Learning curve


by Carol Hil


When it comes to hot trends in project management training and education, the short answer is: It all depends on where you work. Project management as a structured career choice is at varying states of development world-wide—and training and education developments reflect those differences.

Ron Kempf, PMP, sees these disparities first-hand as director of project management competency at HP Services, Commerce Township, Mich., USA. He's responsible for building the company's weeklong training courses, known as Project Management University (PMU). Each year, the company holds two in the Americas, one in Asia Pacific and one in Europe, with content targeted to regional demands.

In North America and Europe, the company is “moving toward more higher-end classes because a lot of the project managers have that core stuff,” Mr. Kempf says. Heading into Asia Pacific and Latin America, however, the project managers aren't as senior, and they're working on smaller and less sophisticated projects, so the company uses a blend of basic and advanced training.

There aren't enough doctoral supervisors out there in project management, because in the past there haven't been many people in the programs, and now there's a huge demand.

–Lynn Crawford, DBA, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Some regions clearly are further along the learning curve than others, but there are some universal trends.

The Basics

Even with the explosive growth of project management, “there's still a huge market for the fundamentals,” says Mike Price, Ph.D., PMI's manager of accreditation programs. “PMI estimates there are 16.5 million project managers in the world, and we've probably only reached two to three million.”

New people are always coming into project management and they're hungry for the basics, says Lynn Crawford, DBA, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. She also is a professor of project management at the ESC Lille Graduate School of Management in Lille, France. “Companies are searching for things like improved skills in planning, control, estimating and initiation, but increasingly they are looking for improved soft or social skills.”

Core courses also appeal to those who have been around for a while. “Even people who are experienced project managers and really capable will often take the fundamentals course to understand the standard terms and concepts,” Dr. Price says.

Back to School

On the other end of the spectrum, there's a “very strong demand” for graduate-level project management coursework, says John Cable, PMP, director of the project management program at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md., USA. U.S. companies “put a real premium” on it, he says.

Dr. Crawford sees this split as a natural outcome of the growth of project management as a career choice. “Young people want to get onto the project management track, and you have people who have been in it for a while and want to get qualifications to support their experience, which is where we see the enormous increase in doctoral work,” she says. “There aren't enough doctoral supervisors out there in project management, because in the past there haven't been many people in the programs, and now there's a huge demand.”

Colleges and universities are ramping up their programs in response, Dr. Price says. “We've identified about 200 universities offering degree programs, primarily master's degrees, in project management worldwide,” he says. “We think this is going to increase rapidly.”

Get Certified

Much training is focused on helping people earn certification. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, most people are looking for help earning their Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, says Mounir Ajam, PMP, CEO of SUKAD FZ LLC, a project management consultancy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “We're maybe four or five years behind.”

PM College, a project management training provider in Redington Shores, Fla., USA, recently introduced a prep course for people seeking PMI's Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) certification. Aimed at project team members and entry-level project managers, the class includes lectures, practical exercises and a CAPM exam simulation.

“Organizations are increasingly adopting project management as a formal career path, and CAPM certification is a proactive way to develop competent project managers who will serve as tomorrow's star project performers,” says Jimmie West, Ph.D., dean of PM College.


Another trend has less to do with content than in the way it's presented. More and more corporations are working with universities and training companies to craft custom project management courses.

“We're doing a lot of it,” Dr. Crawford says. For example, the University of Technology is working with Australia's Defense Materiel Organization to deliver specialized education and training for the group, which provisions the country's armed forces. The program consists of five project management pathways: logistics, IT, systems, engineering and business. “People can get the kind of training they need,” she says. “The focus is on pathways that recognize prior learning, provide workplace-relevant education and academic qualifications. Both Rolls-Royce and Shell are working with consortia of academic institutions to deliver relevant project management education to their staff.”

who needs what?

To determine the type of training needed, companies must develop a method of assessing each employee's skill set.

Although there are plenty of third-party assessment tools available, many companies develop their own. HP Services, for example, created a custom tool that uses knowledge areas from A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) as well as HP-specific requirements, such as project financial management. The model describes tasks in different knowledge areas that each level of project manager should be able to perform.

