30 May, 2022

PMI Talent Triangle: A Complete Guide [for members and non-members]

It is all too easy to settle for excellent technical skills and think ‘that’s it. I have project management nailed.’ The PMI Talent TriangleⓇ is a simple tool that reminds us all about the value of a broad range of professional skills. In May 2022, PMI made a minor update to its terminology, so this article reflects that update.

Not at all. All the professional bodies and providers of general project management qualifications recognize that this is far from the truth. A fully capable project manager needs a wide range of personal and professional skills outside of the realms of their technical project management competence.

The most succinct – and possibly best known – articulation of that full range of capabilities is the PMI’s Project Management Talent Triangle.

Just a Moment… Who or What is the PMI?

If you don’t know who or what the Project Management Institute (PMI) is, take a look at this video before reading on.

What We Will Cover

In this guide, we will cover:

  1. Why Did the PMI Introduce the Talent Triangle?
  2. What is the Talent Triangle?
  3. Technical Project Management
  4. Leadership
  5. Strategic & Business Management
  6. What the PMI Talent Triangle Means to You, as a Project Manager

Why Did the PMI Introduce the Talent Triangle?

PMI Talent Triangle - A Complete Guide

We are big fans of the PMI’s annual ‘Pulse of the Profession’ reports. Take a look at our reviews:

PMI’s 2013 report, ‘The High Cost of Low Performance’ led to some big conclusions, and a number of in-depth reports that included:

Navigating Complexity

In Navigating Complexity, PMI concluded that, while technical skills are core to project and program management, they are not enough in our increasingly ambiguous, complex, and competitive world. Employers also need business acumen and skills in leadership. These are competencies that can not only support an organization’s strategic needs, but can also enhance our employability and long-term career progression.

We have to be versatile. Excellence in one skill is not enough. The PMI’s Talent Triangle articulates the skills a modern project manager needs to deliver projects and contribute to the leadership of their organizations.

PMI picked this up again, in their report, ‘Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027‘. Here, PMI refers to the three sides of the PMI Talent Triangle as a ‘necessary mix of competencies’. The report finds high demand for practitioners that have this mix.

Handy Acronym Guide

Unfortunately, there are a lot of acronyms in the world of the PMI!

We’ll introduce each acronym as we meet it. But, if you get stuck, just pop back to this box.

  • PMI: Project Management Institute.
  • PMP: Project Management Professional – PMI’s premier professional certification.
  • CAPM: Certified Associate in Project management: PMI’s entry-level PM certification.
  • CPD: Continuing Professional Development.
  • CCR: Continuing Certification Requirement – PMI’s required CPD, to maintain one of its certifications.
  • PDU: Professional Development Unit – a single point (worth 1 hour of study) that contributes to meeting your CCRs.
  • ECO: Examination Content Outline – the syllabus for a PMI certification exam.

What is the Talent Triangle?

The PMI Talent Triangle defines three areas for continuing education for holders of all PMI certifications. It is not a central feature of gaining the qualifications themselves*.

In 2015, the PMI introduced its Talent Triangle. Since 1 December that year, PMI members who want to maintain any of their qualifications need to earn Professional Development Units (PDUs) across its three dimensions. PMI gives each of the three aspects of the PMI Talent Triangle an equal weighting and we’ll see the requirements in more detail, below.

In May 2022, PMI updated the terminology of the three dimensions (and the colors, to match its new branding).

PMI Talent Triangle May 2022
The PMI Talent Triangle® is ©copyright of The Project Management Institute.

The three dimensions of the PMI’s Talent Triangle are:

  1. Ways of Working
    (formerly, Technical Project Management)
  2. Power Skills
    (formerly, Leadership)
  3. Business Acumen
    (formerly, Strategic and Business Management)

We will look at each of these in turn. We’ll see what the PMI includes in them, and how they are important for project managers, whether you are a certificated PMI member or not.

PMI’s PDUs make up its Continuing Certification Requirements (CCRs), which other organizations refer to as Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

You will need to meet your CCRs if you wish to retain a certification that you will have worked so hard for. Keeping them is easier than losing and re-acquiring them!

You can download PMI’s CCR Handbook from the website.

