Innovation In Education

AT&T's Masters Certificate Programs in PM



Dennis Ward and Neal Hart, AT&T

Edwin Phelps and Linda Bush, Educational Services Institute

This article describes the process by which AT&T, in collaboration with Educational Services Institute and The George Washington University, developed two innovative, graduate-level curricula in project management; one for managers of AT&T’s federal telecommunications/computer systems projects and one for managers of commercial projects. Both curricula lead to Masters Certificates in Project Management, as well as prepare students for PMI’s Project Management Professional certification exam.

AT&T commissioned a Project Management Job Study, a report identifying project management skill and knowledge requirements. This document formed the basis for the final, very important element of the committees’ strategies–an advanced, comprehensive educational program to develop a recognized cadre of professional project managers within AT&T.

Several committees were created to continue to explore this issue. The committees noted that AT&T had formal programs of instruction, development, and certification for marketing and technical personnel, but none for project managers. They inventoried existing AT&T in-house and contracted training courses and concluded that, while several courses developed basic skills applicable to project management, the courses were either too general (e. g., designed for all AT&T management employees) or too mired in the details of existing policies and procedures, They identified a need for a comprehensive project management educational program that would:

  • Incorporate the best of current, state-of-the-art thinking in project management;
  • Impart a comprehensive, common base of knowledge applicable to the widest variety of telecommunication and computer systems projects;
  • Be practical, relevant, and easy to apply on the job, but also rigorous and challenging;
  • Be taught by instructors who are both experienced project managers and professionals at teaching;
  • Lead to professional certification, thereby ensuring verification of individuals’ competence and professional growth; and
  • Be cost-effective.

In leading to professional certification, the educational program had to prepare project managers for passing the PMP examination. AT&T briefly considered an internal certification program, as is used for AT&T sales and technical personnel, but decided instead to endorse PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, for two reasons:

1. PMI is the recognized leader among nonprofit organizations promoting project management and

2. Outside accreditation would ensure customers’ recognition of AT&T’s value-added project management expertise.

Finally, AT&T Federal Systems had the additional requirement of training its project managers to meet the special demands of working in the federal marketplace. They sought a program focused equally on developing project management techniques and skills and on developing expertise at working within complex federal bureaucratic and legal requirements.


The relatively small population of project managers to be trained made an in-house instructional design effort prohibitively expensive. Therefore, the committees conducted an analysis of possible outside sources of project management education.

AT&T Federal Systems approached the Educational Services Institute (ESI), a training and consulting firm that develops programs jointly with The George Washington University (GWU) School of Business and Public Management. ESI specializes in contracting, logistics, and operations and has extensive experience in the federal arena. ESI and GWU had in 1984 co-founded the Masters Certificate in Government Contracting, a premier program of its kind in the United States.

In April 1989, AT&T Federal Systems decided, for the following reasons, to retain ESI/GWU to develop a curriculum for federal project managers:

  • ESI/GWU proposed to develop a Masters Certificate in Project Management, based on the widely recognized GWU certificate in government contracting and tailored to AT&T’s needs.
  • Numerous AT&T personnel had attended ESI/GWU public courses and had been impressed with their quality and practicality.
  • ESI and GWU were located near AT&T Federal Systems’ Washington D.C. headquarters.
  • ESI’s expertise in both federal and commercial operations and procurement made it uniquely qualified to design a program focusing on both project management and knowledge of the federal customer.

Given the more general needs in the commercial arena, AT&T considered a variety of potential sources for a commercial educational program, including MBA programs, university continuing education programs, and consultants, The MBA option was ruled out due to the associated expense, classroom hours, and educational prerequisites (not all AT&T project managers hold bachelor's degrees). Also, an MBA program would require project managers to fulfill generalized academic requirements not directly related to their careers (e.g., marketing and accounting courses, research theses).

