In the university context, the TRS undertakes projects of diverse nature. However, despite their variety, their approaches are comparable to professional projects [1
]. Firstly, there are research projects, with an administrative and documentary complexity normally proportional to their scope. Then, there are projects that arise from companies’ needs, developed as collaborative initiatives through agreements, contracts or even industrial doctoral theses. Next, there are educational innovation and educative improvement projects. After that, there are entrepreneurship projects that help students engage themselves in real experiences. Finally, there is the university management itself, which covers many different types of projects, such as the design of internal management systems; the creation of research and educational innovation groups; the organization of faculties, technical schools, and departments; or even the assessment of degree programs, among many others. All these actions require stakeholder involvement, adapting their needs to specific requirements, and to carrying them out within planned schedules and budgets and with limited resources, considering risks and opportunities.
Teachers and researchers themselves usually formulate, manage, execute and/or evaluate different modalities of university projects. To do this, the TRS is not isolated but they are members of organizational structures, in which they administrate public and private resources, and engage both internal and external stakeholders to create, share and transfer knowledge to society. Even though research and educational innovation groups are autonomous organizations with their own strategies, governance, interests, culture and values, they insert within universities, supporting the formulation of projects. In this context, these groups manage their projects. Therefore, their members have to acquire and/or improve the necessary competences to work in projects.
Nevertheless, educational and research processes select and promote the TRS, without any consideration of management aspects, so they have to develop a range of competences in transversal areas, if they want to succeed in the projects in which they participate, as directors or as team members. Besides, if the recognition of their competences culminates in a formal process, including the issuance of a certificate of the competence possessed by an authorized institution [2
], then the adaptability of the TRS is acquired, which facilitates their transferability in different contexts [3
The main objective of this research was to establish the importance of the TRS acquisition and improvement of professional PM competences in the university context. From the list of competences proposed by IPMA, the most important ones are the priority competences. If the development of professional PM practices had the necessary resources, then the universities would be closer to succeeding in the projects they have undertaken, and consequently they would contribute efficiently to society. The context of the research is schemed in Figure 5
Knowledge society needs the transfer of new ideas to the market in order to make use of them. For this reason, universities become an essential economic driver and also play a crucial role in its construction, in terms of prosperity [105
]. From an external perspective, universities confront these challenges undertaking projects that allow them to implement their strategies. At the same time, it requires a management system that responds to demands of adaptability, flexibility and availability, constituting itself as a device of change, adaptation and transformation [107
PM tools and techniques can be applied to higher education sector [109
], helping to affront challenges and barriers and improving its efficiency. If university projects are managed by PM methods to teach [111
], research [113
] and transfer [115
], then the application of PM competences by the TRS can promote success in achieving objectives, providing value and generating synergies among institution members, universities, companies and social agents.
The IPMA ICB model focuses on people and helps to relate to a changing context and establish fundamental values to enhance society [64
], incorporating human relations and social dynamics to the technical and technological dimensions. From a holistic point of view, the IPMA ICB approach is the most potentially applicable and useful professional PM framework at the university and incorporating sustained success principles [117
]. However, other professional PM methodologies, such as PMI PMBOK or PMI PMCDF, which focus on processes, contribute the success of teaching and research projects, as flexible, open and transversal tools [119
]. It can be noted that both are completely compatible. The former empowers the TRS and the latter establish a management system for their support.
The purpose of this research was to emphasize the most relevant competences by the TRS for the development of projects undertaken in the university context. To achieve it, a Delphi technique was used. Figure 6
summarizes the process steps.
The Delphi Technique is a prospective method for structuring an effective communication process that allows a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal with complex problems [121
]. This process ends when the answers by a group of experts from a series of intensive questionnaires reach a reliable consensus and stability [122
]. These iterations combine with controlled comments thanks to the provision of feedback from participants, who own expertise in the key area. At the same time, it is particularly useful to collect ideas on the specific topic and establish agreement to discover the underlying assumptions or perspectives among them, while avoiding the loss of its theoretical framework [123
]. Once the process starts, the Delphi technique allows determining experts’ points of arrangement, level of consensus and hierarchy of their importance.
