What does it mean to possess knowledge about Project Management? How does our understanding of the term knowledge affect our decisions?
Consider the issues that emerge from the following cameo:
When words matter
Sometimes it isn’t important to understand the precise meaning of a word. When someone casually says, “I like my grandmother. She’s very nice. I look forward to seeing her soon,” we don’t need to analyse and cross-question the speaker’s definitions of like, nice or look forward. But, as we explained in an earlier article, there are times that we should define a term a lot more clearly, because our decisions about a matter depend on our understanding.
In Project Management, our understanding of the term knowledge is important. For example, if we’re going to appoint people based on their knowledge, or take on a role based on our own knowledge, then we’d better be clear about what we mean by knowledge.
Knowledge and the PMCDF
In a 2008 article at the PMI® Web site, Chris Cartwright says, “The PMCDF [Project Manager Competency Development Framework] makes the assumption that knowledge competence can be assessed with a suitable certification process, such as PMI’s PMP® certification. The framework then provides the detail to assess performance and personal competencies.”
The imaginary tale at the beginning of this article is based on a typical situation. It illustrates why this assumption about knowledge competence is problematic. The project manager in the story has a certificate that’s pretty difficult to obtain. Candidates are only considered for the PMP® exam if they have certain work experience and formal training. Yet this project manager doesn’t seem to have the knowledge needed for the job!
It’s no secret that many people obtain their PMP® or PRINCE2® certificate by cramming. So the question is really, does cramming result in meaningful knowledge? Does it provide the knowledge competence needed to manage a project?
It’s also no secret that many study programmes provide mnemonic tricks to help you recall information. But is it fair to say that you have knowledge about a subject if you don’t really understand what you’re memorising?
Does this certificate really attest to an individual’s ‘demonstrated experience, knowledge and performance in achieving an organizational objective through defining and overseeing projects and resources’?
Towards meaningful knowledge
Learning without critically thinking about what you’re learning, isn’t meaningful. A project manager’s brain isn’t there to just serve as a data store.
The Third Edition of the PMCDF is due for release soon, and we look forward to the new insights which its authors have gained about the interdependence of the three dimensions of competence. In the meanwhile, we need to be clear about this: If we want the knowledge of how to manage projects accountably, or the knowledge needed to implement Project Management in an organisation, then we need a different definition of knowledge: one that doesn’t allow us to put cramming and mnemonic tricks in the place of understanding!
We recommend the definition of knowledge from the Glossary of Critical Thinking Terms. This definition provides a departure point for understanding how to develop knowledge naturally, in conjunction with the other two dimensions of the PMCDF. It reminds us to seek and create opportunities for deep, critical thinking as we study and teach Project Management. It challenges us to focus more on formative assessment than on passing a final exam.