The other day I was doing a bit of research for an upcoming speaking engagement and I was struck by the fact that in the hype that exists in the business community it seems there is not as much focus on competence.  So much of what we focus on in the 21st century is the soft skills, leadership capabilities, and certain qualities, but are we doing so at the expense of basic competence to do the job?

What does it exactly mean to be competent at something?  Webster’s dictionary defines the word competent as “having requisite or adequate ability or qualities.” Ultimately we are talking about specific capabilities that would enable the individual to perform a specific role, function, job, or task.  Within project management competence could be viewed as the ability to build a schedule, manage the budget, or generate earned value analysis.  However, as I mentioned before, those alone many would argue are not nearly enough to convince that hiring manager that the person is right for the job.  Add that to the even more complicated issue that past performance and experience is not a good predictor of future success and we find a world of confusing probabilities.

For practitioners in the field I would argue that there are critical skills that collectively make up what is considered as a basic level of competence.  These indeed could range from drafting schedule to creating reports.  And while these alone are not good parameters to determine if the person should be offered the job nor predict that they would perform well in that position, the lack of these competence elements almost guarantees that the person will not succeed.

These are basic skills that must be present in order to pass that lowest level of threshold.  If your job requires you to personally develop a detailed budget and you’re not able to do so, frankly I don’t care how great your negotiations skills might be, you should not be in that job.  Being competent is very important as it is not something that is personal, it impacts the entire organization and has a direct relationship to the success of the project.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective and use the example of an airplane.  As an individual to has logged in a good bit of travel time I can tell you that there are certain items that I’ve become used to and have come to take them for granted.  These range from in-flight entertainment systems to meal options.  I have actually changed travel plans because the exact type of requirement I had was not available at the time I wanted.  However, I can assure you of one thing.  I will not sacrifice certain features involving planes such as the wing function and the landing gear so that I am sitting in a more comfortable chair.  That to me is the ultimate example of what I mean by competence.  It becomes clearer when you discover that it is missing.