Stairway to Project Management Competence

in Project-management

"Although I'm not sure about what the scope of the project would be, I'm sure I want the project to be completed within 1 month for less than $2 million (when actually it would take at least 6 months and not less than $10 million!)" Ever come across a project sponsor with such project deadline/requirement? Bet most of you must be saying 'That's Business As Usual'.

In today's competitive world, most of the project professionals are faced with the challenge of working in and/or with organizations that, although, do not understand even the basics of project management, expect its projects to progress without any time delays and/or cost overruns, as per an infinite wish list that sponsors claim to be the project scope. Ask these sponsors for ideas of how to achieve the impossible, and they'll throw the 'Nothing is Impossible' optimism on your face. Although some may agree with it, but others may say, 'Nothing is Impossible; Especially for the Person who doesn't have to do it'. Its true that, "Where there is a Will, there is a Way", but ask your sponsor to lead the way and bang comes the response, "Don't ask me. I'm supposed to make my Demands and you're supposed to have the Will to figure out the Way".

Challenges exist in all professions; however, the ones faced in the profession of project management can drive you off the cliff. But who said project management was for the feeble-hearted? As project professionals, our outlook should be to overcome all such challenges and yet achieve the agreed project targets. Thus, it becomes crucial for us to analyze the project management competence of the organization in which we would be managing a project and then apply the 'horses for courses' rule to it. It's like they say, "If you want to get somewhere, start by realizing where you are" and this forms the very foundation of the STAIRWAY TO PROJECT MANAGEMENT COMPETENCE.

According to Tom Hopkins (world-famous sales trainer), the 4 levels of competence (originated from Maslow's work) are as follows:

  1. UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE (don't know that we don't know)
  2. CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE (know that we don't know)
  3. CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE (know that we know)
  4. UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE (don't know that we know)

Stage 1 - UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE: At this stage, organizations understanding of project management is like a man's understanding of driving was, when he was a kid. Riding at the backseat of a car; with the wind on his face; enjoying the view; when all the while not realizing his inability/incompetence to drive a car. The phrase 'Ignorance is Bliss' should be the official punch line for this 1st stage. Organizations in this stage are UNCONSCIOUS (or ignorant) about its INCOMPETENCE. At this level, organizations think project management is nothing but secretarial work and 'project manager' is a title given to glorified secretaries. Being absolutely Lost and Unaware of the subject matter, to a level of not even appreciating it are signs of organizations being in this 1st stage of competence.

STAGE 2 - CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE: At this stage, organizations are like a man used to be when he hits teenage, where his urge to impress girls (come on...we have all been there, done that) made him realize his incompetence in driving a car and thus started his eagerness to learn to drive a car. The 1st step to knowledge is the realization that 'we don't know everything'. As they say, "the 1st step is always the hardest step to take". The willingness of the organization to take that hardest 1st step proves that they are in this 2nd stage because they become CONSCIOUS about their INCOMPETENCE. A sudden urge to become Aware (for whatever reason) and a willingness to start Searching for ways to gain project management competence are signs of organizations being in this 2nd stage of competence.

Stage 3 - CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE: At this stage, organizations are like how an elderly lady is while driving. Seated on the edge of the driving seat; head almost popping out of the windscreen; always conscious and extremely careful to ensure safe & competent driving. Although the 1st step to knowledge starts at the 2nd stage of competence, majority of time in achieving project management mastery is spent in this 3rd stage. Project Management, like Quality Management, is a culture. It's not a kitchen appliance that can be heard-off one fine day; bought off-the-shelf from the market the other day and be expected to immediately work effectively in any situation. Organizations in this 3rd stage CONSCIOUSLY start applying project management practices to achieve the desired project objectives and as a result start to gain COMPETENCE. The Learning & application process being in full-throttle and the organization's increasing Awareness about project management practices are signs of organizations being in this 3rd stage of competence.

Stage 4 - UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE: At this stage, organizations are like most mans are while driving nowadays. Having breakfast; speaking on the phone; sipping coffee; chatting with the fellow passenger; sometimes even getting ready for work and yet, unconsciously, able to steer the car safely to its destination (WARNING: Do not multi-task while driving. It could lead to fatal accidents). Only practice makes perfect. The practice that comes from the conscious application in the 3rd stage leads to perfection (mastery) in project management in this 4th stage of 'Unconscious Competence'. At this stage, organizations have practiced project management for so long that they become UNCONSCIOUS about the COMPETENCE they have built in the field. In other words, project management becomes second nature as a result of the dominant project management culture prevailing within the organization. Although the learning process never stops, the organization shows signs of being in this 4th stage of competence when they have Learned all about project management and are totally Aware about the subject matter even though it's at an unconscious level.

As they say, excess of everything is bad. Once project management becomes second nature, it becomes a vicious circle that you can find hard to get out off. If you realize that in your personal life you are...

  • imposing a time schedule to the time your wife spends at the beauty parlor (assuming you have enough 'wife management' skills to do that) and/or
  • holding your son's pocket money to a cost baseline (because you know there's no way you can impose that restriction to your wife's expenses) and/or
  • expecting the dinner table to be served with the agreed scope each meal, (assuming you're lucky enough to have a wife who can and does cook)

...then it's time to take a break from project management and go on a vacation. The only irony being; to plan the vacation well, you'll have to fall back on your second nature i.e. project management competence.

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Anish Mathai Mathew has 1 articles online

MATHEW is a Project Management Professional with a flair & passion for the Profession of Project Management. "I LOVE IT, SO I LIVE IT". Visit & follow his blog PM4K for more interesting thoughts on all aspects of Project Management.

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Stairway to Project Management Competence

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This article was published on 2010/04/02