The committee then queried several leading universities regarding the availability of continuing education programs in project management Only GWU/ESI had the immediate ability and willingness to design and present a Masters Certificate program, including Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credit, around AT&T’s needs. (CEU credit would help project managers meet the PMP educational require-merit.) After observing several courses in the ESI/GWU federal systems curriculum, the commercial group entered an agreement with ESI in January 1990 to design and deliver a curriculum specific to its needs.


Working closely with AT&T project managers, ESI undertook a structured approach to planning and implementing the two curriculum development projects. The approach included:

  • Completing the needs analysis begun by the AT&T committees,
  • Developing a profile of the target audience,
  • Developing overall and then course-by-course learning objectives,
  • Matching the learning objectives to ESI instructors’ knowledge and expertise,
  • Determining the most effective assortment of instructional media,
  • Developing detailed course outlines,
  • Compiling course materials, and
  • Presenting and evaluating the courses.

The needs analysis included surveying and interviewing AT&T project managers and analyzing AT&T procedures, reports, and actual project documents. From its findings, ESI developed a target audience profile in terms of functional and organizational background, education level, longevity with AT&T, and experience in project management tools and techniques. Preliminary learning objectives also emerged from the needs analysis.

Selection of instructors for each course, matching instructor experience, knowledge and expertise to course learning objectives was particu lady crucial. In ESI’s design approach, instructors figure heavily in final course content and selection of instructional media, bringing to hear their own experience and knowledge of the current state-of-the-art.

As for instructional media, ESI determined that the courses should blend traditional lectures with up-to-date participatory learning techniques, a highly effective approach that treats project management as both a science and an art. Classes would consist of lectures and discussions, guest speakers, case presentations, team projects, role plays, and simulations. Student materials would include textbooks, workbooks, reference works (e. g., key federal regulations), and diagnostic instruments designed to gauge students’ managerial styles and leadership strengths and weaknesses.

During curriculum design efforts, several features emerged as essential:

Emphasis on education over training. The curricula would imbue project managers with the broad skills and knowledge needed to manage projects successfully in the telecommunications industry of the 1990s, rather than focus on specific AT&T methods and procedures currently in practice.

Practicality, Courses would benefit individuals and AT&T immediately, by teaching specific skills and competencies known to be required for successful project management.

Basis in reality. Courses would not only provide normative descriptions of the world as it is supposed to be, but also show students what to expect from the real world of organizations and human beings.

For Federal Systems, ESI designed a series of seven one-week courses for-cusing equally on knowledge of the federal customer and project management techniques and skills, To meet the needs of the larger, more diversified commercial audience, ESI designed a core curriculum of four one-week courses and one two-week course. The core provides a nucleus of knowledge and skills necessary for professional project management. In addition, a series of electives would enable commercial students to develop expertise in any of five specialized areas: international, research and development, sales, federal, and construction project management.

Students completing either the entire Federal Systems program or the core curriculum of the commercial program would earn a Masters Certificate in Project Management from The George Washington University. Students would also gain exposure to the key principles and concepts tested in the PMP exam.

In designing for PMP preparation, ESI assigned each of the eight Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) functional areas to a single course for primary emphasis. That course would expose students to most of the PMBOK material in that functional area. Other courses were assigned as supporting courses that would provide additional or closely related coverage. Also, because students would be completing the curricula over a one-to-two year period, ESI elected to provide a concentrated, two-to-three day PMBOK refresher workshop. Students would attend the workshop shortly before taking the PMP exam.

The workshop would include review lectures and representative tests developed by ESI.


ESI/GWU began presenting Federal Systems courses in July 1989 and courses for the commercial audience in May 1990. Both programs are voluntary for project managers and open to other employees.

The initial response to the curricula has been overwhelming. Through early July 1990, 500 employees have registered for courses in the Federal Systems program, with 130 project managers enrolled in the entire series leading to the Masters Certificate. ESI/GWU have presented 800 student-weeks of instruction, with an additional 950 student-weeks requested. The first group of Federal Systems employees are expected to complete the program in the fall of 1990 and receive their Masters Certificates at a special AT&T awards banquet.