“The project manager completes an assessment by rating his or her own ability to do each of the tasks,” says Ron Kempf, PMP, HP Services. After a manager provides his or her assessment, those results are compared with the project manager's, and they agree on an assessment for each topic area. Areas for improvement are identified and then courses or other activities, such as literature, are suggested. “Once you determine the topic areas to improve in, it helps make developmental decisions easier,” he says.

Those organizations without internal methods to assess project management competencies can look to third-party vendors. PMI offers a free service that broadcasts requests for proposals to a network of more than 750 PMI-approved Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.s) in 55 countries. “Many R.E.P.s have developed assessment instruments and specialized training, and our service can help you connect to them,” says PMI's Mike Price, Ph.D.

On-Demand Education

Who needs a classroom? These days, many students are learning about project management via the web, teleconferencing and videoconferencing.

“Virtual training is a different way of getting education to people,” says Ron Kempf, PMP, HP Services. “If you're assigned to a project next month and there are no regular classes being taught, this is a flexible way to get education.”

Responding to high demand, the University of Maryland inaugurated an online project management master's program last semester, says John Cable, PMP, director of the new program. Lectures were recorded in 12 different classes, which the students then watch, using Blackboard software as a course management tool. Virtual students see the same lecture as the campus crowd, and small groups check in with the instructor via weekly teleconferences. The first semester's quota was filled, and Mr. Cable says he expects the same for the next one.


While virtual training and education has promise, it may not be for everyone. Deciding whether or not it's the right learning mode depends on a variety of factors. Some people have no choice based on their geographical location—for them, virtual learning is a terrific option.

Other students need the structure of face-to-face classes, however. “A lot of people can't study by distance,” says Lynn Crawford, DBA, University of Technology. “They enroll, get materials and never complete the work. There's a huge drop-off.” Other students have a problem meeting the demands of some virtual programs that call for “block attendance,” in which students travel to campus for a week of classes four times a year.

The best chance for success may be to mix and match virtual with traditional learning. “Coming together and having contact with other people is an important part of learning,” she says. “Training can be facilitated virtually, but there's never a replacement for face-to-face.”

Mr. Kempf also depends on third-party vendors to deliver content for each of his PMU courses. At a training session held last April in Chicago, Ill., USA, the company offered six different topic tracks:

  1. 1. Project financial management
  2. 2. Rapid assessment of troubled projects
  3. 3. Applied scheduling and cost control
  4. 4. Requirements management
  5. 5. Negotiation skills
  6. 6. Senior project management.

The tracks were determined based on a survey of business managers in the Americas. Because this particular PMU was attended by more senior project managers, HP opted for more advanced coursework.

An experienced financial manager at the company taught the project financial management course, while a European colleague handled the applied scheduling and cost control. “He is in the process of training others to teach it, too,” Mr. Kempf says.

Vendors taught the other four, however. HP develops courses internally for topics that need to be tailored to the company's needs and methodologies, he says, but for the most part, “our approach is to outsource as much training as possible.”

Cross Training

As companies draw from resources around the world, project leaders must learn how to manage cross-cultural and distributed teams. “It's not a terribly new topic, but it seems to be a hot one,” Dr. Price says.

“This is one of the major things keeping me awake now,” Mr. Kempf says. “We ran a PMU last February in Athens [Greece], and one of the sessions was a daylong talk about what it is we need to know and do in a global project.”

Mr. Kempf currently is developing a global management course to cover how to deal with different cultures as well as legal and trade issues. HP plans to offer it as part of the PMU and via on-demand virtual modules that can be customized by specific country needs. “You can drill down to a specific country, so if you're working with India, you can take a course geared specifically toward Indian culture,” he says.

Overall, the training and education opportunities out there are as diverse as project managers themselves. PM

Carol Hildebrand is a freelance writer based in Wellesley, Mass., USA. A former senior editor at CIO magazine, she has appeared in Darwin, Computerworld and other publications.




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