The initial step to be done is the selection of experts [124
]. That is, the Delphi technique has to be executed with the participation of individuals who have knowledge and competence in the study subject [123
], as well as a deep understanding of the problem [125
]. Therefore, the selection of the panel is one of the most critical actions of the process [126
Thus, to be part of the initial sample, it was necessary that experts relate to engineering education, come from institutions where DeSeCo and Tuning projects are implemented and work in structures accredited (or in process of accreditation) by ABET, CDIO and/or EUR-ACE programs. Besides, with the aim of avoiding partiality, diversity and even lack of expertise, candidates had to comply additional requirements:
Experience managing innovation educational and international research projects: At least five of each of them
Experience in directive roles in universities: Faculty deans or directors of higher technical schools, departments, educational innovation and research groups
Accredited relevant teaching experience: At least ten years of recognition (two quinquennia)
Pioneer research at an international level: At least twelve years of impact and quality research (two sexennia)
Afterwards, it was necessary to design the research question that would be asked to the experts. The original research question was formulated in Spanish language and distributed among professors and researchers from Spanish and Latin American engineering schools, whereas both institutions and individuals had to meet the requirements set out above. The research question is translated exactly in the following terms:
“On a scale from 0 to 10, being 0 trivial and 10 essential, indicate the degree of importance that you grant to the acquisition and improvement of the following competences, by the teaching and research staff -TRS-, in the university context, in order to carry out the projects in which they participate, both for the practice of a relevant and sustainable teaching, especially in educational innovation projects, and for developing their research, in R+D+i projects, among others.”
Then, the list of twenty-nine competences of the IPMA model and their definition (brief description, including purpose, knowledge needed and skills involved) was presented to experts asking them to rate their importance on a scale of 0–10, both for educational innovation projects on the one hand, and research projects on the other hand. Next, two stop criteria were predefined: achievement of consensus and stability. The fulfilling of the conditions imposed are [127
Finally, it was necessary to evaluate answers obtained once reliable data were also validated. To this end and for every question, the results of the Delphi technique were distributed and categorized into five blocks through a double entry table, depending on their importance (much or little) and consensus (majoritarian or scarce) [129
], as presented in Figure 7
. According to it, crucial factors re those that have a high consensus and importance. Consequently, in this research, they must be the primary focus of attention for the acquisition, development and improvement of professional PM competences by the TRS.
6. Discussion of Results
The discussion of results consists of five subsections. First, the sample of experts is analyzed. Afterwards, the consensus and stability reached in answers is checked. Then, the importance given to each competence as isolated elements, both for educational innovation projects and for research ones, is assessed. Next, the network formed by the relationship among crucial competences, to highlight main nodes, is studied. Finally, the structure for a gap plan is developed.
6.1. Sample Representativeness
On the one side, EHEA or ALFA higher education areas insert universities to which experts belong, so traceability from the DeSeCo project to the Tuning one is ensured. In addition, these universities are either accredited or in the process of accreditation in a competence-based program (ABET, CDIO and/or EUR-ACE) in engineering. The entire sample complies with these institutional requirements. In relation to their physical location, twelve universities are Spanish and the other four are Latin American.
On the other side, the Delphi technique is a widely accepted method for gathering data, but only if respondents are within their domain of expertise [130
]. Among knowledge areas related to main disciplines of engineering (construction, environment, industry, and technology), eighteen are included in the sample. Therefore, the different types of university projects related to engineering are widely represented. Finally, the size of the group is suitable if it is within the optimum range recommended, i.e. from six to thirty experts [131
]. Twenty-four recognized experts composed the sample, thus it can be considered acceptable.
6.2. Validity and Reliability of Results
Validity and reliability increase transparency and decrease opportunities to insert researchers’ bias in qualitative research [132
]. Whereas reliability refers to the repeatability of findings, validity represents the truthfulness of findings [133
]. Both refer to the consensus and stability of the results obtained [134
IQR and RIR indexes measure consensus and stability, respectively. In this context, there is no need for experts to participate a third time, because variations were minimal after two rounds of consultation, thus results can be considered stable. At the same time, consensus was achieved. Therefore, for most questions, both IQR and RIR of the final round were lower than those of the initial one. In fact, convergence of responses was more common than divergence with more rounds [121
However, the process reached consensus and stability for teaching projects in twenty-three competences in the first round, except C02, T07 and T10–T13. Analogously, the process achieved consensus and stability for research projects in twenty-six competences in the first round, except C05, T10 and T13. In summary, consensus and stability needed only one round of consultation on forty-nine of fifty-eight issues. Plan and control (T10) and Change and transformation (T13) were the competences with the least consensus and stability. On the contrary, Strategy (C01) and Select and balance (T14) were the competences with the most consensus and stability.
6.3. Grade of Importance
Once the process achieved the minimum level of consensus and stability thanks to the agreement of the experts, it was necessary to discuss the degree of importance obtained by each element of competence, for both educational innovation and research projects. If the importance was low, the element of competence was classified as conjunctural. On the contrary, if it was high, it was crucial.
In brief and to focus on the most crucial ones (those that realized a greater value of importance, once consensus and stability were ensured), a prioritized list of competences was extracted, as summarized in Table 11
. However, it can be noted that all of them were crucial. Indeed, all elements of competence received more than half of the maximum score, for both types of projects.
