The PMCD Framework: What it is and why it matters

What it is the PMCD Framework?

The Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCD Framework or PMCDF) is a practice standard of the PMI®. The PMCDF provides a comprehensive list of characteristics describing what a competent person in certain job domains would know, do and be. However, it does not provide detailed guidance on the steps to becoming competent.

Who should take note of the PMCD Framework?

The PMCDF is relevant to a variety of stakeholders. These include:

  • Organisational decision-makers (e.g. organisational leaders and HR managers)
  • Individuals who want to empower themselves (e.g. aspiring project managers)
  • Trainers and training organisations

Why is the PMCD Framework important?

By clarifying expectations for competency, the PMCDF provides a frame of reference which helps to mitigate risks such as these:

  • The individual or organisation invests in training that does not result in the ability to do the work.
  • The organisation appoints new Project Management staff only to discover later that they are unable to do what is expected of them.

Job domains covered by the PMCD Framework

The Third Edition (2017) of the PMCDF clarifies expectations for competency in three job domains in Project Management:

  • Project manager
  • Programme manager
  • Portfolio manager

Each job domain may encompass a number of jobs defined by the organisation. Examples of jobs defined by an organisation in the project manager job domain may include “Senior Project Manager” and “Site Manager”.

Dimensions of competence addressed by the PMCD Framework

For each of the three job domains, criteria for competence fall into three dimensions of competence:

The PMCDF also references the PMI®‘s Talent Triangle®, which emphasises the ideal skillset consisting of the following types of expertise:

  • Technical
  • Leadership and strategic
  • Business management

An organisation can use the PMCDF to create a formal competency matrix for use by HR management when considering someone for a certain job within one of the three job domains, or for assessing what’s needed for a certain individual to grow into a role. For a candidate to be considered fully competent for a certain job, they must satisfy the criteria set by the organisation for that job in all three of the dimensions of competence.

Core tenets of the PMCD Framework

This short exegesis references terms as they are defined within the PMCDF. Comments below the definitions include some of our perspectives as an organisation that strives to align its own training offerings to the core tenets of the PMCDF.

Foundational concepts

Project Management
The application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

The PMI®‘s standards are mainly focused on the management of projects in an organisational context.

A cluster of related knowledge, attitudes, skills, and other personal characteristics that affects a major part of one’s job (i.e., one or more key roles or responsibilities), correlates with performance on the job, can be measured against well-accepted standards, and can be improved by means of training and development. See also knowledge competence, personal competence, and performance competence.
Knowing something with the familiarity gained through experience, education, observation, or investigation; it is understanding a process, practice, or technique, or how to use a tool.

The three dimensions of the PMCD Framework

Knowledge Competence
The knowledge and understanding that a project manager brings to a project. This can include qualifications and experience, both direct and related. These are the knowledge components of competence.


According to the PMI®, knowledge competence can be demonstrated by passing an exam, such as the PMI®‘s own PMP® exam. (In fact, the PMCDF doesn’t provide a breakdown of knowledge competence, because these details are already documented in the assessment criteria used for the PMP® exam.)

However, careful consideration of the concept of knowledge shows that knowledge cannot be gained without critical thinking. Some types of knowledge can only be acquired by doing. This means that “knowledge” acquired via rote learning is not really knowledge that can be translated to performance. Moreover, “knowledge” acquired in this manner is easily forgotten.

It stands to reason then, that training towards knowledge competence should foster the development of critical thinking (a slow process), incorporating hands-on training (part of strengthening performance competence), with real challenges that allow the learner to grow in discernment (a characteristic of the personal dimension).

Courses designed merely to work towards the demonstration of knowledge competence (i.e. exam prep courses) do not build knowledge competence. Ironically, then, it should not be assumed that someone who holds a PMP® credential is in fact competent within the knowledge dimension.

Where there is uncertainty about a candidate’s knowledge competence, this can be checked by using criteria for performance competence. After all, performance is impossible without knowledge.

Performance Competence
What the project manager is able to do or accomplish by applying project management knowledge. This competency dimension looks at the demonstrable performance of the individual in carrying out project management tasks, and focuses on the project outcomes grouped in five units: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing a Project.


Performance is knowledge in action. Hence, performance competence is applied knowledge competence. If there is sufficient evidence of applied knowledge, separately testing knowledge competence becomes superflous.

The PMCDF provides a detailed breakdown of the sources of evidence of performance competence. As seen in the extract below, these are mostly documents. Developing project manager competency relies heavily on mastering the basics of writing.

