Profession-derived competency standards are key determinants for curriculum and assessment in many professional university programmes. An Australian Learning and Teaching Council funded project used a participatory action research approach to enable the collaborative development of a graduated (or incremental) descriptors tool related to competencies, applicable to Australian pharmacy students at various stages within their university programmes. Consultations with pharmacy professional/registration organisations, students, preceptors and academics throughout Australia were undertaken. Recording of key themes of discussions and progressive development of the tool occurred. Initial trialling of the tool in pharmacy programmes at two different Australian universities has indicated that students were ambivalent regarding the tool and, for example, its usefulness for self-assessment against competencies and its role in supporting learning. Preceptors, supporting students on placements, were however very positive about the tool, its usefulness in supporting learning and in supporting discussions between preceptors and students.