IPMA International Project Management Association
22 May 2018 / 6:49

Project-based learning for a changing world of work – Part 2

Written by Dr. Jesus Martinez-Almela and Reinhard Wagner

Which competences are needed for the people engaged in projects? That typically depends on the context, content and complexity of the particular project. Competence required can be divided into those needed for managing projects and those that are specific to the individual project type, content or context. But before looking into competences necessary for managing projects we need to define the term “competence” as it used in different ways.

In the IPMA Individual Competence Baseline [IPMA 2017] competences are defined as “application of knowledge, skills, and abilities in order to achieve desired results.” Knowledge addresses the collection of information and experience that an individual possesses, for example understanding the concept of a Gantt chart. With skills in this definition, the specific technical capabilities that enable an individual to perform a task are incorporated in the competence. For example, developing a Gantt chart might be considered a required skill. Finally, the ability is meant to be the effective delivery of knowledge and skills in the given context of a project; for example being able to devise and successfully manage a project schedule might be considered ability. In practice, these three terms are interrelated. Having a skill presupposes knowledge, and having ability presupposes relevant skills and knowledge, but also adds to them.

What about the experience? The IPMA ICB clearly states that without experience, a competence can neither be demonstrated nor improved. It´s a key success factor for the development of individuals. In order to be able to perform assigned tasks, they need to accumulate sufficient experience for complementing the potential of their competences. Thus, state of the art education and training as well as certification systems not only address knowledge but competences based on experiences gained in practice.

The role of professional organizations is to set standards being applied by members all over the world. The International Standardization Organisation (ISO) for example makes standards available for governing as well as managing projects, programmes and portfolios. ISO 21500 is one of the standards ISO offers; it is stated that this ISO standard “provides guidance on concepts and processes of project management that are important for, and have an impact on, the performance of projects.” [ISO 2012] The target readership for this standard is senior managers and project sponsors, project managers, project management teams and project team members as well as the developers of national or organizational standards. ISO standards do not address competencies, but give guidance on concepts and processes. The same applies to PMI´s PMBOK Guide and the British Project Management Standard “PRINCE2” [Axelos 2017]. Both provide process models or methodologies for managing single projects.

The IPMA ICB and its “Eye of Competence” represent the competences needed for managing projects, programmes and portfolios. Competencies are divided into three competence areas: Perspectives, People and Practice. [IPMA 2017]. Competences under “Perspective” cover methods, tools and techniques through which individuals interact with the context, as well as the rationale that leads people, organisations and societies to start and support projects, programmes and portfolios. The competencies under “People” consist of the personal and interpersonal competences required to successfully participate in or lead projects, programmes and portfolios. Finally, the competences under “Practice” are specific methods, tools and techniques used for managing projects, programmes and portfolios. The latter is comparable with the aforementioned standards of ISO, PMI or Axelos. In each competence area, there are generic competence elements (CE) that apply to all domains. Each CE of the IPMA ICB contains a list of knowledge and skills required. A list of Key Competence Indicators (KCIs) per CE provides indication of what is expected from an individual managing projects, programmes or a portfolio. Each KCI contains a list of concise measures to be used for developing and assessing competences.

The IPMA ICB mentions the following competence elements in the domain of project management, sorted into the three competence areas:

Perspective competences:

  • Strategy
  • Governance, structure and processes
  • Compliance, standards and regulations
  • Power and interest
  • Culture and values

People competences:

  • Self-reflection and self-management
  • Personal integrity and reliability
  • Personal communication
  • Relationships and engagement
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Conflict and crisis
  • Resourcefulness
  • Negotiation
  • Result orientation

Practice competences:

  • Design
  • Requirements, objectives and benefits
  • Scope
  • Time
  • Organisation and information
  • Quality
  • Finance
  • Resources
  • Procurement and partnerships
  • Plan and control
  • Risk and opportunities
  • Stakeholders
  • Change and transformation

The standard provides for each CE a definition, purpose, description, knowledge, skills and abilities, a list of related CEs as well as KCIs with respective description and measures. It forms the basis for assessment and development of competences. It may also be used to derive an organization- or sector-specific competence model and could act as a reference model for competence-related research activities.