About 200 employees have registered for the newer commercial program, with 60 project managers enrolled in the entire core series to earn the Masters Certificate. Through July 1990, 120 student-weeks have been delivered, with an additional 500 student-weeks requested.

Although it is too early to assess program results in terms of on-the-job performance, students’ reactions indicate that they are carrying away a great deal of value from the courses. Virtually all students have indicated they would recommend each course to other AT&T managers. Student comments include:

  • AT&T needs an infusion of theory and academia, tempered with practicality and experience; exactly what this course delivers.
  • Actual professional insights into major projects provided valuable reinforcement.
  • I wonder how we were able to play in the marketplace without this knowledge.
  • I will use what I learned in this course every day.

The Masters programs clearly are beginning to achieve the goals of building project managers’ morale and increasing their visibility within the corporation. Functional managers who work with project managers have begun taking courses in the curricula, leading to better communication and more understanding of each others’ roles. Among employees enrolled in the Federal Systems program, 15 percent are technical managers and 9 percent are account executives.

The development programs have also raised the professional aspirations of AT&T project managers. Before the programs, only nine AT&T employees were certified PMPs. A 1990 survey of project managers in the Federal Systems curriculum indicated that 84 percent intended to pursue PMP certification.


To the authors’ knowledge, this program is the first of its kind, a milestone in advancing the state-of-the-art in corporate project management education. Early lessons applicable to future corporate educational efforts in project management include the following:

  • Learning activities need to be relevant, but not too narrowly oriented to current corporate practices. Students desire new perspectives on how to accomplish their responsibilities.
  • Classes should bring together a cross-section of managers with varying experience levels and diverse talents, along with an instructor skilled at engaging them in productive problem-solving. This enables students to incorporate aspects of their peers’ styles and skills into their own approaches to project management.
  • Students especially value courses that address the human dimension of project management.
  • Students respond most enthusiastically to and learn best through hands-on, participatory learning activities.
  • Classes should include ample opportunity for students to collaboratively work through their own past and present “real life” project management situations to gain student consultation and instructor advice.

Above all, the effort has shown that a demonstrated corporate commitment to developing project managers can imbue them with a sense of pride and with the belief that project management is truly a career-enhancing field. Imagine the effect of a March 1990 letter from J. P. Butter, president of AT&T Business Communications Systems, and Gordon Bridge, president of AT&T Computer Systems, introducing the corporate curriculum to 12,000 AT&T management employees:

AT&T promises its customers integrated solutions that are tailored to their requirements and superior in both conception and execution, To fulfill that promise, we are committed to developing and supporting the best project managers in the industry.


Neal Hart has 25 years of service with AT&T including managing the implementation of large telecommunication systems at customer locations. He was instrumental in developing the strategy that assigned project management responsibility on large PBX implementations within the Services organizations at AT&T. During the past two years be has managed the headquarters group responsible for the organization structure, methods and procedures, education and general direction of the project management group within Business Communications Systems at AT&T.

Mr. Hart is an active member in the Project Management Institute and a member of the Mile-Hi (Denver, CO) Chapter. He is presenting a paper at the annual PMI Seminar/Symposium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Mr. Hart earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arkansas and is currently enrolled in a master certificate program for project management at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


October 1990



Related Content

  • PM Network

    Spread the Word member content open

    By Howlett, Sarah Protzman Few places in Australia draw more visitors than the country's second largest city, Melbourne. But leaders of the greater Melbourne region weren't about to take that popularity for granted. That's…

  • Project Management Journal

    Improving multiproject management by using a queuing theory approach member content locked

    By Levy, Nino | Globerson, Shlomo Managing a multiproject environment is not just a summation of management efforts required for single projects. It requires the use of additional insight and tools. This is especially true in…