Organizations often implement EPM tools to capture tribal secrets at imminent risk of walking out the door as newer generations supplant more seasoned employees. This phenomenon provides the context for identifying one of the key challenges to any EPM deployment, a topic that I have been spending some time considering over the last couple of weeks as I put together an upcoming presentation for PMI Houston.

My conclusion is that one of the key challenges to PM tool deployments is really epistemological. 

First off, what is epistemology?  Epistemology is the study of knowledge, or the study of how we know what we know.  It’s also a term that we bandied about quite frequently when I was in the full time training world. Think of epistemology as the process of identifying what we know and identifying what we don’t know.

Pondering epistemological concerns invariably leads us to a brief discussion of the four stages of competency, defined below in an EPM context.  The stages of competency are described as the path through which individuals or organizations must progress throughout their careers as they gain proficiency at a specific function.


Stage Description
Unconscious Incompetence We are not able to perform a process and are not aware of the missing skills.  For instance, we are hired as an entry level project manager but have no exposure to formal PM processes and are not familiar with basic scope management, scheduling or control techniques.
Conscious Incompetence We go pick up a couple of books on project management and identify the items that we need to learn.  There’s this thing called Earned Value, but we still have to learn how to apply it to our projects.  (Arguably, I would contend that the freshly minted PMP is often at the level of conscious incompetence, in terms of they now know what is required to do good project management, but they do not yet know how to apply that newfound knowledge to the organization.)
Conscious Competence In this stage, the individual knows how to perform the task, but consciously applies specific steps to the task.  There is an awareness of specifically what is being performed.
Unconscious Competence At this stage, the individual has internalized how to perform the task and performs all of the steps to accomplish the task.  That being said, if asked, they will be unable to identify the specific tasks, falling back on the “I don’t know how I do it, I just do it” line of reasoning.   This is typically where the more seasoned employees reside – the ones who will retire without passing on their knowledge.

Typically an EPM implementation is attacking an organization that has a mix of individuals in levels 1,2 and 4 – but rarely 3.  The first and lasting goal of an EPM deployment is to take the folks who are unaware of what true scheduling actually is (Level 1) and bring them up to Level 3.  Similarly, to identify the organization’s schedule management plan, we may have to take the folks who are at Level 4 and bring them down to Level 3 temporarily so that we can identify the processes that are successful in any given organization – or up to a potential stage 5, reflective competence.

The question then is how do we facilitate the movement of individuals from Stages 1 & 2 to 3 and then from 4 to 3?  I tackled some of that in my recent post on Developing an EPM Training Program, and figure the rest of the answer lies in an iterative deployment model, but plan to spend some time working through that question over the next couple of weeks.

I’d also point out that some materials I’ve seen dealing with this concept also seem to imply that the natural next step may very well be a cyclical development model.  In this model, the EPM tool works so well that the entire organization moves to a Stage 4, adopts all of their PM practices, and ingrains the concepts so well into their culture, that they no longer can identify what it is that they are doing.  At that point, the tool may very well become superfluous – insofar as it is no longer required to enforce policy.