All of these common situations require various “competency” skills, which are often referred to as “soft skills.” We prefer the term “competencies” instead. The trend we’re seeing is that developing so-called “hard” skills isn’t enough. Organizations are now seeing the need to improve their workers’ behavioral-oriented competency skills at the same time.
So here are some competency trends that we see.
- Project professionals need to provide advice, not pushback. Several years ago organizations told us that they wanted PMs and BAs to be able to push back when their stakeholders asked for new requirements. Some of these organizations are now seeing that pushing back is one way to avoid being an order-taker, but it is less effective than providing well-analyzed advice. Our prediction is that more organizations will want PMs and BAs to be trusted advisors (sometimes called trusted partners).
- Organizations want scribes, not note-takers. Although highly valued in ancient societies, today’s scribes are not always held in high esteem. Many organizations view them as nothing more than note takers, and what’s worse, that’s exactly how many view themselves. The trend that we are starting to see is the recognition that effective scribing is important to the quality of the requirements as well as the project itself. To be an effective scribe, project professionals need to use competencies, such as critical thinking to separate the important from the trivial, the ability to absorb and synthesize a great deal of information and make sense of it, and the ability to present the results in a meaningful way. We are seeing more organizations requiring these skills, particularly of their BAs.
- Organizations are beginning to recognize that agile projects require the ability to influence stakeholders.All roles on an Agile/scrum project, in particular the scrum master, the product owner, and the BA, need competencies related to being able to influence. We see some organizations beginning to recognize that each of these roles is distinct (e.g. rather than having the BA be either the product owner or one more member of the delivery team) and each needs to influence in different ways:
- Scrum masters: need to influence a variety of organizational stakeholders, many of who will have more authority than they. Scrum masters need to remove project roadblocks, which requires influencing sponsors and other executives, financial analysts, vendors, etc.
- Product owners need to influence other business stakeholders regarding the decisions they make as product owners. Whether prioritizing user stories or reviewing the product increment at the end of an iteration, product owners will need to be effective influencers. More organizations are starting to recognize that although product owners need to make business decisions about the product, they need to get buy-in from others affected by the product. Effective influencing is one of the best ways to achieve this buy-in.
- Business analysts need to influence just about everyone on an agile project. We are seeing product owners starting to recognize and appreciate the BA’s advice on prioritizing requirements, including impacts, dependencies, risks, etc. Scrum masters are starting to appreciate the BA’s advice on the myriad of issues that relate to requirements, testers on testing the requirements, and vendors on implementing software, to name a few. Again we’re seeing the dawning of this recognition in some organizations.
- Organizations are recognizing the cost of virtual teams
The communication overhead of working with offshore resources is getting acknowledged and accounted for more than in the past. Writing requirements for people onsite with whom there is the opportunity for face-to-face communication, as well as shared language and culture, is a leaner process than when writing requirements for people offsite. The cost savings of working with offsite/offshore resources has always been part of the equation for resourcing projects, but the cost overhead of working with offsite/offshore resources hasn’t always been as transparent. It can take many times longer to write requirements for offsite resources. Project professionals are becoming more diligent about identifying the costs incurred to deal with the time zone, language, and cultural differences.
- Productivity and speed require the use of disparate and uncoordinated social media and collaboration tools
Until fairly recently, organizations wanted consistency. Consistency in their processes, consistency in their hardware, and consistency in the tools that were purchased to help productivity. The profusion of social media, collaboration, and communication tools continues. We are seeing that team members, particularly virtual, are making use of more and varied applications than ever and not always in a coordinated way. Do team members want a virtual bulletin board? Google it and myriad options come up – many free with few or no decisions required to install. It’s all very fluid. The integration of some of these things happens without even so much as a request. GoToMeeting just appears on a tab in GoogleTalk, for example. Nice. The continued pervasiveness of these apps in an increasingly distributed work environment is driving less standardized toolsets. You use what’s needed at the time, and if you need something you don’t have, click here. It’s free. It’s easy. Job done.
- Consensus is giving way to “productive conflict.”
To the extent that the notion of consensus still implies (however erroneously) that everyone gets what they want, organizations are tiring of it. The idea of “productive conflict” holds more appeal. It’s not that organizations are losing interest in consensus, per se, but there is more emphasis on what comes out of the process than the process itself. And productive conflict may not run the risk of getting stuck, as so often happens when groups are trying to get consensus. Does this suggest that there may be some who aren’t in agreement? Maybe. But the trend we’re seeing is more organizations willing to pay that price in order to move forward.
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Andrea Brockmeier, PMP is the Client Solutions Director for Project Management at Watermark Learning. She has 20+ years of experience in project management practice and training. She writes and teaches courses in project management, including PMP® certification, as well as influencing skills. She has long been involved with the PMI® chapter in Minnesota where she was a member of the certification team for over eight years. She has a master's degree in cultural anthropology and is particularly interested in the impact of social media and new technologies on organizations and projects.
Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM and Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP are Co-Principals of Watermark Learning, a project management and business analysis training company. They have over 30 years of industry experience each, and have helped thousands of PM and BA practitioners develop new skills. They have published numerous articles and papers and have co-written two books together on Requirements Management and CBAP Preparation. Both Rich and Elizabeth are CBAP and PMP certified through IIBA and PMI, and are contributors to the BABOK® Guide, Version 2.0 and the PMBOK® Guide – 4th edition.