Competency Mapping for Project Management

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Competency mapping is a systematic process that involves identifying, assessing, and aligning the skills, knowledge, and abilities of individual team members with the requirements and objectives of a project. The success of a project is often above all highly correlated with the choice of a project manager, that inhabits the necessary competencies to lead team members and allocate resources in the needed way to pursue effective and efficient progress. This choice can be supported by mapping the competencies of relevant employees in a standardized way. This article describes the different dimensions of competencies, how to assess them and their respective importance for project management. These detailed insights also help with the further development of various skills. The mapping of competencies has relevance for the project management itself, but also directly relates to program and portfolio management, as they are often the ones, deciding about human resources on a bigger scale. The Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework, which can be used to map competencies to identify and further develop them, will be introduced and explained in the following article. [1] [2][3]


Figure 1: Competency Dimensions based on [4]

The idea of competence is often understood in various ways. It is often referred to as the knowledge or the skills, that an individual inhabits, or is used to describe the ability to fulfil a task [5]. The overall concept of competence however goes beyond this. A definition of the word is given by Ruas et al. describing competence as the “ability to mobilize, integrate and transfer knowledge, skills and resources to reach or surpass the configured performance in work assignments, adding economic and social value to the organization and the individual”. [6]. Connecting this to the field of project management, it is therefore not sufficient to possess certain expertise. A project manager also must be capable of transforming this expertise into a value-creating activity for the project. The definition of project management, given by the Project Management Institute “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. Project management refers to guiding the project work to deliver the intended outcomes.”[7] underlines direct connection and importance of competencies for project management. Knowing the characteristics of competence still leaves the term quite broad in the sense of what kind of competencies can be distinguished. The literature provides several diverse classifications into different types, areas and levels of competencies of a project manager. The PMCD framework distinguishes between three separate dimensions of competencies for project managers. These are knowledge, performance and personal competencies.[8] Knowledge competencies include what the project manager knows about the application of tools, processes and techniques which are needed to fulfill different project management tasks. Performance competencies focus on what a project manager is able to accomplish within a project and consists of different units, for example project scope management, project quality management and project cost management. Personal competencies define how a project manager behaves in his management position. It is built out of the six units communicating, leading, managing, cognitive ability, effectiveness and professionalism. These dimensions and the level of their fulfillment can be mapped and illustrated in a triangle shape as can be seen in Figure 1. The outer boundaries describe a fully competent project manager, while the inner lines represent the current state of the competencies. Out of these gaps and possibilities for development can be derived as it will be further explained in the following sections.[4]

Big Idea

The value, that is delivered by a project is affected by internal and external factors, which can have different levels of influence. Within the internal environment the capabilities of employees, including for example their skills, techniques and competencies, are important examples of influential factors. The process of mapping their competencies enables an organization to understand the current state and gain knowledge about how to improve it. The negative influence of the capability factor on the project's success can therefore be controlled, and positive reinforcement can be used.[7][9] The PMCD framework can for example be used for performance reviews, promotion processes, or recruitment. For this use case, however, the focus area will be mapping project management competencies to organizational positions. As the PMCD Framework aims to incorporate the most important principles of project management, program management and portfolio management, it is built upon standard publications in this field like A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, The Standard for Program Management, and The Standard for Portfolio Management [10] . Therefore, the considered competencies within the dimensions of performance, knowledge and personal competencies can be deducted from the known competencies for the different management positions in most industries. Consequently, industry and organizations specific competencies are not part of the original framework. To assure an effective application of the framework the competency dimension matrix must be complemented by these two individual factors. Focusing more on the project manager competencies, the PMCD Framework is based on the three competency dimensions and their respective units that have been described in the introduction. Each unit is connected with different levels, that are obtainable, which provides a structured way of assessing the competencies. [4]


Figure 1: PMCD Framework steps based on [4]

