Project Management Institute

A master of project management degree program grows

Concerns of Project Managers


O. John Skubiak, Keller Graduate School of Management, Chicago, Illinois

In less than three years, a unique, practitioner-oriented degree program designed specifically for working adults, taught by working professionals, and based on the PMI PMBOK has grown into one of the largest project management degree programs in the United States.

Keller Graduate School of Management began offering its Master of Project Management (MPM) degree in September 1991. Starting with 78 students, it now has approximately 500 students, and expects to have 600 in September. In fact, MPM students now account for almost a quarter of all new students at Keller, a percentage that has grown each term since the program began.

In addition to the MPM, Keller offers master's degrees in business administration and human resource management. The school has six locations in Chicago, two each in Atlanta, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Kansas City, and one each in St. Louis and Los Angeles. A second center will open in Long Beach, California, in September.

The establishment of the field of project management graduate education is quite recent. In the past, project managers learned how to manage time, cost and quality on the job—usually in the military, where modern project management had its genesis. Today, with the reorganization of business and the need for project managers in new fields such as information systems, there is an explosive demand for trained project managers.

The demand for managers is matched by the demand for project management education, according to instructor Donald Martin, who also is president of the Georgia PMI Chapter. “One of the things we found in the chapter here is that the interest in the pursuit of project management skills has just exploded in the last two or three years,” Martin says. In addition to managing the tripling of his chapter's membership during that period, Martin has responded to an average of ten phone calls per week from persons interested in project management education and Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

Until Keller began offering its MPM degree program in Atlanta, there was no graduate program in that area for the scores of persons interested in pursuing master's degrees.

Student Danna Guffey, contract administrator at Fairbanks Morse Pumps, develops proficiency with PM software under the direction of instructor Lavon Winkler, general manager of the DuPont Group at Butler Manufacturing

Student Danna Guffey, contract administrator at Fairbanks Morse Pumps, develops proficiency with PM software under the direction of instructor Lavon Winkler, general manager of the DuPont Group at Butler Manufacturing.

That also was true of Chicago, where Pran Patel searched for more than a year to find a master's degree program in project management before discovering that Keller had just begun offering such a degree. Patel, who credits his MPM studies as a factor in his recent promotion to project engineer for Abbott Laboratories, has project managers reporting to him as he oversees the construction of a pharmaceutical plant.

“I was looking for a practitioner-based program where I could get hands-on experience and share experiences with other people. I wasn't looking for what I call theoretical knowledge, although it's helpful; I was looking for more of a practical approach. The instructors all have experience in the industry and are knowledgeable,” Patel says.

Application of MPM Coursework Leads to New Industry Standard

When the first AH-64 “C” Longbow Apache Helicopter made its maiden flight on January 19, it set a new standard in aviation. The helicopter's flight management system-consolidating into one box functions previously performed by seven “black boxes”—was ready in just 17 months. The previous standard had been 36 months.

“This new system saves about 30 pounds of aircraft weight and in excess of $50,000, as well as being more reliable and more maintainable,” says Bruce Barren, who headed the project for McDonnell Douglas. “This system was successfully implemented as a result of a number of the classes I had at Keller; with portions of the project being used for term projects in a number of these classes.”

Barron is pursuing his Master of Project Management degree at Keller Graduate School of Management in Phoenix. Keller's practitioner-oriented method of instruction emphasizes the application of management theory to real-life situations. As such, students sometimes seek solutions to challenges in their workplace as class projects.

Using information acquired at Keller, Bruce Barron (below) set new standards in saving time and money while improving a helicopter flight management system. The project was so successful the Army wants to apply the management system to producing an entire aircraft

Using information acquired at Keller, Bruce Barron (below) set new standards in saving time and money while improving a helicopter flight management system. The project was so successful the Army wants to apply the management system to producing an entire aircraft.


One such class project, prepared by Barron for his “Managing Software Development Projects” class, resulted in McDonnell Douglas eliminating four to eight weeks of flight-testing replacement “black boxes” by testing them in the lab instead.

“I looked at a way to compare in the lab the new system with previous systems on the aircraft. I put together a specific set of test plans for running the new box versus the old boxes with the same set of inputs to them and the outputs matched each other perfectly. By doing this, and showing in the lab that the new system was identical to the old system, I didn't have to go through much of the flight testing that had previously been required.”

“It's saving the government a lot of money. But more important than the money is the schedule. With the milestones that have to be met in order for the program to remain viable, it's allowing us to meet those schedules with a lot lower risk,” Barron says.

Barron attributes the time reduction on the overall project to the establishment of an integrated product development team—a revolutionary organizational concept for this type of project—which brought together everyone involved at the beginning and kept them involved throughout the project.

But even before the project began, Barron was laying the groundwork for positive working relationships. With 25 years experience as a design engineer and ten years experience as a project manager, Barron had previously prepared technical papers for contract negotiations but had not been involved in the actual negotiation.

“Because of what I learned in ‘Contract and Procurement Management,’ I wound up writing most of the terms and conditions for the proposal and, since I wrote them, I was the one who got to negotiate them.”

