Formal education for project management


Baldwin- Wallace College

Two of the most difficult problems facing the academic community are the development of new curricula and the updating of present ones to meet industrial needs. With the rapid growth of project and systems management, more and more colleges and universities are reassessing their values.

In order to help alleviate these problems, a survey questionnaire was sent out to some 800 project and systems managers.1 Presented here is a brief summary of the results of the survey rather than a detailed analysis of the data.

The survey questionnaire was sent out to 392 PMI members. One hundred eighty-five responses were received as indicated in table 1. This 48 percent response is an excellent tribute to the willingness of PMI members to participate in educational institution program development. The author is also indebted to those respondees who took the time and effort to make additional comments concerning their feelings. Many of these comments are included in this paper.

The survey questionnaire was an attempt not only to contribute knowledge to PMI and other academic institutions, but also to gather invaluable input from project management personnel concerning what modifications, if any, can be made to existing programs in order to place more emphasis on project management.

Question Analysis

Approximately 85 percent of the respondees worked in companies that had a project management organizational form with 88 percent represented by a matrix. The respondees also stated that, on the average, between 30 percent and 40 percent of the project managers had advanced degrees and that the average age of the project managers ranged from 35 to 45 years old.

Table 1. Industry Respondees

Steel 5
Design construction 6
Chemical 10
Manufacturing 10
Pharmaceuticals 13
Engineering (Misc.) 10
Consulting engineering 12
Nuclear engineering 3
Power engineering 14
Construction 17
Aerospace 3
Business/Computers 6
Communications 2
Government (U.S.) 10
Engineering construction 36
Consultants 12
Foods 1
Parts distribution 1
Pipeline 2
Primary metals 2
Mining/Smelting 2

*Grouped according to responses.

**Ten responses were received without industry identification. These were not included in the summary.

A survey of other curricula in project/systems management indicated that there were approximately 18 basic courses. These basic courses are listed in table 2 by industry response. Many of these courses contain information which could be presented as part of several courses. This overlap was included as part of the questionnaire to help resolve this problem. Each course is discussed below in order of perceived desirability as judged by the respondents.

Table 2. Course Response by Industry

As expected, the first course selected was introductory project management.

Fundamentals of project management (168)2
Organizational theories (127)
Systems theory (80)
Principles of management (147)
Organizational behavior (131)

The second course was planning and control. This was included as a separate course (as opposed to production management).

Planning and control (164)

Activity scheduling (130)

PERT (77)

CPM (123)

GANTT (70)

Line of balance (43)

Project control (137)

Simulation (49)

Most people seemed to favor teaching planning and control as a separate course, provided that cost control was also included. As one respondee remarked,

“Cost control and analysis must also be included. It is interesting to note that although there is an entry for ‘planning and control,’ there is no reference to cost. Both project managers and systems managers must be acutely aware of both time and money.” (Engineering construction)

The third course was accounting and finance. As shown below, almost all of the respondees felt that such a course was mandatory, with emphasis placed upon fundamentals and cost accounting:

Accounting and finance (168)

Fundamentals (140)

Balance sheets (60)

Cost accounting (122)

Capital budgeting (107)

Management models (70)

Feasibility studies (61)

Cost/volume analysis (35)

Fundraising (11)

Taxation (34)

The fourth course described was organizational behavior.

Organizational behavior (158)

Conflict management (111)

Organizational structure (83)

Leadership (102)

Management theories (84)

Case studies (78)

Communications (119)

Motivation (119)

Time management (98)

Virtually all of the topics under organizational behavior received strong representation. Many respondees recommended that organizational structure be taught as part of systems management, project management, and organizational behavior, each with a different emphasis. Other respondees criticized the communications shortcomings of project managers, and recommended that communications be taught either as a separate course r as part of all courses with emphasis on writing and making presentations. Two such respondee comments were:

“Presentations — most project managers seems to lack the ability to write, in letters or reports, and to make presentations in graphic or oral format.” (Engineering construction)

“The shortfalls of project managers are communications, delegation, and tunnel vision in their specialties. . . . Now all you have to do is to convince companies that the main prerequisite for project management positions is not a gray head or experience.” (Engineering construction)

The fifth course was systems management.

