Questions & Answers

A Conversation with Dr. Joseph Griffin, of Northeastern University, College of Professional Studies about their Project Management Programs.

Joseph Griffin, D.Min., PMP Associate Teaching Professor, Project Management Faculty Director, Graduate Programs in Project Management, GIT, Informatics, Analytics, College of Professional Studies Northeastern University

Tell us about your program, its design, and the students it serves.
The Master of Science in Project Management is designed to provide our students with the practical skills and theoretical concepts they need to lead complex projects. Featuring real-world case studies, this project management degree presents techniques and tools for managing long- and short-term projects successfully and cost effectively. Augmenting the core project management courses are concentrations that provide students with content-specific expertise, enabling them to deepen their knowledge in project management principles.

The Master of Science in Leadership prepares students to meet global leadership challenges globally by encouraging them to cultivate a personal leadership philosophy. Leveraging students’ interdisciplinary backgrounds, this master’s degree in leadership combines real-world lessons with an action-learning approach designed to build and strengthen their leadership capabilities. We serve a range of students, from those early in their careers to seasoned professionals. Our focus is to serve individuals who wish to advance their professional career as project professionals. We have students from across the globe and from an incredibly diverse range of industries, such as pharma, healthcare, engineering, manufacturing, technology, financial services, government, non-profit, and construction. They benefit greatly from studying project management in such a diverse student setting, as they come to understand how universal project management practices are. 

Can you relate an experience you can directly attribute to GAC accreditation?
We consistently hear from students that our program was selected because it is a GAC-accredited program. About 40% of our project management students are international students and one critical consideration in selecting our program is the GAC accreditation. The exposure of being GAC accredited is a plus and assures potential students of the quality and standard of project management education our university offers. It is also valuable to companies that seek to partner with us or send their employees back to school, as it provides an external validation about the program. Finally, as we seek regional, state, and international accreditation and licensure, it acts as a validation of our commitment to providing a quality program. In short, we see significant value associated with having achieved GAC accreditation.

How has GAC accreditation affected your program, related to faculty or other stakeholders?
GAC accreditation has helped our program in attracting and retaining faculty with deep academic and professional experience. As a program, we intentionally seek faculty who can help us meet the GAC accreditation standards and by so doing attract the best. Many of these faculty members are equally attracted to teach in an institution like ours because of the academic challenge and opportunity to collaborate with other members who share their passion for project management.

Can you speak to how GAC accreditation serves the needs of students, industry, and the project management profession?
GAC Accreditation helps meet the needs of students, industry, and advancing the PM profession by providing a means to validate that our program meets a certain standard of quality. It provides a level of assurance to both students and industry, which they tell us is valuable to them. In addition, since a key aspect of the accreditation is continuous improvement, it not only supports our efforts to help students achieve certain academic outcomes, but to achieve their professional goals, which serves to advance the PM profession.

Your program has two degrees accredited, a Master of Science in Project Management and a Master of Science in Leadership with a Concentration in Project Management. Can you speak to the differences in these two programs, and why a student would choose one over the other?
This is a really important question for a student who is considering studying project management at our university. The question really is which program will best help the student achieve their professional goals. For students who really want to strengthen their leadership skills while strengthening the core areas of project management, the M.S. in Leadership is a great option. The M.S. in Project Management offers the same core project management courses, but also offers additional, more advanced courses, Those students will be able to take courses in global project management, agile, program and portfolio management, and additional areas. It takes some reflection on the part of the student to chart the best path, which is why program advisors and program faculty are available to speak with students when they are making this decision.

Your program serves a global community. How do you address cultural differences in presenting your program in different regions of the world?
There are a few ways we attempt to address this challenge. We begin by recruiting an internationally diverse faculty. We have faculty who have lived and worked for extensive periods of time outside of the United States, as well as faculty who have immigrated to the United States. We believe the academics of the program are a significant reflection of the faculty, so we are committed to having a diverse faculty who embody the international reality of project management. Additionally, we look for feedback from companies and individuals who live and work around the world, and we seek to use case studies and experiential learning opportunities that call our students to a globally diverse perspective.

How does your program identify new trends in project management, and then incorporate these concepts into your curriculum?
There are several ways we achieve this. Our full-time faculty are engaged in client-facing consulting work. In working with clients to understand and implement new processes and techniques, our faculty can then share this with students by integrating these trends into the classroom. We also work with our part-time faculty of working professionals to stay current with what their organizations are doing and build these concepts into the classes. From a more macro level, we integrate learnings from attending conferences and through our involvement with PMI to see where the industry is headed. For example, in 2015 we implemented a Concentration in Leading and Managing Technical Projects. In Fall 2016, we rolled out a Concentration in Program and Portfolio Management. This coming Fall, we will introduce a Concentration in Agile Project Management and an Master of Science in Program and Project Portfolio Management. Our program is rooted in experiential learning, and each course has embedded case study work relevant to issues and challenges organizations are facing now – allowing students to apply project management in a context similar to what they will face on the job.

What rising trends and topics will be impacting the project management profession in the future?
There are a number of relevant trends and topics, but a few rise to the surface. The link between organizational strategy and projects has been and continues to be a significant topic—doing the right projects to advance the organization. This creates an increasingly important role for program and project portfolio managers. We see this signified through the creation of advanced industry certifications, such as PMI’s Program Management Professional (PgMP®) and Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP®) certifications. In response, we implemented a Concentration in Program and Portfolio Management in Fall 2016, and within the next year, this will be expanded to a Master of Science in Program and Project Portfolio Management.Another key trend is tailoring project management practices to be applied in a value-added way. Our curriculum not only includes comprehensive coverage of traditional project management but also includes agile project management. By focusing on both practices—and the tailoring necessary to optimize project management within an organization—our students are prepared to utilize project management effectively within their project manager roles. 

How does your program collaborate with industry in developing its curriculum?
Our faculty are engaged in consulting work with industry partners along with our part-time working professional faculty. These are front line collaborators in building a relevant curriculum. For example, we rely on our faculty to create case studies based on their own industry work to use in the classroom to simulate real-world applications of project management. Our program works closely with university industry partners to best understand their needs in project management and build curriculum solutions to meet their current state and challenges. We also work through available research – for example, PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® – to stay current with the industry needs and work to build this into the curriculum.  An example of this is the implementation of the Concentration in Program and Project Portfolio Management, recognizing the integration of projects and programs to portfolios to meet organizational strategies. Connecting with our industry partners through conferences and direct engagement with companies across a range of industries is really key. 

Any new and innovative practices you want to share?
One of our newer initiatives is our XN (Experiential) Projects initiative. Northeastern University has a long history of co-op, but we wanted to adapt this for a graduate program in a virtual fashion. Our great team at the university solved for this by creating virtual, short-term (6-12 week) co-op experiences for our students. So our graduate students who may be working or studying full time can sign up for an XN Project, and they are matched with an employer for a short-term virtual project in which they might help a company develop a communications plan, revamp their scoping process, or a host of other significant projects. So far, nearly 100 students from our GAC-accredited programs have participated in these experiences, and the feedback from employers is fantastic. This is a great way for our students to showcase their learning to our industry partners in an applied way, and we are excited about how this advances not only our students, but the connectedness of our program to industry partners.