For a few years, the PM community has been thrilled by what is called „Agile Project Management“. The approach is being aggressively advocated as a MUST HAVE in modern times, all other approaches are called “old-fashioned”, “traditional” and thus obsolete. But what is really different and when does it make sense to adopt agile methods? According to the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, it is:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation;
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

The main idea is that there is too much change in order to prescribe the future through plans. Therefore, only a short-term plan (“sprint”) spanning a few days or weeks is necessary.  Interactions and communication are valued higher in such a context. Project teams are encouraged to collaborate intensively with customers and all partners in order to learn from them about the changes and adapt accordingly (the project deliverables and plans). Processes and tools are reduced to a minimum in order to allow the team to organize themselves, to be more creative and flexible, arranging with the changes and the demands of the customers. People are more important than processes, they are empowered and asked to self-organize. The deliverables are decomposed into smaller prototypes, components or work results in order to validate them at an early stage and not at the end of a (long) project lifecycle.

However, Agile Project Management is nothing new; it is a pretty usual part of the evolution in the project management domain. Nowadays the focus is definitely on people and on change. Project managers have always been agile; PM always needs to be “fit for purpose”. Many organizations try to improve their project management practices through applying agile approaches, for example in software development, innovation or change projects. Some combine approaches to a hybrid mix of “traditional” with “agile” approaches and methods. For example, in the automotive industry, the software of infotainment systems is developed using Scrum, other parts of the system or automobile are being developed with rather traditional approaches, called “Stage Gate”-Development Processes or “Waterfall”. In a project, approaches can be evenly mixed, depending on the stage of the project and its requirements.

Project managers need to be virtuosi in selecting the right approach and adopting that according to the situation and its requirements. Not “one size fits it all”, project management is situation-dependent and thus in general “agile”. However, Agile PM  is not freestyle; there are still many processes, methods and tools in place. They often sound new-fashioned, but are in fact quite often “old school”. For example, “Kanban” was developed by Toyota during the 1950s for optimizing the production. Nowadays it is being re-advocated as a “new” tool for workflows and coordination.

More reflection is required on why certain methods and tools are needed and how they should be applied. This is what should be at the heart of competence development for the project personnel rather than to proliferate simple “cooking recipes”. Acknowledging situated and fast-changing reality requires a reflective and deliberative competence. “The modern view encourages practitioners to challenge their theories with ideas from other perspectives and to seek to update and refine their practice, and its underlying theory.” [Dalcher 2017]

Agile practices also have an impact on the organization and the leadership shown. The authors of “Management 4.0” [Oswald et al 2017] label organizations in this context as “fluid organizations” in which teams, departments or the whole organization are able to adjust to complex environments by assembling and disassembling quickly and flexibly according to agile structures and processes. They stress the importance of a different mindset in times of “Management 4.0”: “Self-reflection, appreciation of human needs, systems thinking and the self-organization of social systems… Both, agile and traditional PM techniques contribute to agility, only if they are able to incorporate this mindset. Leadership also plays a prominent role. This has its roots in the relationship between mindset and self-leadership and is due to the fact that self-organization cannot be obtained without leadership.” Without a transformation of the organization, the adoption of agile PM methods and tools will not be successful.


  • Axelos (2017) Managing successful projects with Prince2 2017 Edition. Axelos, London
  • Dalcher D (2017) The Evolution of Project Management Practice. Routledge, London and New York
  • IPMA (2017) IPMA Individual Competence Baseline for Project, Programme and Portfolio Management. Version 4.0. IPMA, Nijkerk
  • ISO (2012) ISO 21500 Guidance on project management. ISO, Geneva
  • Oswald A, Müller W (2017) Management 4.0. Handbook for Agile Practices. Books on Demand




  • Folks, project-based learning ALONE is not enough. To realize the full value that PBL can provide, it must be combined with a RESULTS BASED ASSESSMENT of the training, The one we use and recommend is Kirkpatrick’s 4 Level system- https://www.kirkpatrickpartners.com/Our-Philosophy/The-New-World-Kirkpatrick-Model

    Also what we’ve learned over the years is that the PEOPLE (or Soft Skills) competencies are not static but CHANGE from year to year. To address that, we design all our training programs around the NACE research- 2017- https://goo.gl/KgAeen and 2017- https://goo.gl/sLH9Jf

    Bottom line- while we are happy to see IPMA endorsing PBL, that is only one leg of what is necessary to produce COMPETENT professional level practitioners.

  • Dr. Giammalvo: appreciate your perspective and additions, yet accept that in this world there are multi-faceted views, none of which is perfect or the truth. Our series is advocating one view of project-based learning and does not say that it´s the only way…

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Author of this post

Dr. Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. He has published more than 40 books as well as several hundred articles and blog posts in the field of project management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the IPMA in various roles and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Fellowship of IPMA and several of its member associations. He received his doctorate in the field of projectification of society and continues to be active in it through his research and lectures.