Martin Sedlmayer: Make the ICB 4.0 your permanent companion and never stop learning
This material was originally published in the Chinese Magazine PM Review
PM Review: Why did IPMA introduce ICB 4.0? In what context was ICB 4.0 introduced? What is the significance and necessity of publishing ICB 4.0?
Martin Sedlmayer:The IPMA Individual Competence Baseline is a global standard which describes distinct competences required to successfully deliver projects, realise programme benefits and govern project portfolios professionally. This standard is very unique and therefore offers an unparalleled contribution to the world to successful delivery results.
In term of development, IPMA wanted to significantly improve the already very reliable version 3.0 to a truly global standard. As project management is perceived as a global profession, IPMA wanted to describe the competence set on a global level too. As of today, the standard is available in 39 languages, as a transcription rather than a pure translation.
Of course, processes and tools differ significantly between industries and cultures, but the competence set remains the same.
Having said so it is obvious, that ICB 4.0 does not describe competences of a project manager anymore, but instead competences of an individual working in the domain of project management. You may call this role differently in other approaches like agile, or you may split the competences within a larger team, you need to have the full set of competences to create the highest chance to successfully deliver.
As another consequence, the main focus of ICB 4.0 is not certification anymore. ICB 4.0 focus on competence development. Certification remains important, but it is just a verification point in your career lather. IPMA created guidelines in terms of competence development for universities, trainers, consultants, executives, HR professionals or alike. It is this audience which can make a better world, for better projects.
With this concept implemented, IPMA can address new markets like public administration, health industry, NGO etc., where the benefits of applying project management only recently started to get recognition. In addition, through the global approach in term of standardisation, the concept and the certification get interesting for global customers, too. And last but not least, the concept of the role independent description of competences opens up the field into totally new fields like the many agile approaches, to PMO, sponsors, consultants, trainers and coaches, and to many more.
Compared to the previous ICB versions, what changes or improvements have been made in ICB 4.0? (in detail)
MS: IPMA started decades ago with its version 2. This one was mainly focusing on competence around practice, including planning, organising, controlling, managing risk etc. Although it also contained people, version 3 then really focused on competences of human aspects, like leadership, teamwork, creativity, conflicts etc. Version 4 now extended its previous versions with an aspect of integration, as any undertaking is delivered in a specific environment. Elements like strategy, compliance, governance, culture and power were enlarged.
The new version ICB 4.0 provides a transparent architecture and clear structures. It describes 28 (for programmes and portfolio management 29) competence elements. They are grouped into three distinct clusters: perspective, people, and practice.
Perspective competence elements
Every project, programme and portfolio is started, driven, supported and governed by external drivers. People, organisations and societies demand things, varying extraordinary. Somewhere along that line, realising what people want gets so complicated that a project or programme is considered. It is rare that any project or programme is executed in a vacuum – they are influenced by their organisational, societal and political context. The drivers for every project or programme can be roughly divided into the formal and explicit goals and needs of the organisation and/or society, and more informal and implicit motives and interests. A clear example of a set of formal, explicit and present drivers of projects, programmes and portfolios is the strategy of an organisation. The Strategy generally has clear goals and objectives and, more often than not, projects and programmes contribute to these goals and objectives, while project and programme portfolios are prioritised according to these goals and objectives. Organisational and external Governance, Structures and Processes create the formal context of a project, programme or portfolio. The amount and interdependency of the project, programme or portfolio interfaces with this context defines an important part of the complexity. It may mean that a project, programme or portfolio has to deal with legacy processes or structures that served clear goals when they were established but are cumbersome to use in the present situation. Compliance, Standards and Regulations also contain relevant perspectives and drivers. They comprise the relevant laws, regulations, standards and tools that reflect priorities, best practices and demands of the organisation, industry, society and professional regulatory bodies. The informal Power and Interest of people within an organisation can have a huge influence on the success of any project, programme and portfolio. This is the informal and implicit counterpart of the organisation’s strategy. People are not just driven by the formal rules and objectives of an organisation; they also have personal goals and objectives. The Culture and Values of an organisation (or society) are by definition for the most part informal and implicit. Of course, an organisation may try to influence the informal culture by formal and explicit mission statements and corporate values. Yet the majority of cultural values remain implicit and informal, although they influence all other perspective elements – admissible strategies, rules and regulations, etc. Understanding the mores, customs, conventions and practices of an organisation or society is, therefore, an essential requisite for the success of any project, programme or portfolio.