* However, the three domains of the 2021 PMP examination syllabus (the Examination Content Outline, or ECO) are very similar to the three sides of the Talent Triangle:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Business Environment

Why are they not identical?
Don’t ask me. It seems a bizarre case of left hands and right hands!

In fact, when I heard PMI had made a change in May 2022, my first thought was ‘at last’. But no. They have chosen to maintain a new mismatch in language. I can think of no good reason not to bring these into alignment!

You will find full details of the new PMP exam, in our article: 2021 PMP Exam: For Candidates – All the Facts You Need to Know

My Assessment of the New Terminology

Change to PMI Talent Triangle - May 2022

As well as shifting the color to better match their branding, the PMI changed the names of the three competency areas of its Talent Triangle in May 2022.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

So, what’s in a name?

Names create impressions. The words we choose for names of things like competencies convey a whole bunch of baggage. So, the test here is really ‘what baggage do the new names convey?’ And, I suppose, is it a more useful set of baggage than the older names carried?

I suppose we can score each change either:

  • +1 for a step forward
  • 0 for no substantive change
  • -1 for a step backward

Ways of Working (formerly, Technical)

I know the old label had its fans. And this will always be a hard label to choose. But I do feel that ways of working seems more inclusive and less daunting that ‘Technical’. To me, it conveys the bigger picture of tailoring your project approach to the type of project, and then selecting the tools and methods you will use. I like this change.

Score: +1

Power Skills (formerly, Leadership)

Oh, how I hate this label. It sounds like a topic for wannabe motivational speaker. I know they have put ‘Leadership’ first in the list of skills. But all of the skills in the list (save ‘Brainstorming’) are really key to leadership. I prefer a capability set that is labeled to more clearly indicate the vital role of leadership.

Score: -1 (I’d give it -2 if I could!)

Business Acumen (formerly, Strategic & Business Management)

I like this change. Not only was the old label a mouthful, but to my mind ‘Business Acumen’ captures the need to understand business strategy, management, and a whole lot more. And also to do so in a wide-ranging and integrated way.
Score: +1

Overall Assessment of the Changes

So, adding together my scores, – with a maximum of +3, I score this change +1 out of 3. It’s a small improvement, which could have been a big one, but is marred by the disaster of ‘Power Skills’.

More about the PMI’s PDUs

All PMI certifications require you to renew them after a defined period. You can learn more about their PMP and CAPM qualifications in our companion article.

PMI allows its members to self-certify that they have earned Professional Development Units (PDUs) that arise from your continuing education or by giving back to the profession.

For example, PMP certification

  • You need to earn 60 PDUs every 3 years, to maintain your PMP certification. For one hour of learning or giving back, you can claim 1 PDU.
  • These 60 PDUs are split into 35 for Education and 25 for Giving back, which includes working, volunteering, and creating content.
  • Of your 35 education PDUs, you will need to earn a minimum of 8 PDUs in each of the three Talent Triangle competency areas (and therefore, a maximum of 19 in any one).

The PMI publishes a very clear description of all this, on its website. Whichever of its many qualifications you hold, this page will tell you what you need to know about PMI’s Continuing Certification Requirements.

You may also like our article:

PMIs Required PDUs for Retention of its Certifications
Talent Triangle – Minimum Education PDU Requirements

Ways of Working

Ways of Working covers the skills you need, to apply your project management knowledge in an effective way. They are, principally, the subject of PMI’s various qualifications. Therefore, they cover the different domains of project, program, and portfolio management.

PMI articulates them in its Practice Standards and the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide).

The PMBOK Guide 7th Edition

The 7th edition of the PMBOK guide is a huge step from previous editions. Of course, we discuss fully, in our article: PMBOK Guide 7th Edition: Your 20 Most Important Questions Answered.

Within PMBOK 7 is a list of the 8 Performance Domains of Project Management:

  1. Stakeholders
  2. Team
  3. Development Approach and Life Cycle
  4. Planning
  5. Project Work
  6. Delivery
  7. Measurement 
  8. Uncertainty

[We are doing a series of 8 articles on the 8 Performance Domains, monthly through 2022 – the links above take you to those articles.]

Your ability to deliver effectively in domains 3 to 8 is a strong indicator of your technical project management ability, as covered in the Ways of Working side of the triangle. Domain 3, Development Approach and Life Cycle is largely about which ‘way of working’ you will choose. And, PMBOK 7 also has an excellent chapter on Tailoring.

