IPMA International Project Management Association
17 September 2015 / 11:22

The complementarity of competence-based and process-based standards

The IPMA Individual Competence Baseline Version 4, or just ICB4, was designed to become the global competence-based standard for individual competences in project, programme, and portfolio management (3PM) environments. Maybe the biggest advantage yet is hidden and lies in its complementarity with the world’s renewed process-based PM standards. However, what is the difference between competence- and process-based standards and why is that important?

Competence-based standards are different than the process-based ones in their very nature and its use. Trying to use a competence-based standard (e.g. ICB4) like a process-based standard (e.g. ISO 21500) or vice versa, might cause troubles. ISO defines standards as: “A standard is a document, established by consensus that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results” (ISO/IEC Guide 2:2004). Another definition that suits the purpose is: “A standard is a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, which provides for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context” (PMI, 2015). Therefore, a competence-based standard would ensure that enterprises, organizations, HR departments, certification bodies could train and develop their personnel in order to become more efficient and effective in achieving desired results in 3PM and thus more competent as defined and set by the ICB4.

Competence-based (also called as performance or occupational competence standards) specify what people have to be able to do (practice), the level of performance required (knowledge, skills and abilities) and the circumstances (perspective) in which that level of performance needs to be demonstrated. In the 3PM context, a competence-based standard would indicate what a person involved is expected to do well within their working occupation (e.g. project team member, programme manager etc.), as well as the knowledge and skills required.

These standards are specifically designed for assessment of current level of competence, regardless of how that competence has been achieved. Further, they encourage self-assessment and personal development planning. Maybe the biggest advantage of the competence-based assessment is that an individual is assessed being either ‘competent’ at the time of assessment, or ‘not yet competent’. This is a highly valuable information for organizations as well as for the individuals themselves.

Up until now little has been done on a global scale in standardizing the 3PM competences. Even though ISO has issued the 21500 standard for Project Management; 21502 for Portfolio Management and now is finishing programme management and 3PM governance; PMI set directions towards programmes; and Axelos (current PRINCE2 concessionaire) issued a series of publications – all these attempts still remained strongly focused on processes and methodologies, but not on competences – they were all process based standards.

Therefore IPMA, with the new ICB4, sets out to enrich and improve the individuals’ inventory of the 3PM competences that, if fully realized, represent complete mastery of the 3PM discipline. ICB4 does not describe the steps involved in 3PM, but rather is intended to be a companion document to other global, process- and methodology-based standards (e.g. PRINCE2, PMBOK, ISO 21500 etc.) ICB 4.0 focuses on the ability to apply certain performance, rather than on activities, processes, tools and techniques and thus becomes complementary and not competitive to the processes-based standards. This is important, as the global market (especially USA and the Commonwealth countries) is crowded with process-based standards and methodologies. Thus with ICB4, IPMA is positioning itself to be the first on the market to offer a global suite of 3PM competences which is used for multiple purposes, such as education and training, qualification and certification as well as career and competence development.


As ICB 4.0 does not compete against the process-based standards, the individuals (and their executives) can thus decide what generic and specific competences they need to develop in their respective 3PM environment. Finally, the users of ICB4 should therefore not only be IPMA affiliated professionals wanting to get certified, but rather constituents like universities, consultancy companies, HR departments, PMI and PRINCE2 fellows etc. who now can use the new ICB4 to further develop themselves and their staff in 3PM.

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Author of this post

Mladen Vukomanović is IPMA Vice President of Profession Development. Mladen is also serves as Vice President of Croatian IPMA Member Association in Croatia and University Professor and Chair of Construction Management at University of Zagreb. He possesses more than 15 years’ experience in planning, organizing, and leading and controlling large infrastructure projects. Mladen is Experienced Board Chair with a demonstrated history of working in both the for-profit and the non-for-profit organizations in project management industry. Skilled in Project Management, Construction Management and ICT systems, he holds a global credential for consultants and coaches – IPMA CCT A level.