Systems management/organizational theory (151)

Basic systems theory (117)

Organizational subsystems (70)

Satisfying individual/group needs (70)

Although most project management curricula are taught as applied rather than theoretical courses, a large number of responses indicated that general systems theory should be included as part of a curriculum and taught from a theoretical point of view. The necessity for this was summed up well by one respondee:

“This type of project management/systems education is very much needed in the industry. Most project managers come from good technical backgrounds with engineering degrees but have little knowledge or appreciation of the systems approach and the information required to control work. With the current trends toward superprojects of the future, this is much needed.” (Engineering construction)

Tied for sixth and seventh were law and information systems.

Law (142)

Commercial (40)

Contract (135)

Construction (97)

Real estate (13)

Fiscal (20)

The major topics indicated were contract and construction law with responses from nearly every industry, not merely engineering construction. This is not unusual since almost all project managers (especially those who direct activities on behalf of outside customers) must understand the meaning of legal terms and conditions, commitments, and accompanying risks.

Information systems (140)

Fundamentals of MIS (117)

Designing systems with EDP (36)

Designing systems without EDP (31)

Evaluation of requirements (52)

Feasibility studies (37)

Organizational structure (30)

Managing MIS (51)

Most people seemed to prefer coverage of the subject matter but fundamentals as applied to information storage and retrieval for both daily control as well as decision making.

The eighth course described was management policy. In almost all curricula, this course is designed around policy formulation and analysis using the case method. The responses to this course are shown below:

Management policy (142)

Lectures (62)

Case Studies (134)

Engineering (110)

Construction (112)

Information systems (69)

R&D (34)

Other (9)

Report writing (111)

Field research (22)

The management policy course is generally the highlight of any curriculum and can be taught with a great deal of flexibility. The difficult problem with teaching such a course is trying to satisfy each individual’s needs and desires. Obviously, someone in construction engineering would rather analyze construction engineering case studies than pharmaceutical or computer case studies. Several respondees made practical comments on these problems:

“I feel that you may be making the same mistake as other past, good courses in project management. In my opinion, project management is not an isolated skill but depends on teh industry. While many problems are common, others are not.” (Nuclear)

“Although case studies are beneficial, the ideal situation would be to have each student do case studies in his own industry.” (Construction)

This last statement requires further comment. In the MBA program in systems management, the author conducts the management policy course as an introduction to applied and practical project management using case studies developed by both the author and Harvard Business School. The project/systems management case studies cover several industries and identify those problems which are and are not in common. In addition, each student is required to do field research and develop a case study on project management.3 At the end of the course, the student presents his case to the class. To date, the author has developed over one hundred case studies in project management, covering almost all major industries. In the near future, students entering into this course will be able to select case studies applicable to their own industry or interest.

The ninth course selected was PERT/CPM.

Ninety-seven people, specifically from construction-related industries, felt that a separate course in PERT/CPM would be advisable.


The tenth course dealt with the fundamentals of computers.

Computers (121)

Fundamentals of EDP (91)

Large computers (34)

Small computers (31)

Designing computer systems (30)

The majority of the respondees suggested that computer technology be taught solely in relation to the processing of information and the development of management information systems.

The eleventh course was quantitative: management science. Shown below are the topic selections to these courses:

Management science (112)

Linear programming (36)

Non-linear programming (14)

Dynamic programming (20)

Decisions under uncertainty (88)

Forecasting (84)

Regression analysis (38)

Transportation models (13)

The twelfth course was managerial economics.

Managerial economics (87)

American economic system (52)

National income theory (10)

Unemployment (10)

Monetary/fiscal policies (38)

Balance of payments (15)

Business policy (57)

Again, there seemed to be disagreement as to what information should be included.

The thirteenth course presented was government, management, and the environment.

Government, management, environment (104)

Social institutions (23)

Labor (45)

Family (4)

Education (6)

Collective bargaining (57)

Environmental issues (71)

Technological growth (42)

The majority of the respondees appeared to favor discussion of environmental issues and the potential impact upon project decision making.

The fourteenth course chosen was production management.