Prior to the application of the PMCD Framework, different factors have to be assessed and aligned to ensure a successful implementation of the tool, so that it provides the wanted competency overview and development plan. Firstly, the organization that is planning to implement the framework has to be aware of the influence and importance of project management competencies, to pursue the execution with the needed accuracy. Further, the different roles and levels within the organization must be clearly defined, to allow a tailored mapping at a later stage. If the focus lies on project managers they could be classified into entry-level project managers, project managers and experienced project managers. If further management positions are meant to be included, their respective description has to be defined clearly. It also needs to be mentioned, that it is likely, that the organization needs to undertake individual adjustments to the framework. This is necessary to account for the conditions that arise out of the local and industry- or project-related context. Important is to notice, that the PMCD Framework is not a tool designed for one-time use to identify the best project manager for a given project. It is to be performed periodically to ensure the assessment and development of the changing competencies continuously. [4]

The PMCD Framework consists of four steps followed by a summary. The steps Review Requirements, Assess Competences, Prepare Competency Development Plan and Implement Competency Development Plan and their respective relations can be seen in Figure 2 and are explained in the following: [4]

Step 1: Review Requirements

The review of the requirements within the different competence dimensions represents the start of the framework. This assessment of the knowledge expectations, performance expectations and personal behavior expectations is crucial to set the goal and scope of the entire process. The requirements have to be adjusted for the specific role that is assessed, so that the fundamental competencies, that should be fulfilled by this role can be defined. If there are for example roles, that are more specialized than the project management position, like for example a scheduling specialist, the expectations can shift more towards planning competencies, while the requirements for other project management competencies can correspondingly be lowered. After the requirements are defined, they have to be converted into assessment criteria, which then form the baseline for the competency mapping for the different specific roles. Criteria are like the requirements corresponding to the three dimensions of competency and can be investigated with surveys, interviews, key performance indicators or other project management-related documents. This will be further explained in the following steps.[4]

Step 2: Assess Competences

Once the requirements and the resulting criteria have been defined, the process of assessing the project managers to the criteria follows. For this, the process and usable methods are to be elaborated. The first decision that an organization that uses this framework has to make, is to what level of detail and rigor the assessment should be executed. The term rigor describes here how intense, deep and thorough the chosen assessment tools work. The outcome and the effectiveness of this framework are directly influenced by a choice of low, medium or high rigor for the assessment. The more the organization values strong competencies for their project managers, the higher the level of rigor should be chosen. An example for a

  • low rigor assessment tool would be a self-assessment of a project manager which is often accompanied by inconsistent and subjective measurements
  • medium rigor could be represented by an interview of a project manager or the review of competence evidence
  • high rigor assessment, as it is often recommended, has higher standards as it firstly includes documentation to create a repeatable assessment. Tools for this kind of assessment can be observed in workshops of collaborative reviews, where a project manager describes by means of evidence, how they fulfilled the criteria in previous projects

In general, the tools for the assessment are standardized to provide repeatable and reliable success. Divided into two groups of assessment tools, input-based assessment tools are:

  • Observations
  • Interviews
  • Results of academic programs or development programs attended
  • Training and seminars attended
  • Feedback/ feedforward

On the other hand, output-based assessment tools are:

  • Performance tasks
  • Portfolios of evidence to enhance competence
  • Publications and trainer activity
  • Self- and peer evaluation

These tools then have to be connected with the assessment criteria, to end up with the final toolset, like questionnaires or survey instruments. When the degree of rigor has been set and the tools are chosen, the reachable levels for the project managers have to be set. These can be defined as:

  • Below expectations, the project manager is developing competence
  • Expectations are fulfilled
  • Above expectations, the project manager is highly competent

This assignment allows a conclusion if the predefined baselines of requirements and criteria are met. If the first level is determined, a gap between the baseline and the competence has been detected. The extent of that gap should be described, to initiate the necessary developments in the next step.[4]

Step 3: Prepare Competency Development Plan

The purpose of the Competency Development Plan is to address the identified gaps and therefore to close them. To ensure an effective process for that, competency gaps with high importance for the project manager and the organization should be prioritized. The development needs can be addressed through different delivery techniques. A combination of the following three ways is needed to fulfill the goal of competency building:

  • Experiential Learning or commonly known as learning by doing has the benefit, that a project manager can realize learning while being in his job environment. Examples of this type of learning are mentoring/coaching, on-the-job training, or role-playing.
  • Formal Learning represents the traditional way of learning from an instructor in a structured setting. Examples of this are classroom training, individual training or public education.
  • Nonformal Learning on the other hand happens outside the educational setting in a natural way. A face-to-face meeting, online discussion forms or networking are examples of this way of learning.

