Easy; the first is like holding a General Pilots Licence, the latter is like having a Piper Comanche-type ticket. I advocate the underpinning of ‘type’ certifications with a broader statement of professional acceptance through a recognised body, just as one would underpin an aircraft ‘type’ endorsement with broader flying knowledge.

And just in case we underestimate the importance of a Body of Knowledge, I offer the work of my esteemed colleague Dr Lynn Crawford, who is heavily involved in the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS), in placing a Body of Knowledge fairly and squarely in the construct of any professional framework. A Body of Knowledge is fundamental to any professional framework, so spare some regard for PMBoK.

The crux is to develop rather than poach—there are far better poachers out there anyway, and they are probably poaching your staff as you read this—but don’t short-change your project managers with supposedly accelerated learning models.

Unless you can genuinely prove you are rounding out already competent project managers, caveat emptor regarding the populist five-day or less training models. Understand the need to commit to a Body of Knowledge in professional frameworks and recognise the critical need for holistic learning models including establishing a learning organisation, especially for the expert practitioner.

Even when you do consider a fast track model, look for evidence of participant screening and genuine accelerated learning strategies in the curriculum. Don’t intrinsically link Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) qualifications to other qualifications; develop the knowledge base through AQF and advance to genuine professional certification. Treat professional education and professional certification separately, as different milestones in your practitioners’ professional development.

At the moment we are only skimming the surface in project management education, and our certification models need to evolve continually.

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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