People competence elements
This competence area describes the personal and social competences an individual working in the project, programme or portfolio needs to possess to be able to realise success. All personal competence starts with the ability to self-reflect. In the end, an individual’s competence is proven by realising the agreed tasks successfully, that is, to the satisfaction of the stakeholders. Between these extremes, eight other competence elements are defined. Basic personal attributes are discussed in Self-Reflection and Self-Management and Personal Integrity and Reliability. Communicating with others is described in Personal Communication, and building relations in Relations and Engagement. Projects, programmes and portfolios increasingly rely on Leadership. And two specific aspects of leadership are also presented: Teamwork and how to handle Conflict and Crisis. Resourcefulness describes ways of thinking (conceptual and holistic) and sets of techniques (analytic and creative), but above all focuses on the ability to create an open and creative team environment, where each can work and contribute optimally. Negotiation describes how to reach results that are both in the interest of the project, programme or portfolio and acceptable to other parties; and Results Orientation describes the ways an individual can stimulate and steer his team to realise optimal results.
Practice competence elements
All contextual influences and demands come together when the organisation initiates a new project, programme or portfolio. The individual working in project, programme or portfolio management has to take into account all these influences and demands. The individual prioritises and translates these into a project, programme or portfolio Design. The project, programme or portfolio design is a ‘charcoal sketch’ that defines the high-level choices for this project, programme or portfolio (e.g. make or buy, linear or iterative, possible funding or resourcing options, how to manage the project, programme or portfolio). In the other technical competence elements, each of these basic decisions will be specified, implemented and managed. Goals, Objectives, and Benefits include the various demands and expectations regarding the outcomes and the objectives, and how these are prioritised. Scope describes the specific boundaries of the project, programme or portfolio. Time focuses on the order and planning of the delivery; Organisation and Information deal with the organisation of the project, programme or portfolio and its internal information and communication flows; and Quality describes the demands and organisation of both process and product quality and its controls. Of course, projects, programmes and portfolios are dependent on the input of people, material and money. These input constraints include money, Finance and (human and other) Resources. Often, acquiring resources requires Procurement. Integration and control of all activities are described in the competence element Plan and Control. Apart from that, the individual has to identify, prioritise and mitigate the main Risk and Opportunity and to assess, and engage with, Stakeholders.
Competences are defined as knowledge, skills and abilities in order to achieve the desired results. Therefore, the three main ingredients are required. But these requirements are useless until they serve the overall target to successfully deliver what is required, being a deliverable, a benefit or another outcome. Following the definition of competence, the ICB4 describes knowledge, skills and abilities in detail.
For every single competence element, the ICB 4.0 described a set of 4 to 7 key competence indicators (skills) and for each KCI a set of 3 to 7 measures (abilities). The concept of key competence indicators (KCI) was introduced in analogy to key performance indicators to describe how competences can be made measurable or at least observable. These KCIs are then made more concrete with specific measures.
Let me provide you with one example: the competence element of finance. It is quite obvious that financial resources need to be managed in any undertaking. ICB 4.0 provides five key competence indicators in the domain of project management:
- Estimate project costs
- Establish the project budget
- Secure project funding
- Develop, establish and maintain a financial management and reporting system for the project
- Monitor project financials in order to identify and correct deviations from the project plan
In addition, the ICB 4.0 provides a set of methods, processes and tools (knowledge) although they vary from industry to industry, from country to country. ICB 4.0 is not a textbook on how to manage a project, but it is a standard which describes the competences required to manage a project.
Furthermore, the ICB 4.0 describes competences for project, programme and portfolio management. Although all domains are set up to delivering results, and therefore need to address the same competence elements, their focus on different things and need different competences. Coming back to the example of Finance mentioned before, the KCI for programme management includes:
- Determine the programme funding and financing strategy
- Determine and establish the programme budget
- Develop, establish and govern funding and financial management framework
- Distribute programme funds based on the needs of components and funding conditions
- Provide reports to funding and financing bodies
… and for the domain of portfolio management:
- Determine and establish the portfolio budget
- Develop, establish and govern a financial performance and reporting system for the portfolio
What are the highlights (shining points) of ICB 4.0?
MS: First, the focal point of competence development. ICB 4.0 shall be a lifelong companion to everybody interested or working in or around the field of project management.