The average score for the importance of professional PM competences based on the IPMA model for educational innovation projects was almost eight out of ten points. For educational innovation projects, two elements scored between 6–7 points, fifteen between 7–8 points, eleven between 8–9 points and one (B03) between 9–10 points. More in detail, technical competences reached an average of 7.5 points, contextual competences reached an average of 7.7 points and behavioral competences reached an average of 8.4 points.
By contrast, the average score in research projects was almost eight and a half points out of ten. For research projects, seven elements scored between 7–8 points, eighteen between 8–9 points and four (C01, B03, T01 and T02) between 9–10 points. Technical competences reached an average of 8.3 points, contextual competences reached an average of 8.4 points, and behavioral competences reached an average of 8.6 points.
Although the value obtained for educational innovation projects was almost 90%, in the case of research projects, the importance rose to almost 85%. Besides, there is a need to emphasize the relevance of behavioral competences for both educational innovation projects and research ones. However, as shown in Table 11
and considering all possible situations in a university context, between the most valued competence and the eighth, there was the same difference as between the eighth and the ninth, which implies that these competences make up the first gap.
6.4. Net of competences
In practical project situations, elements of competence are not isolated, because they are related each other. For that reason, the individual value of their importance should not be the unique criterion for their assessment. As competences are trained, performance is achieved not only by these elements but also by those with which they are related, contributing to each other’s improvement [31
]. Table 12
compiles the relationships among the eight most crucial competences, from the basis of the proposal of the IPMA ICB 4 model [31
]. These relationships are multi-lateral, but being important enough for providers and receivers (establishing strong relations) or only for one of them (establishing weak or medium relations between providers and receivers).
Based on the relationships from Table 12
and according to the influences they exert on each other, as shown in Figure 8
, the competence Result orientation (B10) is the center of the net of crucial elements of competence. It was the most relevant, having a relationship with the seven other ones. Next, Resourcefulness (B08) is highlighted, with six relations. This is followed by Communication (B03) and Requirements and objectives (T02), with five each. Then, Teamwork (B06), Integrity and reliability (B02) and Design (T01) with four and Strategy with three relations, the most isolated.
6.5. Basis for a Gap Plan
Once the most crucial elements of competence were identified and prioritized, isolated and together, it was necessary to lay the groundwork for their acquisition, development and improvement by the TRS. The following indicators can be used for their implementation, according to the guidelines of the IPMA ICB 4 model [31
], with the help of the PMI PMCDF 3 and the PMI PMBOK 6 frameworks [34
The competence C01 (Strategy) ensures the correlation between objectives and goals with the mission of the university. To do this, it is necessary to identify and exploit opportunities for influencing at the university strategy; develop and ensure the ongoing validity of its justification; and determine, assess and review critical success factors and key performance indicators.
The competence T01 (Design) integrates demands, desires and influences, drafting how resources, funds, benefits, risks and opportunities, deliveries, priorities and urgencies are considered and deriving the proper approach to guarantee success. This requires acknowledging, prioritizing and reviewing success criteria; applying and exchanging lessons learned; determining complexity and its consequences for the approach; and selecting, if possible, the overall PM approach.
The competence T02 (Requirements and objectives) deals with objectives, benefits, deliverables, requirements and outcomes and how they relate to each other. This implies defining and developing goals hierarchy; identifying and analyzing needs and expectations; and prioritizing and deciding on acceptance criteria.
The competence B02 (integrity and reliability) builds integrity, reliability and responsibility from ethics, commitment and trust. For this, it is necessary to acknowledge and apply ethical values to both decisions and actions derived; to promote the viability and consolidation of outputs and outcomes; to take responsibility for own decisions and actions; to act, take decisions and communicate in a consistent way; and to complete tasks thoroughly in order to build confidence with others stakeholders.
The competence B03 (Personal communication) exchanges adequate information and delivers it with precision and coherence to relevant parties. Because of it, there is clear and structured information to verify their understanding; to facilitate and promote open communication; to choose communication styles and channels to meet audience needs; to communicate effectively with virtual teams; and to employ humor and perspective when appropriate.
The competence B06 (Teamwork) brings people together to realize common goals, building a productive team by forming (selecting right members), supporting (promoting orientation) and leading (managing the team). This involves selecting and building the team; promoting cooperation and networking between team members; supporting, facilitating and reviewing the development of members team; empowering teams by delegating tasks and responsibilities; and recognizing errors to facilitate learning from mistakes.
The competence B08 (Resourcefulness) facilitates applying ways of thinking for the definition, analysis, prioritization, finding alternatives for, dealing with and solving challenges and problems, in order to manage better and more effective approaches. This means stimulating and supporting an open and creative environment; applying conceptual thinking to define strategies and analytic techniques for the analysis of situations, data and trends; and promoting creative techniques to find alternatives and solutions and a holistic view of the context to improve decision-making.