PMCD Framework - Extract showing importance of documentation

Software files are also an important source of evidence of performance competence. Scheduling is central to Project Management, and schedules produced using software demonstrate competence in the planning of activities, for tracking progress and for the identification and reporting of risks.

Evidence of project manager competence in the form of a project schedule in Microsoft Project

It is here that the type of knowledge tested in a PMP® exam can become meaningless, as a candidate may recall Earned Value formulas embedded via mnemonics, yet remain incapable of producing a schedule-based report that shows how an actual project is doing in terms of time and money.

Personal Competence
The core personality characteristics underlying a person’s capability to do a project. These are the behavior, motives, traits, attitudes, and self-concepts that enable a person to successfully manage a project, grouped into six units: communicating, leading, managing, cognitive ability, effectiveness, and professionalism.


Project Management is a team discipline, and many of the characteristics listed under the six units can only be acquired and demonstrated by working with others. For example, it is only possible to demonstrate the characteristic of actively listening (listed under communicating) by working with people.

How we apply the core tenets of the PMCD Framework in our work

We focus on clients who want to learn to manage projects, rather than on those who need Project Management training to fulfil bureaucratic requirements. Senge’s concept of a Learning Organization provides us with a set of respected tenets for guiding the development of Project Management capability in organisations, while the PMCDF provides us with tenets for guiding the development of individuals.

Here are some of the ways in which the PMCDF plays itself out in our work:

Knowledge competence

In our video How do you study to become a project manager?, we explain how to develop knowledge competence in a manner that is relevant and useful.

This article explains why we recommend our online Project Management Concepts course prior to PMP® exam prep training.

Performance competence

Our Practical Certification Programme in Project Management for individuals emphasises performance competence. In Module 3, each participant develops their core skills of writing and scheduling (using Microsoft Project) whilst personally managing a real project over several months. Each participant thus produces a portfolio of evidence consisting of documentation and project schedules for their project, within their own level of capability.

When working with organisations, we collaborate with organisational leaders in identifying the performance competencies needed by key individuals to produce certain results. This extends beyond the leading roles of project, programme and portfolio manager, to competencies required by individuals in supporting roles. For example, a staff member who has already demonstrated a predisposition towards systems thinking, classification and pedantry may be trained as a project scheduler, developing project plans required by the organisation in Microsoft Project during Consultative Tutoring sessions.

Personal competence

It takes time to develop personal competences. Even though ‘leading’ is a key element of each of the three job domains addressed by the PMCDF, we do not provide any modules explicitly on ‘leadership’. Instead, we focus on the development of gateway attitudes and behaviours for leadership, such as

  • Critical thinking
  • Personal responsibility
  • Metahabits
  • Risk reporting

Below, we provide examples of how we do this.

Critical thinking and personal responsibility

In the Project Management Concepts course, we use question-centred learning to stimulate critical thinking and a sense of personal responsibility for one’s own learning.

By Module 3 of the Practical Certification Programme (PCP), participants are expected to take responsibility for the budget and execution of a real project. The Preparatory Mentoring Phase seeks to identify any specific personal attributes or insights which must be developed to meet the individual’s goals before embarking on this endeavour. Together, the mentor and mentee develop strategies to meet these requirements. Identifying measures needed for an individual’s competency development is a central theme of the PMCDF. However, in the PCP, the approach is more personalised and less formula-driven.


The Project Management Concepts course also helps participants to take the first steps towards establishing the metahabits needed for growing into a habit-building leader capable of creating an enabled Project Management environment.

Risk reporting

The effective management of risk relies on the timely reporting of risks. Timely risk reporting is one of the most difficult habits to inculcate in a team, as it relies on facing and dismantling (often justifiable) fears. When working with an organisation, we do not commence with an initiative in this regard until the leaders have demonstrated their own commitment to nurturing transparency amongst themselves. Only then will we support them in rolling out a culture development programme amongst their subordinates, using our Rule for Risk. We do, however, employ the Rule for Risk in communications between ourselves and participants in Modules 2-3 of the PCP. Module 2 also incorporates scenario-based questions referencing the Rule for Risk.


The Project Manager Competency Development Framework of the PMI® makes it possible for us to map our own beliefs about what individuals should learn to be able to manage projects, to the core tenets of an international standard. In practical terms, the PMCDF enables us to design our learning programmes towards the attainment of outcomes envisaged by one of the world’s leading organisations for Project Management.

In this article, we use South African English, except when quoting from a foreign source. Both PMCD Framework and PMCDF are used as abbreviations by the PMI®.  We have used these respectively in headings and body text.

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Tania Melnyczuk

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


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