Barron says that mock negotiations conducted in class gave him a better understanding of how to negotiate, what to look for, and how to structure offers. This allowed him to negotiate a settlement advantageous to both parties “as opposed to more traditional negotiations where one of the parties comes away feeling he got cheated,” Barron observes.

“This way, both sides come out feeling good and maintain a good work relationship for the next several years.”

The positive relationships extended throughout the integrated product development team. “A true Total Quality program was set up with teams including the customer (a division of the U.S. Army), the customer's audit agencies, ourselves, our supplier and their suppliers,” says Barron.

The program was set up so that everyone was involved in the original design, had a contribution to the project, shared responsibility for the outcome, and remained part of the team until the total project was completed.

“This was possible by incorporating much of what I learned in ‘Human Behavior in Organizations’ and ‘Managing Quality,’” reports Barron. “Everyone was trained to look at the big picture. We all focused on the end goal and refused to let outdated policies and standard bureaucracies get in the way.”

The result was so outstanding that the government wants McDonnell Douglas to expand its use. Notes Barron, “We're getting ready October 1 to transition to production aircraft. Because of the success we had on this phase, the Army directed us to use a similar type approach for the entire aircraft rather than just this little subsystem.”

Fellow Chicagoan Sue Gorski, a senior project manager for Hollister, Inc., manages the fabrication of medical devices. “Unless you're a project manager, you don't realize the complexities. A project manager as a teacher can understand and balance theory with the real world,” says Gorski.

Gorski was interested in pursuing an MPM instead of an MBA degree because she didn't feel an MBA addressed the specific management skills she required.

“My philosophy is that, if you're going to get an MBA, then you need to go do business or marketing. Otherwise, the MBA loses its value as long as you stay technical because you don't exercise the theory into practice.”

According to a focus group conducted in March for Keller, many students share Gorski's opinion and report they would not be pursuing graduate management degrees were the MPM unavailable. They embraced the concept of the project management degree because it was more technically oriented and it didn't paint them with the same brush with which MBA's were painted.

The MPM program was designed to meet the specific needs of project managers under the direction of Keller's vice president of academic affairs, Patrick L. Mayers. “We started designing it by talking to people in industry, which led us to PMI and the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) as a reflection of what professionals were doing,” says Mayers.

The 13-course curriculum was based on a combination of basic business courses and the PMBOK. Courses include topics such as managing quality, human behavior in organizations, and project estimating and control. Classes are taught by business professionals who stress the application of management theory, incorporate project management software into the classes, and complete the program with a capstone course requiring simulated management of a project.

Classes are held one night per week or on Saturday mornings. Each class lasts ten weeks. With five terms per year, the average student completes the MPM in two-and-a-half to three years. In addition, MPM students may take PMI's Project Management Professional certification test at Keller.

“The instructors bring to the classroom their ongoing experience and a commitment to and interest in teaching working adults who have real-world needs of their own in terms of their jobs and professional growth. The result is a relationship between a teacher and students that is much more of a facilitation, mentoring, coaching kind of relationship using real-world applications as the context for the teaching,” Mayers says.

Finding project management professionals who hold a minimum of a master's degree and have the skills to teach in this manner is challenging, according to Mayers. There area lot of working professionals who have a desire to share with others and are interested in teaching on a part-time basis. The difficulty comes in finding among that group people who have the time to devote to being highly effective teachers.

One such individual is Milwaukee faculty member David Overbye, who also serves as project management curriculum coordinator. He feels that “project management is afield that is growing up, not so much in the regular academic institutions but more out in the world. A lot of big university engineering departments don't have anything that you could call project management. So a lot of the things that are going on, in PMI for example, are happening out in the world. I have students all the time tell me that the techniques they're learning they're putting to use right away, with success.”

Instructor Lavon R. Winkler, general manager of the DuPont Group at Butler Manufacturing in Kansas City, agrees that students in the MPM program acquire knowledge that translates to functioning successfully in the workplace.

“Here within Butler Construction, and I think within many industries, the expectations of people who hire individuals for project management functions are becoming higher. The individual must really understand the essence of project management and bean effective project manager much earlier in the process.”

Winkler's observation is supported by others who hire project managers. Notes Larry Henderson, vice president of corporate services for Tellabs in Chicago, “What we're looking for is someone who can hit the ground running.”

Keller meets the changing needs of the project management profession by continuously evaluating its MPM program through surveys of the business community and student focus groups. Our research points to more and more demand for technically skilled managers in the future and the MPM program will respond to that. Right now, the MPM program hits the right chord and we believe that it will continue to do so. ❑


O. John Skubiak is dean of Keller Graduate School of Management, one of the largest accredited graduate management schools in the cow-my. Skubiak also serves as vice president of DeVry, Inc., one of the largest private degree-granting educational systems in North America.

Skubiak holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and an M.B.A. from Keller Graduate School of Management. He is a member of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce; Central and Eastern Europe Committee; executive director of the Ukrainian Scouting Organization; and president and founder of the Pobratymy Foundation, Inc.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • July 1994



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