Outcomes, standards and Practical Certification

This article is part of a set of articles about standards and accreditation. It answers questions which corporate skills development practitioners may have about the Practical Certification Programme in Project Management (PCP).

Is the PCP outcomes-based?

Yes, but it differs from the Unit Standards approach in a specific way. The PCP is a learner-centred outcomes-based programme. It is the only Project Management learning programme in Southern Africa (and one of the few in the world) specifically designed to deliver competencies within in all three dimensions of the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) of the Project Management Institute (PMI®).

How does the learner-centred approach differ from the Unit Standards approach?

Manager and team member in site officeThe outcomes are determined largely by the immediate or future role they intend or are expected to fulfil, or by the performance improvement required in their current position.

The outcomes are different for every learner, depending on their own goals, departure point (e.g. current job, present knowledge, experience-based insight) and capacity to learn. A Unit Standards approach would not be appropriate in this case as it does not provide for a diversity of learner-centred outcomes within a single programme.

The specific learner-centred approach used in this Programme differs from the Unit Standards approach in the following ways:

1. The Programme is designed to cater for the typical environment of the learner.

Unit Standards provide a fixed target for training. Unit Standards based training is appropriate where:

  • the organisation’s Project Management problems (or challenges or opportunities) are well understood and their solutions have been defined by management according to their own well-formed insight into formal Project Management;
  • the solution can be mapped to the outcomes of one or more Unit Standards; and
  • the assessment strategy followed by the Unit Standards training provides an appropriate mechanism for measuring the attainment of the outcomes.

Unit Standard training would, for example, be appropriate in an organisation on Project Management Maturity Level 3, where the Project Management methodology formally implemented by top management in accordance with the organisation’s Project Management Strategy maps precisely to the content and outcomes of a Unit Standard.

What is the challenge?

The majority of learners who require Project Management training do not work in such an environment. Problems relating to projects in the context of their own work environment are not yet well understood and solutions can therefore not yet be defined. This means that the Project Management learning programme must provide a structured way of working towards an unknown target.

2. The Programme is designed to cater for the specific environment of the learner.

Participants learn the typical tools and techniques of Project Management embodied in standards such as the PMBOK® Guide (content covered by most courses in project Management) by working with their own projects.

In the light of the aspects mentioned under the previous heading, all the modules of the Programme are also designed to address the typical unknowns and to discover ways of addressing them along the way. Learners must not only learn how to manage projects, but must also develop insights into the requirements for Project Management implementation.

3. The Programme addresses the issues of implementation.

Project Management implementation is about changing the environment (including the reporting structures and processes) within which projects are managed. If these aspects are not addressed by management, the learner will not be able to manage projects effectively in the real world. This aspect is not addressed in regular Project Management courses.

In the end, the learner will have to formulate an action plan for dealing with these issues.

In the case of a corporate employee, this may include a plan for communicating the issues to their superior.*

Where the learner is self-employed, the action plan may be for the implementation of Project Management in their own organisation.

Individuals seeking a career as independent project manager will in turn devise their terms for collaboration with clients, potential employers, team members or contractors.

* In some cases, the Project Management needs of the organisation, division or department are better served by means of purpose-built training which includes the participation of other team members and senior decision-makers.

4. The Programme does not put a ceiling to the learner’s development.

Educationist Liza van Wyk points out that Unit Standards training can mean that “high-quality service providers have to scale down their courses to fit in with existing standards”. This means that valuable time and money is wasted in working through course content which may be unimportant to the learner—at the expense of more relevant or more advanced learning.

Like a Unit Standards based course, the PCP provides for assessment according to established and recognised standards. But unlike a Unit Standards course, the Programme allows for flexibility.

What is the benefit of this flexibility?

The flexibility of the Programme allows the learner to pursue a path which differs from the paths of the other learners in order to pursue areas in which they have particular strengths, or which are more important in his situation.

5. The Programme is developed according to an ethos of rapid improvement.

We constantly evaluate the programme, determine the Best Practices and make changes or refinements. This may include changes to the content, learning materials and assessment strategy. (The SAQA approval process does not allow for rapid changes to courses registered with SAQA.)