Production management (122)

Standards/cost estimating (94)

Break-even analysis (43)

Manpower planning (98)

Queue theory (17)

Quality control (46)

Resource allocation (98)

Human engineering (47)

Productivity/automation (27)

The areas of prime importance seem to be scheduling, decision-making, and cost estimating. There were several responses suggesting that standards and cost estimating be taught as a separate course. The majority of these comments came from engineering construction.

Tied for fifteenth and sixteenth were statistics and marketing. As shown below, approximately 93 people favored statistics as a separate entity instead of being included under other topics.

Statistics (93)

Although some 50 percent of the respondees selected marketing, the topics to be included appeared to be scattered.

Marketing (103)

Fundamentals (94)

Information systems (21)

Determining strategy (47)

Evaluating strategy (38)

Implementing strategy (34)

Case studies (29)

The seventeenth course was multinational/international trade. Although several members felt that such a course was useful, there seemed to be a lack of agreement as to what information should be included.

Multinational/International trade (77)

Theory (40)

Policy (28)

Enterprise (7)

Economic constraints (29)

International projects (58)

Factor identification (9)

Conflicting interests (19)

Evaluation techniques (28)

The last course related was quality control. The majority of the respondees came from manufacturingoriented firms.

Quality control (50)

Coursework Selection

In the next part of the questionnaire, the respondees were asked whether they would prefer a ten- or twelvecourse sequence. Sixty-seven wanted 10 courses and 83 chose 12 courses. Nine people selected the other category. It appears that the majority would rather see project managers trained as generalists in several areas rather than as specialists in a few areas.

The respondees were then asked to select either 10 or 12 courses based upon their answer to the above question. The responses are shown in table 3 together with a comparison with the systems managers. It is interesting to note that project management was ranked first by both project and systems managers. Several people even went so far as to list the sequence in which the courses should be taught. One person explained his rationale for sequencing the courses as having the entire curriculum as a giant case study with each new course building upon the previous one.


Both project and systems managers selected the same first eight courses as part of their sequence with the exception that project managers placed more emphasis on the legal aspects of the environment, whereas system managers required heavy support from computer technology. This tends to indicate that both project and systems managers are in close agreement about a fundamental body of knowledge required for educational training, and that both project and systems managers can be trained as generalists within the same program.

Table 3. Course Selection Rankings and Comparison

Course Project Mgt. Responses* Rank Systems Mgt. Responses** Rank
Project mgt. 160 1 114 1-3
Planning/control 142 2 96 6
Acct/Finance 139 3 101 5
Organiz. behavior 122 4 82 7
Systems mgt. 121 5 114 1-3
Law 109 6/7 35 15
Information systems 109 6/7 114 1-3
Management policy 105 8 76 8
PERT/CPM 97 9 35 12
Computers 79 10 104 4
Mgt. science 75 11 66 9
Managerial economics 71 12 48 14
Govt/Mgt./Environment 70 13 15 17
Production mgt. 68 14 60 10
Statistics 55 15/16 58 11
Marketing 55 15/16 52 13
Multi/Inter. trade 45 17 5 18
Quality control 39 18 20 16

*Out of 177 responses

**Out of 135 responses

Seventy-eight percent of the respondees agreed upon the first three courses and 62 percent agreed upon the first seven courses.

Both project and systems managers placed great emphasis on learning accounting and finance.

More than 80 percent of the project managers and 71 percent of the systems managers stressed the importance of teaching planning and control as a separate course.

There were four courses which received low ratings: statistics, marketing, multinational/international trade, and quality control. These four courses could generally be considered part of any project or systems management curriculum. This low rating can partially be accounted for by the fact that these courses are more theoretical than applied, and that project managers have difficulty applying what few tools they might learn in these courses to their everyday jobs.

Teaching Approach

In the last part of the questionnaire, the respondees were asked to evaluate three major questions as shown below:

How taught?

Evening (104)

Weekend (24)

Daytime (54)

What type of degree ?

MBA (83)

MS (31)

No preference (57)

Company preference on training managers.

