I don't have time for training...I'm a project manager!
by Laura L. Adams, PMP
WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT for the project manager's continued training and education? Is it the employer or the individual?
It has been argued that in today's competitive environment the responsibility for being educated and trained lies with the individual. If you want a challenging project, you have to have the credentials to get it. If you don't have the credentials, someone else out there does. It also can be argued that it is the company's responsibility to provide access to training for employees, but it is the individual's responsibility to take advantage of what is offered.
Whether an organization sponsors the training or an individual chooses to pay for furthering his or her own education, it is up to the individual to take ownership of the learning process; to determine the gap between where the individual is and where he or she needs to be. Regardless of who pays the tab, the educational goals for the students and the challenges they face are basically the same.
In the past, organizations could choose from a menu of project managers—either in-house or via contracting. Candidates were evaluated on past performance, but there were few or no formal credentials to demonstrate their skill levels.
In the current environment, the rapidly increasing rate of technological and social change brings with it more complex, often riskier projects requiring more skilled project managers. Because the environment is more competitive—a company's very existence may rely on key projects—industry cannot afford failed projects. Industry needs solid, measurable credentials to help in the selection of project managers who can be expected to get the job done right.
Laura Adams, PMP, MPM, is a project management consultant and an adjunct online instructor for Western Carolina University's Department of Continuing Education and Distance Learning. While her project management focus has been telecommunications, computer network integration and n-tier software development projects, her specialty is virtual project management. She is an active member of PMI® and has held chapter board positions with the WCU Student Chapter and the Phoenix Chapter.
Educational Goals for Project Management Students: Online Solutions
Exhibit 1. This exhibit outlines the many educational goals of the practicing project manager and explains how online education can meet these goals.
Challenges of Project Management Education Programs: Online Solutions
Exhibit 2. Project managers face a variety of challenges to getting the training they need. Online programs can be the answer.
With the introduction of the PMP® certification and the development of degree programs and training certificates in project management, project managers now have a way to demonstrate their abilities. As a consequence, they have been driven to achieve these credentials. People who have earned degrees in project management and/or have attained PMP status are in high demand.
In the Project Management Market, Supply Rarely Meets Demand. Even as the demand for PMPs and educated project managers increases, the project management community is having a difficult time keeping up. Why? One reason: There are not enough experienced/educated project managers in the pool to manage the increasing number of higher-complexity projects being initiated every year. And that reason is exacerbated by the fact that project managers typically don't have the time for training and furthering their skills—they are too busy managing projects!
Most project managers rarely are afforded the downtime to study and train. They are busily balancing an over-capacity workload that includes inspecting onsite, renting cars, hopping planes between project and client sites, checking on suppliers, expediting current work, coordinating their teams, and working late hours in hotels. They don't have the time to sit in a classroom for three hours every Tuesday evening, or take off a week or more to sit through offsite training, let alone commit to a fixed schedule for the two years needed to pursue higher education. We should make a project manager nonbillable for a week? I don't think so! That hits squarely at the bottom line! Many companies will state that they want their employees developed and trained…but not at the expense of their revenue.
The program should be designed so that classroom activities can be integrated into the participants’ real work.
OK, We Need Credentials. How Do We Earn Them? The PMP is still, by far, the most widely accepted credential in the project management field. There are two ways a person can prepare for the PMP. He can cram exam questions and memorize answers, or he can study and comprehend the foundational concepts of project management so that the answers to the questions simply are part of his working base of knowledge.
Obviously, a person who is truly interested in being a career-professional project manager needs that foundation, that cross-industry vocabulary, that mindset. What this requires is a very intensive, faculty-based program that is committed to educating individuals, not just training them to take an exam. Most consulting companies cannot make the kind of faculty commitment for their onsite training that is necessary to provide the faculty-based program. Their requirement to be billable leads to the typical onsite three- to five-day training program with a highly compressed curriculum for 15–25 students. The pressure is to collect their money and go on to the next class. This method of instruction typically leads to teaching exam-taking techniques.
The Goals of the Project Manager/Student. Regardless of the approach selected by the project manager, the goals and challenges remain the same, and programs exist online that are designed to help satisfy these goals. Exhibit 1 outlines the typical student's educational goals and demonstrates how the traditional online training program attempts to satisfy those goals. It also demonstrates what is considered a higher-quality, faculty-oriented educational program that can be designed to meet those goals. Similarly, Exhibit 2 outlines the typical project manager's challenges in getting professional development education and outlines how the traditional online training approach attempts to satisfy these challenges. In addition, it compares this traditional approach to what can be accomplished by higher-quality, online, faculty-intensive educational programs.
Typical Online Training: Can It Meet Your Needs? So let's get into the nuts and bolts of online training. It is a viable solution to the schedule and timing challenges inherent in educating a project manager. However, online training can be defined as many things. One type of training is logging into a site, downloading a presentation-type lesson and flipping through it at your leisure. This self-paced computer-based training may deliver the needed content, but there is no interaction between students and faculty or students and other students. This may be acceptable for certain types of learners with certain objectives and may work for someone who has a lot of free time or a photographic memory, but how much information is truly retained? Sometimes online training isn't as successful as one would hope.
Online Education: There is a Difference. Professional, university-style educational programs do not have to be this way. First, there can be a true class of students within the virtual classroom, where people interact with each other and teams work together on a regular basis for a full 15-week semester.
Second, the class size should be limited to 25-or-fewer students to ensure that appropriate levels of interaction occur. This would broaden the perspective of students and help them form a support network for learning activities, which is particularly critical to effective distance learning. Third, the instructor or professor for the class can (and should) act as a mentor to guide individuals and teams through their learning processes. The responsibility of learning rests upon the individuals, but the instructor should be there as a resource for questions, evaluations, critiques, and further, more in-depth study and discussion. Fourth, the program should be designed to be accomplished on a part-time basis so that classroom activities can be integrated into the participants’ real work.
This approach can allow students to evaluate their own organization's existing systems and processes in light of the material studied. This in turn allows the students to introduce new ideas and tools into their project teams, evaluate the results, and incorporate successful experiences into their (and their employers’) existing project management toolset, which can provide a major learning asset for everyone involved. The result can be an ongoing, gradual, steadily increasing quality of performance, not just for the project managers, but for their projects as well. This equates to a continuously improving quality of performance for the organizations’ projects as the course progresses.
ONLINE PROGRAMS EXIST that are specifically designed to incorporate high-quality learning concepts into the project manager's educational process. If your goal is to become a better project manager and enhance your organization's ability to manage complex projects, take a good look at online education-based programs, and see if the concepts discussed here are included in the program structure. Whether you choose to pursue a master's degree in project management, participate in a PMP review course, or implement a training program designed to improve the corporation's project management skills, programs are available to help you fulfill your goals. For one example, check out Western Carolina University's program at http://cess.wcu.edu. Once you are onsite, click on “Distance Learning,” then click on “Online Master of Project Management” or “Online Certificate PMP Preparation Course.” ■
October 2000 PM Network