7 Steps To A Project Management Capability Assessment

As a program manager, PMO or project team leader, you probably think about how to plan upcoming work. And that includes the requirements for developing the project management capability in the organisation to deliver the upcoming projects.

It’s easy to think that certification is the answer to developing capability in your project managers, but it’s better to take a step back from that.

While sending project managers on courses is definitely an option, you need to pick the right courses – the ones that will address the gaps in your capability and help your project managers build their skills in a way that equips them to deal with the work that’s coming.

Those challenges are particular to your organization, so it’s not possible for me to tell you what to do. You need a capability assessment to show you where the organization’s strengths are and where you have gaps in skills.

But how do you do that? Here’s an easy 7-step approach that will give you an understanding of where you need to grow your capability.

1. Survey your stakeholders

Who benefits from the skills of the project delivery team? You want to consult widely with your stakeholder community when wanting to find out about the skills the team has and the skills they have yet to develop. Think about:

  • Internal project customers
  • External project customers
  • Senior executives
  • Team leaders
  • Subject matter experts
  • Project support team members
  • Project management office team members
  • Project managers

These are all individuals or groups who will have something to say about how well they are equipped to deliver the upcoming work.

2. Ask what skills people already have

A capability assessment isn’t a test of how well the project managers know the formulae for Earned Value.

You want to know efficient they are at achieving the desired outcomes for the company, and how successful projects are at delivering benefits. That’s more relevant than finding out if they can map the critical path by hand on graph paper (which was one of the exercises I had to do on a training course).

You’re asking about the skills and competencies they have, with a view to mapping this against the strategy for next year and the upcoming projects. The objective of this capability assessment is, after all, to make sure that the two map closely.

If they don’t, you’re going to have a hard time delivering on your strategy because you don’t have the people with the competencies to get it done.

3. Don’t get analysis paralysis

People are busy. Don’t send out survey after survey. You want to get this piece of work done quickly, not spend ages interviewing individuals about what project management techniques they are confident in.

Find a decent balance.

7 steps to a project management capability assessment

4. Analyze the results

Take the answers to the questions from all stakeholder groups and start to dig into them. What does it mean that all project managers need communication skills that are ten out of ten?

Find out why some of the reported behavior is happening. Ask the next level questions to uncover the root causes.

Are the structures there to support alternative behaviors? If not, how are you going to build those in as well so that new skills have an environment in which to thrive?

A capability assessment or needs analysis like this gives you a consolidated view of where you are, helping you plan out where you want to be.

The data you gather is the basis for the development plan you need to put in place. So, now is the point that you can start to write out your development plan based on the data you have gathered and the gap that you have identified.

Looking for training or mentoring support for your team? I can help with that.

5. Secure commitment

Get your development plan sponsored at the highest level. Capability improvements have the best and most long-lasting effects if they have the commitment of the people at the top.

On paper this seems like an easy exercise: what Chief Exec wouldn’t want their people to have the skills and behaviors required to deliver their strategy?

In practice getting commitment can be harder because delivering on your plan requires time and energy which, in the short term, takes people away from doing their strategic work. Capitalize on the fact that this is enabling work to set the business up for future success.

At this point in the process you can secure funding for your capability improvements including any training needs.

6. Communicate the plan

OK, so management know why you are doing it and have given you their backing. Now you need everyone else to understand the benefits and support your plan.

Project managers might not want to up their skills in certain areas, especially if they feel the strategic requirements of the company take them away from areas where they prefer to work.

It’s worth spending some time with the individuals involved to sell the benefits of what you plan to do and what it means for them.

Use all the good change management practices that you use elsewhere in your business to bring people along with these changes too.

7. Schedule time to review

Capability changes over time. The plan as you put it together today might not be appropriate in six months. Build in feedback loops so that everyone understands the value of keeping the capability assessment up to date and fresh.

Get feedback on the process you went through too, so that if you repeat the exercise again in the future you can learn from what went well and what didn’t inspire your stakeholders as much.

Having got your results, it’s tempting to leap full steam into a huge training program, but be realistic about what you can achieve. This time next year the real question will be: has what you have done made a difference?

Tying your capability assessment and development plan to your strategic objectives is going to help you measure the outcomes of your investment into training and other development activities, and in turn that will help you secure more support and funding for further growth.