I’d say that domains 1 and 2 refer more to Business Acumen and Power Skills respectively.

Beyond Book-learning

You need to supplement your project management knowledge with two things:

  1. Real-world experience of delivering projects
    You need to be able to apply your structured knowledge in practical situations.
  2. Technical skills in areas related to the types of projects you work on
    For example, if you work in construction project management, trades skills will fit into this competency area, if they help make you a better manager of these types of projects

The PMI’s Summary of Ways of Working Expertise

PMI says:

Whether it’s predictive, agile, design thinking, or new practices still to be developed, it’s clear that there is more than one way that work gets done today. That’s why we encourage professionals to master as many ways of working as they can – so they can apply the right technique at the right time, delivering winning results.

The PMI produces a handy one-page summary of the Talent Triangle. Here, they list their examples of technical project management expertise:

PMI Talent Triangle - Ways of Working
The PMI Project Management Talent Triangle – Ways of Working

What Courses does OnlinePMCourses offer?

As you would expect, we offer plenty of project management training that will give you PDUs under the Technical Project Management category.

Power Skills

I have had my rant about the name, above. In my mind, this will (and should) always be about Leadership. And, in the context of project management, this is about motivating, directing, and supporting your project team.

The competency area covers:

  • Getting the best from the people around you
  • Developing them so they can achieve their goals
  • Influencing and political acumen

The PMI’s Summary of Leadership

PMI says:

These interpersonal skills include collaborative leadership, communication, an innovative mindset, for-purpose orientation, and empathy. Ensuring teams have these skills allows them to maintain influence with a variety of stakeholders – a critical component for making change. 

A big part of leadership is also around negotiation, persuasion, and political acumen. The PMI’s handy one-page summary of the Talent Triangle includes them in its list of examples of leadership:

PMI Talent Triangle - Power Skills
The PMI Project Management Talent Triangle – PMI’s examples of capabilities in the Leadership competence

What Courses does OnlinePMCourses offer?

As you would expect, we offer plenty of project management training that will give you PDUs under the Leadership category.

Business Acumen

The Business Acumen competency area is all about your high-level understanding of your organization, and its place in its wider community. The sort of skills you’ll need as a project manager include business analysis, strategic-level planning, and decision making.

It’s this competency area that will best fit you for promotion to program and portfolio management or to wider business roles. It’s here that you learn the skills that will let you see beyond the parochial concerns of your project. You’ll need these skills to interact effectively with some of the operational and support functions, like sales, R&D, production, and marketing.

It also takes you beyond the concerns of your own organization, into your wider industry sector. This is essential if you are to play a leadership role within your business.

What PMI Says about this Competency

Professionals with business acumen understand the macro and micro influences in their organization and industry and have the function-specific or domain-specific knowledge to make good decisions. Professionals at all levels need to be able to cultivate effective decision-making and understand how their projects align with the big picture of broader organizational strategy and global trends.

The PMI’s Examples of Relevant Skills

In the PMI’s one-page summary of the Talent Triangle, the examples of Business Acumen expertise are:

PMI Talent Triangle - Business Acumen
The PMI Project Management Talent Triangle – PMI’s examples of capabilities in the Business Acumen competence

What Courses does OnlinePMCourses offer?

Once again, we offer plenty of project management training that will give you PDUs under the Strategy and Business Management category.

What the PMI Talent Triangle Means to You, as a Project Manager

Clearly, if you are a PMI member and are working to retain your certification in one or more of its qualifications, the Talent Triangle will be important to you.

But, beyond that, I believe it is a hugely important idea for all project managers. It reminds you of the focus you need to place on developing a broad spread of skills.

You will need these to meet the evolving demands of the Project Management profession. And you will need them to stay relevant, and progress in your career.

In pursuing the broadest scope of personal professional development, you’ll find new opportunities to extend your value to your organization. And, if they fail to recognize that, there will be plenty of others that will.

What is Your experience of the PMI Talent Triangle?

We’d love to hear about your experiences of gaining PDUs, your ideas, and your questions about the Talent Triangle.

And, what do you think of the new naming?

Please do leave them in the comments below.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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