Assessing QQI Portfolios

06 July, 2015

For any Project Manager out there who has children, pets or lawnmowers, there really is not much time left in the day to study for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam. But, if your organization is looking a bit shaky or if circumstances require you to relocate, then having some sort of formal, project management qualification is vital.

But how do you obtain a certificate in project management if you simply do not have the time to prepare for exams? Well Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) has the answer. In fact it had the answer long ago when it traded as FETAC – the Further Education and Training Awards Council. You can get a level 6 component certificate, worth 15 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) credits, by simply describing a project you have worked on.

It works like this: First you take a three-day course with us. That will explain the project management concepts that the examiners will be looking for, as well as detailing how your work will be assessed. This is probably the only qualification you will get where you know in advance what you will get marks for.

Assessment involves preparing two pieces of work: The first is a portfolio of artefacts showing how you managing a real-life project. The second is an essay where you describe some aspect of project management in the context of your project.

Project Managers need to keep track of how their projects are progressing. They need to be able to lay their hands on the current status more or less at a moment’s notice. So the portfolio should be a straightforward thing for any Project Manager to assemble. The key thing is to provide all the items asked for.

For example, the first learning outcome is: “Communicate project management planning operations using a variety of information channels”. But you are also given a list of items to will demonstrate that. The following list is not the current one being used, but will serve to illustrate the approach the examiners take.

  1. Prepare Scope Statement/Charter & Work Breakdown Structure for your project - 5 marks
  2. Prepare a communication plan for the project - 2 marks
  3. Show evidence of holding a kick-off meeting where the project plan was presented to team - 2 marks
  4. Show evidence of communication to sponsor or other stakeholders using 2 communication methods - 1 mark

So the first thing in your portfolio should be a Project Charter or a Scope Statement. This should clearly indicate that you are the Project Manager. Then you need to provide a communications plan. Having listed your stakeholders in the Charter, the communications plan should show how you intend to relate to each of the stakeholders. Thirdly you need to “show evidence of a kick-off meeting”. Evidence should be minutes of the meeting. Showing that a room was booked does not mean that a meeting was held. An e-mail inviting people to the meeting will gain a mark, but only if it shows an agenda. Finally, show two ways you communicated with your Sponsor. E-mails are obvious ones, but meeting minutes work as well. State clearly what methods you are using. Believe it or not, some of the evidence we have seen to date is not very obvious.

A well-ordered portfolio will help your cause no end. If the examiner has corrected seven or eight of these before coming to yours, s/he does not want to have to explore the entire portfolio in an effort to find a particular artefact. Lay out your submission in the order expected and you will at least convey the impression that you are disciplined and can deliver the required scope.

Another point to make is that you might not have the exact artefact required. For instance, in one learning outcome, a change request is listed. What if there were no changes made during your project? This is often the case in small, well defined projects. Well explain what your change control process is. If you have minutes of a meeting with the change control board, that would demonstrate that you know what to do if a change comes in.

In another example, many people would not have a Handover Report ready because the project has yet to complete. But surely you know to whom the project is to be handed over. Surely you have areas that you are worried about not being ready in time. So you should be able, at least, to identify the people involved. By all means put a covering note explaining why it is not complete. You should get some marks at least. If you do not include a handover report, you will get none.

Finally, there is the essay. This is a 2,000-2,500 word piece which is trying to work out (1) if you understand the project management principles and (2) if you can apply them. So what is required here is a description of your project, showing how the project management tools and techniques helped you get over the line. What really shows good understanding is if you adapted a tool/technique to address your specific circumstances. Not referring to your project is a great way of losing marks.

In short, the QQI component certificate is an interesting alternative to the Project Management Institute’s exam-based certificates in project management. To learn more, please visit the QQI course page or contact us directly for more information.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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