6. The programme is designed to deliver quality in a relevant manner.

SAQA Unit Standards are intended to assure consistent quality. According to the traditional definition of quality, this means “reducing variation around the target”. SAQA Unit Standards thus help to ensure, for example, that if a company loses someone who conforms to the Unit Standard for operating a sealing machine in a production line, HR can get another person who has been certified according to the same standard, and production can then continue as before.

However, in some jobs this is impossible. Leadership, management competence and insight into the culture of an industry and the Project Management requirements of a specific organisation are all characteristics of an individual who cannot be recruited according to a SAQA Unit Standard.

Nor can these all these characteristics be assured by sending someone for syllabus-based training. Even the PMI® recognises that its own PMP® credential can at best attest to competence in only one of the three dimensions required to be recognised as fully competent.  (This is explained in the introduction to the PMCDF.) The PCP is unusual in that it has been specifically designed to work towards developing competencies in the other two dimensions as well.

How does the Programme deliver relevant quality?

Based on the work of Joseph M. Juran, the definition of quality we use is “fitness for purpose”.

Working with the participant’s own real projects and with a strong emphasis on learning methodologies, the PCP is designed not to train, but to assist participants in their own learning path and in the acquisition of the Project Management knowledge, skills and insights required by their present or future environment, according to their individual potential. This is the essential purpose of outcomes-based education.

Can my organisation claim back Skills Development Levies for this Programme?

Yes. The Practical Certification Programme can be included in a Workplace Skills Plan and Skills Development Levies can be reclaimed.

SDL repayments are based on the submission of Workplace Skills Plans, Workplace Skills Implementation Plans, and the submission of the names of Skills Development Facilitators. This does not require that the training should bear SETA accreditation or NQF alignment (Government Gazette No. 20865 of 7 February 2000).

Does the Programme include any international certificates?

Customised view in Microsoft Project produced during Consultative Tutoring session with ProjectManagement.co.za for an ethernet project.

Yes, Exam 74-343, Managing Projects with Microsoft Project, is included in the fee.

Unlike the usual Microsoft Office exams, this is a fairly difficult exam. Candidates should not only have a solid understanding of key project management concepts and terminology, but should also have experience at effectively modelling, scheduling, resourcing, communicating, collaborating on, and delivering projects.

Depending on the learner, other certifications (e.g. PRINCE2® Foundation and Practitioner or PMP®) may also be pursued later, but are not included in the fee.

Why does the Programme include this international certificate?

1. To assist the learner with focused study.

Being required to study structured content assists the learner in maintaining focus rather than going off at a tangent and losing perspective of the whole of a subject whilst pursuing an area of particular personal interest, or a specific pressing Project Management problem at work.

2. To help motivate the learner.

There is a certain thrill to passing an exam! Trying to score assists in motivating the learner.

3. To provide the learner with additional credibility.

The certificate is locally and internationally recognised. Certificates in Project Management do not per se warrant a person’s workplace competence, but they can be a good indication of an individual’s awareness of a subject and commitment to learning.

How much contact time is spent preparing the learners for the exam?

The study materials are specifically designed for self-directed exam preparation, and the programme requires many hours of self-study. Consultative Tutoring sessions (max. 5 participants per session) are intended for meeting real-world Project Management needs, and these are staged based on the requirements for exam preparation.

The main focus of the programme is on the contextual application of the Project Management principles, tools and techniques needed in the learners’ own projects, as well as the considerations for Project Management implementation.


  • Tania Melnyczuk is the co-developer of the Practical Certification Programme in Project Management. Tania is certified according to the following SAQA standards for education: Design, develop and implement assessment of learning in Higher Education and Training (NQF 7) ID 14297, Design and develop outcomes-based assessment (NQF 6) ID 115755, and Conduct outcomes-based assessment (NQF 5) ID 115753; she also has other university qualifications and international certifications.
  • Liza van Wyk quote translated from Afrikaans, Private sektor soek meer inspraak, page 1, in Talent (employment section of Die Burger), Saturday 25 June 2011.

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Tania Melnyczuk

Director of Programme Design at ProjectManagement.co.za and the Collaboration Director of the Autistic Strategies Network.