The most effective delivery method to enable the project manager to inhabit a stronger competency is depending on the personal learning type and the area where the knowledge needs to be gained. Once the learning plan has been set, an effective way to ensure success is to establish certificates that give evidence about the state of the competence. The motivation to acquire enough knowledge, to pass the requirements for a certificate can amplify the learning outcome. The final competency development can be set up as a table and should contain the learning outcome, the learning activity type, a target date and the level that is aimed to be achieved. The aim can be set to meet the requirements or even exceed them. The ownership of the development plan mostly lies with the learning individual but is often supported by a sponsor, that can for example be the direct manager of a project manager. Having the responsibility for their success in their own hand can again improve the progress, that the project manager makes.[4]

Step 4: Implement Competency Development Plan

As the task to follow the development plan lies within the area of responsibility of the different project managers, they can be seen as accountable to achieve the goals set. The fulfillment is executed as if they are managing a project, which in this case is aimed to improve their future performance and career possibilities. Nevertheless, the project manager does not stand alone with the whole process. Monitoring and funding are performed by the organization or the responsible, that initiated the competency assessment and development. Monitoring should not only take place to review the progress in competency development but also to align the goals with changes that could occur in the meantime. If requirements should change, the steps that need to be taken to achieve them can be adjusted. A way to standardize this monitoring is to set milestones in the process that are combined with measurable advancements that are to be communicated from the project manager to the organization. Success is dependent on the motivation of the project manager and the support of supervisors. Therefore, the task of the project manager is to communicate his need for support and his progress to the relevant stakeholders, which on the other hand should inspire and motivate. In the end, the execution of the plan is to be evaluated, which can happen in an informal and a formal way. The informal approach includes the self-reflection and demonstration of the journey and the improvement in competence that has been reached. In a more formal way, a set of questions should be answered, like for example:

  • Did the competency development plan deliver the intended outcome?
  • Was the plan suitable and effective?
  • Are others now able to use this plan?
  • Are there any improvements in the job performance after completing the plan?

The answers to these questions cannot only evaluate the plan so far but help to improve future competency development plans for the same project manager or for the same competency gap, as it is the idea to continue with PMCD framework repeatedly.[4]


The PMCD framework was introduced as a guideline to enable the mapping of competencies by assessing them, which further helps to identify fields of improvement and the best fitting way to achieve the goal, to equip a project manager with the needed competencies. This framework can also be used to assess and train program and portfolio managers in a similar way. Therefore, it is a valuable approach, that can help improvement-seeking organizations and individuals in a structured way. Nevertheless, it is not always directly applicable which will be discussed further in the limitations that are associated with this framework.


The most important limitations of the PMCD framework can be summarized in two categories. The PMCD framework is at its core a quite generalized and standardized framework, which is necessary to give the possibility, to be applied in any kind of industry in which project, program and portfolio management is taking place. As a trade-off, a standard framework cannot map the individual aspects of the company. The first limitation is, therefore, that the framework needs to be adapted for every utilization to produce the desired results. This adaptation includes organizational, cultural, local and industry-specific characteristics. Also, if expectations for special projects are included, the complexity of this project has a big influence on the required competency and needs to be carefully examined. Further, it is possible, that a temporal adjustment will be necessary in the future [11] . As the consideration of sustainability aspects gets more important all over the industries and also for their projects, the competency of managing a project in a sustainable manner will be crucial but is not yet included in the PMCD framework to that extent. To not underestimate this limitation, the framework should only be seen as the core concept of competency mapping, the customization lies within the responsibility of the applying organization. This customization is of course associated with effort. The general effort and motivation represent the second limitation of the framework. In every step of the framework, the ambition of the organization or the individual will be directly reflected by the outcome of the usage of the tool. As described it is highly dependent on the adaptation of the tool but also the chosen level of rigor in the assessment has a non-neglectable influence. Later in the process, the impact on the result lies more in the field of responsibility of the individual. The project manager needs to have enough intrinsic motivation to complete the tasks that are required to meet the set expectations. But also, the support of the superior managers needs to be adequate to give the needed extrinsic motivation to the respective project manager. Lastly, as the framework is meant to be applied recurrently, using this tool is a commitment to put ongoing efforts into the development of the competencies. If the limitations of the need for adaptation and ambitions are known and are taken into account, the PMCD framework can be a great help to map and develop the competencies of a project manager and therefore contribute to the success of future projects of the company. [4]

