education programs that produce qualified project managers
Today, project managers need not only knowledge, but a marketable portfolio of skills.
David L. Overbye, PMP
Change isn't easy, and corporate America knows this all too well. Increased competition and rapid technological changes have forced corporations to reengineer and downsize their operations while focusing more intensely than ever on quality and service. Successfully accomplishing these complicated transitions is mandatory in order for companies to remain viable in the marketplace.
To implement these changes, today's savvy companies look to project teams. In the race to develop new concepts and new products, many traditional management methods do not allow companies to keep pace. Instead, groups of professionals with complementary talents and disciplines—project teams—are being formed to complete specific projects or to design products within increasingly tighter constraints on time and money.
This trend toward project management is creating a lively demand for project team leaders—professionals whose capabilities include a combination of business administration and technical and interpersonal skills.
As a result of the trend toward project management, many schools have experienced increases in project management program enrollments. For example, enrollments in the Keller Graduate School's Master of Project Management program have increased sevenfold since its inception in 1991—from 78 students then to more than 600 today.
“Today's businesses focus more on teamwork and less on autocratic management to promote organizational change,” said O. John Skubiak, Keller's dean and senior vice president of DeVry Inc., the school's parent company. “Therefore, curricula must answer the demand for formally educated project managers and provide an opportunity for individuals from a wide range of professions to learn to manage today's work teams.”
Project management skills are becoming increasingly important across a broad spectrum of careers. Keller MPM students, 98 percent of whom are employed full-time, have backgrounds in marketing, accounting, human resources and economics, as well as in the traditional technical backgrounds of engineering and computer science. And they come from a variety of industries.
According to a recent survey conducted by Keller, knowing how to effectively manage projects is among the top skills required in business today. In the study, CEOs and presidents of companies employing Keller graduates were asked to identify the skills their employees need to successfully meet the challenges of the future. In a ranking of 18 management skills, the top four were leadership, problem solving/decision making, communications, and project management.
Project management education also teaches how to effectively manage personnel changes. As human resource management and the entire work culture are being transformed, predictable vertical career paths are being replaced by horizontal ones, while dynamic, self-directed work teams are supplanting formal authority chains. Therefore, the need for continuous training in order to maintain productivity is key for personnel managers and a critical component of project management curricula.
“There is a new paradigm of management arising in the ‘90s that stresses participative management, continuous training, a global outlook and an emphasis on quality, value and service,” said Andy Klein, Keller's Master of Human Resource Management program manager. Human resource management programs must integrate project management concepts with this new organizational model, or let students pursue dual-degree programs that merge project management and human resource management coursework to prepare them to oversee and facilitate cultural change in companies.
“Quite simply, today businesses need project management in order to operate efficiently,” said Lowell Skelton, director of project management at Milwaukee's Miller Brewing Company and former president of PMI's Midwest Chapter. “Although formal project management training is relatively new, there is evidence that when people are given project management responsibilities, their success rate is much higher if they've had formal project management training.”
Eighteen Management Skills to Meet the Challenges of the Future
|• Leadership||• Marketing|
|• Problem Solving/Decison Making||• Diversity Management|
|• Communications||• Accounting|
|• Project Management||• International Perspective|
|• Team Building||• Human Resource Management|
|• Total Quality Management||• Statistics|
|• Finance||• Applied Business Research|
|• Ethics||• Economics|
|• Computers and Technology||• Legal Environment of Business|
Education Put to Work
Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Company saw an immediate return on its education investment in Beth Partleton, PMP, Miller senior project manager.
“The fact that I‘m in a project management educational program while performing multi-project management work at Miller means that every course is directly applicable to what I do in my job,” said Partleton, a student in Keller's Master of Project Management program. “For example, when I took the statistics course, I developed predictive models of cash flow and labor hours for my current projects. Because of this, I saw how the models could be more fully developed to predict other outcomes as well. Aside from using trend models, I learned there are more ways to apply statistical analysis to project data. Refining my analysis techniques allowed me to use the information to more thoroughly review projects and to become better prepared for future projects.”
For her MPM capstone project, Beth evaluated Miller's project management systems. “I wanted to focus an assignment that could positively affect my company,” she explained. “I outlined the areas where we were doing well and those in which we could improve. I always knew Miller had a good project management system, but my education gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate some of our operations and propose improvements.”
Her supervisor, Lowell Skelton, Miller's director of project management, welcomed Beth's input and encourages all of his employees to enroll in the program. “Some very good ideas have resulted from her classes,” Skelton said. “Within three months of submitting her project to Miller, the company executive committee gave Beth approval to implement her project's first phase in Miller's corporate engineering department.”
Implications for Careers
As more companies rely on project management to improve operations, project managers have become increasingly important and visible. With more responsibility, it is critical that these managers perform with a high level of competence. The best way to achieve this is by pursuing project management training. However, beyond formal learning, professionals also need to start thinking differently about their careers.
Because the workplace is rapidly changing, workers must view themselves as having a marketable “portfolio of skills.” To fully understand this, it should be recognized that most project roles can be performed by outsiders as well as by organizational insiders. The question is not “Who do we have on staff to execute this project” but rather “Who is the best person available in the marketplace?” Accordingly, professionals must acquire the business skills necessary to operate as independent consultants through pursuing education and by seeking assignments that allow them to continue developing their skills. In doing so, they ensure their marketability.
Every indication is that the demand for people who can successfully manage projects will increase. By focusing on developing their portfolio of skills and adopting a market-driven view of their careers, project managers will continue to be assets within organizations. In turn, they will be rewarded with challenging and satisfying assignments.
As business continues to re-examine its needs, institutions of higher education are challenged to develop the capability to revise and improve their curricula at a greatly accelerated pace to meet new market demands. ∎
David L. Overbye, PMP, PE, is program manager and curriculum coordinator for Keller Graduate School of Management's Master of Project Management program.
PM Network • September 1995