In-house (122)

External seminar (71)

Degree programs (32)

Most people felt that project managers cannot be trained in an academic environment and that colleges and universities should provide only the necessary tools for general project management and leave the formal training to the companies themselves. There were several comments on this point:

“I am really not an advocate of a degree program for training project managers. The theory itself is useless unless accompanied by the ability to match the options to each situation. This insight is best obtained through working under the direction and guidance of experienced managers after three to four weeks of training in the fundamentals whereby they learn about the options available to them. There is no single management approach which will succeed on every project by the same manager or a single approach which will succeed on the same project for every manager. Academians are generally not sufficiently experienced to impact this subtle difference. Experienced managers will come closer.” (Aerospace)

“I do not agree with creating a course of study for systems management or project management that is different from the MBA programs now offered. This kind of specialization is best left to seminars, short courses, personnel career development and Ph.D. studies.” (Management consulting)

“Ours is a labor-oriented industry and our corporate group is small relative to the labor force. In effect, many of us have become generalists to some degree. . . . Because of the foregoing, we lay great stress on competence, practical knowledge and the ability to make on-the-spot decisions. Working with the plant means teamwork is a must.” (Glass containers)

“MBA with a good portion of project management would be a very desirable program to have.” (Heavy equipment)

“There is no indication as far as I have seen, that an advanced degree is necessary to be an effective manager of projects or an effective manager of the manager of projects, etc…. unless the degree is in the field in which one is working (engineering, chemistry, etc.). I know personally of no opportunity in pharmaceutical R&D for a person with an advanced degree in project management unless that person also has an advanced degree in the sciences. I see little chance that this will change in the near future.” (Pharmaceutical)

“In the construction industry we think that the best educational background for potential project managers is a degree in engineering and an MBA. The engineering degree provides the basis for understanding the technical problems; the MBA brings with it a bottom-line orientation. A combination of these educational skills can be a project manager’s basic tools. Experience hones these tools as instruments that can deal successfully in today’s changing environment.” (Construction)

In addition to comments on the coursework, there were several distinguishing remarks with regard to the quality of both students and faculty:

“So often degree courses and seminars are so jdealistic that it takes a man one or two years to convert it to practical application. Would suggest visiting lecturers from industry.” (Parts distribution)

“It is important that the material for any coursework is based upon actual case studies and not theory. . . . Some information should be taught by people still in project management.” (Steel)

“Suggest course material be presented on the assumption that participants have direct and related experience. I don’t believe that you can manufacture a project manager in the classroom.” (Process control instrumentation)

“In my view, courses of the type outlined above should be geared for people who are or have been working in industry for some period of time, preferably in a role leading toward positions such as project engineer, construction superintendant, or project manager. This would be excellent in supplementing on-the-job training. I believe much of the education would be lost on individuals who are just coming out of college or have minimal industrial experience.” (Electric utility)

Conclusions and Recommendations

There are fundamental conclusions that can be drawn from the survey:

• Industry would rather see students trained as generalists rather than specialists, with industry providing the necessary detailed instruction with onthe-job training.

• Course work should be constructed to provide emphasis on tools and their application, not theory.

• If at all possible, students should be given case studies that are applicable to their industry and interests.

• There is no consensus that an advanced degree is necessary in order to become an effective project manager.

If this last point does, in fact, hold true, then how should project managers be trained? Seventy-six percent of the respondees indicated that their companies conduct in-house seminars on project management or related topics. One person suggested correspondence courses. This area offers great promise for the future. It may be possible to develop correspondence courses for each major area, where the first group of courses would contain the fundamental body of knowledge common to all industries. The second group of courses would be designed for the specific industry and contain applicable case studies for analysis. Such a program could easily be administered by PMI or jointly by PMI and educational institutions so that academic credit can be earned. This might, in all probability, become the pathway to the future training of project managers.

1. The results presented here are those of only PMI members. The responses from systems managers will be published in the Journal of Systems Management. However, a brief comparison of results is included herein.

2. Course selections are indicated by italic type. The indented entries following are topic selections within each course. Numbers in parentheses indicate the frequency of selection of a topic made by the 177 respondees.

3. Entry to this evening MBA program requires a minimum of three to five years work experience. Over 50 percent of the students are in project management industries, while some 30 percent are engineers. Students are permitted to work in small groups for some of these case studies.



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