Annotated Bibliography

  • Takey, Sílvia Mayumi and de Carvalho, Marly Monteiro. Competency mapping in project management: An action research study in an engineering company in International Journal of Project Management, 2014: This reference highlights the importance of competency mapping in project management, it gives an overview over the different approaches and frameworks to map competencies. It refers to the Project Manager Competency Framework as the most comparable to the later used seven step framework for a special application purpose. As the framework focuses more on the research side and less and directly applicable steps for an organization, it is not further explained in this article.
  • Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). (2017). Project Manager Competency Development Framework (3rd Edition).: This reference is the origin of the PMCD framework, which is used in this article as the framework to map and develop competencies of project managers. The book describes the background, purpose and application of the framework in a detailed way. There are several different editions of this framework. The third edition is mainly used for explaining the single steps of the framework. However the previous version sometimes elaborate in more detail about some underlying facts about the connection of competencies and project, program and portfolio management.
  • Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – 7th Edition and The Standard for Project Management. 2021.: As a standard book this reference elaborates on the importance of well developed competences in project management. It describes the influences on the success of a project and names the competencies and capabilities of project managers and the project team as an important internal factor of influence. The standard also refers to the PMCD framework as a possibility to improve the competencies of project managers and to align them with the project scope.
  • James W. Drisko (2014) Competencies and Their Assessment, Journal of Social Work Education.: This article provides a general overview of the topic of competencies. Before linking it to the field of project program and portfolio management, some definitions and clarifications of the often quite broad term needed to be done. It gives a good introduction to the overall topic. As this wiki article quickly shifts the focus to mostly project management, this source is not used in the later parts of the text.
  • Suikki, R., Tromstedt, R., & Haapasalo, H. (2006). Project management competence development framework in turbulent business environment. Technovation: This article emphasises the importance of competence development in project management. Next to a theoretical framework and a description of the PMCD framework it also elaborates on experiences of applying the framework. This is an insightful source, to also conclude on some limitations and possible improvements of the PMCD framework.


  1. Takey, Sílvia Mayumi and de Carvalho, Marly Monteiro. Competency mapping in project management: An action research study in an engineering company in International Journal of Project Management, 2014.
  2. González-Marcos, Ana; Alba-Elías, Fernando and de Ordieres-Meré, Joaquín. An analytical method for measuring competence in project management in British Journal of Educational Technology, 2016.
  3. Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). (2002). Project management competency development framework. Project Management Institute (PMI).
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). (2017). Project Manager Competency Development Framework (3rd Edition). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI).
  5. James W. Drisko (2014) Competencies and Their Assessment, Journal of Social Work Education, 50:3, 414-426, DOI: 10.1080/10437797.2014.917927 .
  6. Ruas, Roberto, et al. Aprendizagem organizacional e competências. Porto Alegre, 2005.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – 7th Edition and The Standard for Project Management. 2021.
  8. Cartwright, C. (2008). Using the Project Management Competency Development Framework to Improve Project Management Capability. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2008—Asia Pacific, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. .
  9. Geoghegan, L., & Dulewicz, V. (2008). Do project managers’ leadership competencies contribute to project success?. Project management journal, 39(4), 58-67. .
  10. Cartwright, C. & Yinger, M. (2007). Project management competency development framework—second edition. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2007—EMEA, Budapest, Hungary. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
  11. Suikki, R., Tromstedt, R., & Haapasalo, H. (2006). Project management competence development framework in turbulent business environment. Technovation, 26(5-6), 723-738. .
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