The competence B10 (Result orientation) prioritizes resources to overcome problems, challenges and obstacles in order to focus on productivity, as a combination of effectiveness and efficiency. This implicates evaluating all decisions against their impact on success and objectives; balancing needs and means to optimize outcomes and success; creating and maintaining a healthy, safe and productive working environment; promoting projects, their processes and outcomes; and delivering results and getting their acceptance.
Projects are essential by their contribution to the sustained success of universities. In a scenario in which the production of knowledge results from scientific research, its transmission takes place through education and training, its dissemination thanks to information and communication technologies and its exploitation by innovation, universities postulate as the engine of social and economic change. From this point of view, research universities, working on projects with people in relevant teaching and pioneering research, link with society to influence a responsible development [15
]. All these objectives, targets and goals, once formulated, lead to a series of projects.
Accordingly, to survive in this competitive environment, universities look for a competitive advantage, emphasizing the availability of potential competent staff, for which they can make a remarkable effort by increasing their competence. In engineering education, the TRS is a specialist at the highest level in engineering (science, technology and business, among others), which involves the capacity and investigative habits that allow them to approach and expand the frontiers of their branch of knowledge [136
Frameworks based on competences in higher education have been successfully implemented [67
]. At this point, this research joins previous ones demonstrating that professional PM competences help to improve in a sustained manner the results of university projects undertaken by the TRS. Although projects tackled in an unstructured way can succeed, the chances of repeating it significantly increase if the university structures create the appropriate conditions for the TRS. If teachers and researchers are university professionals, then they are equivalent to other sector practitioners, for whom project-based approaches are successfully operating. In this case, they can compare with each other to establish synergies.
Among projects that the TRS has to face, two of them stand out: educational innovation projects and research ones. To manage them, the TRS not only has to deal with the technical processes in which they are implied, but they also have to organize and coordinate, collaborate and cooperate as a team.
The twenty-four experts consulted agree that PM competences help the TRS to address their teaching and research, leading to a successful conclusion of their projects, based on a responsible formulation of objectives and management of the necessary activities. The Delphi panel showed that the acquisition and improvement of professional PM competences by the TRS is essential in order to engage projects in which they participate towards the achievement of results.
Among the twenty-nine elements of competence of the IPMA ICB 4 model (compatible with PMI PMBOK 6 and PMCDF 3 models), eight of them stood out, in consensus and stability (as valid and reliable sources), importance (as isolated elements) and influence (as interconnected nodes). Therefore, they are the necessary core to manage projects in the university community. These crucial competences are: Strategy from the contextual domain, Design and Requirements and objectives from the technical domain and Integrity and reliability, Personal communication, Teamwork, Resourcefulness and Result orientation from the behavioral domain.
In the university context, experts stress three elements of competence from the professional PM discipline for the proper resolution of projects. Strategy competence (C01) encompasses the formal justification of projects objectives and the establishment of long-term goals [140
]. Design competence (T01) addresses the design, development, implementation and maintenance of an approach that takes into account all formal and informal factors that help to success of university projects [142
]. Requirements and objectives competence (T02) establishes the relationship between what stakeholders (students, colleagues and institutions, among others) want to achieve and what projects are going to accomplish [144
Reciprocally, the acquisition and improvement of PM competences by the TRS for carrying out the projects in which they are involved, both for the practice of a relevant teaching, especially in educational innovation projects, and for developing their research, predominantly in research, development and innovation projects, helps to ensure committed results. To manage them (leading people and administrating available resources), five elements of competence stood out, according to the experts.
Personal integrity and reliability competence (B02) enables making consistent decisions, taking congruous actions and behaving consistently in the projects undertaken [146
], whereas Personal communication competence (B03) describes the essential aspects of an effective communication [148
]. Teamwork competence (B06) promotes a team orientation, and effectively manages a team [150
]. Resourcefulness competence (B08) effectively handles uncertainty and changes by searching for new, better and more effective solutions [152
]. Results orientation competence (B10) enables focusing on the agreed outputs and outcomes and driving the success [154
However, it is necessary to mention an observation. This research developed thanks to the collaboration of the experts panel, who come from Spain and four Latin American countries, which may be a limitation to the research findings. Nevertheless, the choice of experts, who are carrying out their work in centers in which the development of engineering competence-based accredited (or in the process of accreditation) programs (as ABET, CDIO or EUR-ACE) seeks to mitigate this potential cultural effect and can therefore be exported to other contexts where the Tuning project (from EHEA or ALFA areas) is implemented.
As a continuation of this research and future line of action, checking the degree of maturity in PM of the TRS that intervenes in educational innovation and research projects, using key competence indicators, is the following step. After that, with the measure and evaluation of the maturity level in PM of the TRS done, university structures can accordingly implement a customized breeding procedure, from the basis of the gap plan proposed, as the next step to develop the acquisition and improvement of their PM competences.