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Dictionary definitions of competence are relatively straightforward and are simply concerned with an individual’s ability to perform a job or roles successfully. A competent project manager is, therefore, someone who is able to successfully manage a project, a competent programme manager is someone who can successfully manage a programme and so on.
In the context of the Praxis framework, the goals of competence are to:
- define criteria that enable competence to be identified;
- provide a means of integrating functional and process competencies to support capability maturity.
The competence of, for example, a project manager is not a guarantee that a project will be delivered successfully. There are too many other factors at play, not least the competence of the sponsor and members of the management and delivery teams. It is not unreasonable to say that the competence of influential stakeholders is also important – and that is in terms of their competence in the role of stakeholder as opposed to their actual job.
Because the deployment of competent people is a characteristic of level 2 capability maturity the competencies defined in Praxis describe how an individual should perform in an organisation at that level.
Clearly, successful projects, programmes and portfolios are dependent upon the competence of a wide range of people. That is why the deployment of competent people is a characteristic of capability maturity at level 2.
Beyond the basic definition as an ability to perform a role, competence is variously defined as being made up of knowledge, experience, performance and behaviour in different combinations and perceived importance.
The idea of an individual being competent leads inevitably to the question, “what does competent look like?” Many organisations seek to answer this question through a competency framework. This is a structured set of competencies, where a competency is a definition of attributes that an individual must have, or acquire, to perform effectively.
Competencies are defined for topics that make up a discipline. So in the case of the Praxis competency framework, the management functions in the knowledge framework and the processes in the method are the topics for which competencies are defined.
Competency frameworks can be used for a variety of purposes such as:
- defining role descriptions;
- competency based interviewing;
- competency assessment to determine learning and development needs;
- competency based appraisals.
In theory, competencies can be defined in terms of knowledge, performance, experience and behaviour. For example, in the function of risk management, the following could be defined:
- Knowledge: “Know and understand techniques for assessing threats and opportunities”.
- Performance: “Able to assess the probability and impact of risk events”.
- Experience: “Has managed others practising risk assessment on complex projects”.
- Behaviour: “Prepared to take calculated risk to achieve worthwhile objectives”.
Experience and behaviour are more sensitive to the environment in which the competency is applied, so generic competencies are more often defined in terms of knowledge and performance, leaving experience and behaviour to be added as part of a full role description.
The competencies for every project, programme, portfolio and role within them will vary according to the environment of the work to some degree. The key benefit of a competency framework is that individual competencies can be combined in different ways to create different roles that are appropriate to any given environment.
Therefore, competence for a particular role in a specific environment is a combination of competencies taken from the framework. Even then, the competencies may need to be tailored to suit specific situations.