Second, the transparent and precise description of competence via Key Competence Indicators and Measures.
Third, the truly global reach. It has been developed with more than an 150 experts from around the globe, from many industries, to ensure it really works everywhere. Today, it is available in 39 different languages.
What feedback have you received about ICB 4.0?
MS: The first reaction was the acceptance of the new standard in front of the Council of Delegates. This is the overall governing body of IPMA, with representatives of all 71 member associations, all experts in the field of project management. The new standard was brought to voting in Panama, and it was approved unanimously.
After this great success, also more critical voices were raised. To translate the English version into national languages caused some issues. In Japan and France, for example, the definition of competence does not work immediately, due to the denotation of words. And many countries have underestimated the effort of the transition towards new ICR4, the accompanying regulations for the certification.
From the user side, we received mainly strong positive feedback, as the new standard really supports competence development. Trainer and university teacher also welcomed it as it provides clearer guidance for educational programmes.
From an economic standpoint, certification numbers increased significantly again, after a period of rather a stagnation. Of course, the globally sound economy helped there as well, not only the new ICB.
What impressed you most in the process of managing the project “ICB 4.0”?
MS: In the first phase, we tried to develop the ICB in a consensus approach, inviting everybody to participate. We run workshops with more than 60 experts from all around the world. Although this approach offered many highly appreciated inputs, it was almost impossible to nail down results and produce a standard. Congruously we changed the setting: a core team of 13 highly engaged experts was created, and all others set into a sounding board. The latter was even extended with customers, industry expert, university professors and more. The core team then produced the content which was reviewed several times by sounding board members.
The most impressive part of this work was the multiculturally. It is so fascinating to realise how other cultures think and act. Although we all work in the field of project management, the approaches differ significantly. But if you successfully extract the competence required to successfully deliver, you realise that the differences get smaller and smaller, and finally disappear.
Another impressive part was the work with experts, with very engaged experts. This led us to many tough discussions, but in the end, this improved the product. The whole team knew that we need to produce a synthesis, which we successfully delivered.
When will IPMA introduce ICB 5.0?
MS: Unfortunately, I cannot read a crystal ball. Looking back, the previous version ICB 3.0 was about 12 years in operations. Extrapolation would mean somewhere in 2030. But this is not the essential question.
The standard needs regular updates to cope with new trends. IPMA will respond to this requirement by providing reference guides, based on ICB 4.0. For example, to cope with the many approaches in an agile world, IPMA offers a reference guide for agile leadership, together with a four levels certification system in line with the classical one. We describe the shift of competences needed to succeed in an agile project.
During the development of the ICB4 we also discussed if we should not provide increments, that would mean updates every two to three years. This approach we refused because of the many translations necessary, and due to the fact of stability of the certification process. Customers still expect a printed version, a book, but such a dynamic approach would work only in a digital world.
What are your tips on applying ICB 4.0 in practice?
MS: Honestly, I strongly recommend to read the ICB 4.0 in full. It describes the complete set of competences required to successfully manage projects, programmes and project portfolios. Use the reading for a self-evaluation. Be honest to you, be clear on what you are good at and what needs improvement, also in terms of complexity of the work delivered!
Then, based on your self-evaluation, derive development measures, competence elements you want to improve. This may include training programmes, coaching or simply learning by doing by realising an appropriate undertaking. Also include expert-driven evaluations, through HR professionals or assessment centres, or through IPMA experts by applying for an IPMA certificate.
To sum up: Make the ICB 4.0 your permanent companion and never stop learning!
Martin Sedlmayer leads successfully complex change programmes. During his 35 years career, he has worked in the domain of project management as a project manager, programme leader, portfolio manager, and manager of project organisations. His industry experience includes finance, manufacturing, logistics and not-for-profit organisations. His special interest is the challenge of competence development. He was a lead editor and project manager for the new ICB44 (global competence standard for individuals working in project, programme and portfolio management). Currently, he serves as Vice President of IPMA’s Executive Board for Products and Services, as a board member of both the Swiss national project management association spm and the Swiss certification body VZPM. Martin is IPMA Level A® certified, acts as an assessor for fifteen years in various countries and holds an MBA in International Management from the University of Applied Sciences in Berne Switzerland, the University of Freiburg Germany, the State Polytechnical University of St., Petersburg Russia, the Babson College of Boston USA and Jiao Tong University of Shanghai China. He publishes regularly, speaks at conferences and events worldwide.