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Making the professional pieces fit

Source: Public Sector Executive Feb/Mar 2015

At what level is an aspiring project manager judged to have become a ‘professional’? Deb Boyce, writing on behalf of the Association for Project Management, reports.

How do you define a professional project manager – and how do you know if you and your organisation’s expectations meet that definition? It can be confusing.

Yet the need for truly rounded professionals and a mature profession within organisations is greater than ever, especially when it comes to delivering public sector projects and programmes in these difficult and financially constrained times.

For John Manzoni, the newly appointed head of the Civil Service, it is vital. Manzoni is also the former head of the Major Projects Authority (MPA), which works with government departments to provide independent assurance on major projects and supports colleagues across departments to build skills and improve the management and delivery of projects.

He says that building professionalism in project management and capability in government and establishing it as one of the Civil Service professions is MPA’s biggest priority: “The fact that no profession exists in this government is unbelievable. It is unbelievable that we cannot create, attract and retain young people who can deliver project after project. It is stunning, so we have to get that done. That is priority one.”

But at what level is an aspiring project manager judged to have become a ‘professional’? Is it through qualifications and if so, which ones? Or perhaps it is based on years of service or the number of skill boxes that can be ticked?

The reality is that it takes a combination of skills, knowledge, qualifications, tools and techniques, processes, experience and competencies. The challenge is to work out the right mix from the increasing array that is now out there. And therein lies the rub.

While they may all have something valuable to offer the budding project manager and broadly share the same principles, they may not share a common language, standards or terminology. What you have is a professional jigsaw of pieces that don’t fit together.

The jigsaw concept had been discussed by thought leaders at the Association for Project Management (APM). As the UK’s professional body for project management, the association sees its role as hosting meaningful discussion and debate to advance the cause of the profession, as well as setting the standards through its range of qualifications, memberships and publications.

In fact, it was while working as lead author on the APM Body of Knowledge sixth edition that Adrian Dooley realised the foundations were being laid to create a jigsaw that did fit together, by reflecting the key elements of knowledge, processes, competence and capability from a range of sources in a single, coherent framework.

An honorary fellow of the association and a speaker at this year’s APM Conference, Dooley has many years’ experience in training and developing project managers and working with organisations wanting to improve their project delivery. He found that a common frustration was this confusion over the variety of guides, qualifications, tools and techniques.

“Passing an exam or being given a certificate for completing a course does not make you a professional,” he said. “It only puts you at the base of the professional triangle – but the danger is that people think it puts them at the top.

“Working on the APM Body of Knowledge sixth edition entailed bringing together 70 disparate topics from many different contributors and making them speak with one voice and in one language. That was half the job of creating a common framework, so I set about re-writing others in a common and consistent style,” he explained.

The result is Praxis Framework – an integrated guide to the management of projects, programmes and portfolios. Dooley stresses it is not meant to be the definitive answer, but rather sharing and promoting a common approach to the basics without a commercial influence.

Because it draws from a variety of sources as well as those of APM, it is recognised by the association as a significant addition to the project management library. The guide is already available online and APM is publishing the hard copy version in the interests of furthering the professional discussion and debate.

James Simons, APM publishing manager, said: “As a way of reaching ever-greater heights of success and meeting the needs of a complex and ever-changing world, all professions aim to first define and then master their professional arena. This begins with a process of discussion and debate, to challenge existing norms and assumptions.

“The Praxis Framework aims to trigger just such a debate within the project management profession.”

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