IPMA International Project Management Association
16 July 2015 / 6:42

The complementarity of competence-based and process-based standards

The IPMA Individual Competence Baseline Version 4, or ICB4, is designed as the global competence-based standard for individual competences in project, programme, and portfolio management (3PM) environments. Perhaps the biggest advantage lies in its complimentarity with the world’s process-based PM standards. However, what is the difference between competence-based and process-based standards anyway, and why is that important?

Competence-based standards are different than the process-based standards in their nature and use. Trying to use a competence-based standard like a process-based standard may lead its user into troubles. ISO defines standards as: “… a document, established by consensus that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results” (ISO/IEC Guide 2:2004). Another definition states that “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, such as the ICB4, must ensure that enterprises, organizations, HR departments, and certification bodies could develop their personnel in order to become more efficient and effective in achieving desired results in 3PM, and thus competent as defined and set by the that standard.

Competence-based standards (also called 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’. Assessment results are 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 complete set of 3PM competences. ISO and organisations like Axelos and PMI are strongly focused on 3PM processes and methodologies, but not on competences.

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 / or methodology-based standards (e.g. ISO 21500). 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 baseline of 3PM competencies which is used for multiple purposes, such as education and training, qualification and certification as well as career and competence development..

Because the ICB4 does not compete against process-based standards, the individuals (and their managers) can thus decide what generic and specific competences they need to further 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, fellows of other professional bodies which now can use the new ICB4 to further develop themselves and their staff in 3PM.


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Mladen Vukomanovic

Author of this post

In his every day job, Mladen works as Associate Professor at the University of Zagreb. He teaches Project Management and Construction Management at graduate and post-graduate courses. Holding a Ph.D. in Performance Management Systems in Project Environments, during the last ten years he published and presented on the global scene. His is particularly interested in: Performance management, Benchmarking, TQM, Strategic Management and Project Management Processes. He is the co-author of 4 books. Besides working for the university he is actively involved in IPMA. He has been member of the IPMA Council of Delegates (COD); he took part in IPMA Organizational Competence Baseline (OCB) and currently takes part in IPMA ICB/ICR 4.0 programme. He is a member of the IPMA President’s Advisory Group (PAG). Locally, he is the member of the Executive board of Croatian Association for Project Management (IPMA member).