Project Management Institute

Learning curve

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Learning Curve

WHETHER IT'S LEARNING the ropes through training courses and mentors or hitting the books to study up on theory and research, project management education is on the rise. Almost half of the 364 project management practitioners surveyed in the State of Project Management 2006 had participated in some formal project management training. The study was conducted by the Center for Business Practices, Havertown, Pa., USA.

Lynda Bourne, PMP, DPM, Mosaic Project Services, South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and Alphronzo Moseley, the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Acquisition University in Fort Belvoir, Va., USA, discuss whether today's project management education and training curriculum deserves a passing grade.

Are universities and training providers offering the classes that project managers need?

Mr. Moseley: Yes and no. At the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), we provide certification courses in the functional areas of acquisition management—contracting, finance, testing, evaluation, logistics and engineering—as well as certification and statutory courses in program management. But we still have a ways to go to better prepare program and project managers for the kind of jobs they're going to be faced with once they finish taking their respective courses. Although DAU provides a decent curriculum that project managers need, we can do a better job in the areas of leadership and negotiation. Many of our project managers are going out there and falling flat on their faces because they don't have the skills to lead their teams effectively. Negotiation—especially teaching when to engage in negotiations and how to know you've achieved what you've set out to achieve—is another weak area. Everything a project or program manager does is based on negotiation skills.

Dr. Bourne: In Australia, we find that when graduates come from university, they believe they know everything about project management but in reality they're quite raw in knowing how to deal with people and conflict and understanding how to work within an organization's political environment. I don't think universities can teach that.

Mr. Moseley: If I can jump in here, that's an area where I have a bit of disagreement. Universities can teach it. However, there has to be some supplemental mentoring as part of that practice. In my mind, project or program management is not a science, it's an art. When you have mentors to participate in courses, that's where you get the most “bang for the buck.”

Dr. Bourne: Having the skills to do schedules and budgets is what I call craft. The art that you're referring to is what I call leadership proactive risk management and dealing with political situations—and that's partly the responsibility of the university and partly of the project management profession. I have set up apprenticeship schemes in organizations so people who want to be project managers—whether they have degrees from universities or come from some technical specialty—are actually working with experienced project managers supported by internal coaching and mentoring schemes. The project management field also needs to step up to the mark for ongoing project management education.

points of view

Lynda Bourne, PHP, DPM, is director of training at Mosaic Project Services, South Melbourne, Australia. She was the first person at Melbourne, Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology—and quite possibly in the world—to earn a doctor of project management degree.

Alphronzo Moseley is a professor of program management for the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Acquisition University, Fort Belvoir, Va., USA. A recently retired military colonel, he has more than 26 years of experience in managing acquisition programs for the U.S. Air Force Academy and currently serves on the PMI Global Corporate Council.

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In pursuing a professional doctorate, I was able to expose myself to theory that fit my own professional experiences and to pursue research in an area that I felt was very important:
relationships in projects.

—Lynda Bourne, PMP, DPM, Mosaic Project Services, South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Are project management practitioners more likely to seek out universities or training programs?

Dr. Bourne: It depends on where the individual is in his or her career life cycle. In Australia and New Zealand, we're finding a surge of interest in project management accreditation training such as the Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential. However, the situation is quite different in South East Asia. Project managers there are still struggling to understand the basic aspects of project management. So it depends a lot on the country, the industry and the individual.

Mr. Moseley: Program and project managers are more likely to seek out training programs. When you think of a university, theory is what primarily comes to mind. Yes, DAU is a university, but we are practitioners and not educators in that we don't teach too much theory here, and completing coursework does not lead to a master's or doctoral degree. Rather than going to a university and listening to someone with a Ph.D. talk about theory, program managers are more likely to seek out training where there are practitioners. Training programs shorten the learning curve, so project managers can learn the craft pretty quickly in terms of being mentored by individuals who have actually worked in the field.

Dr. Bourne, you received a doctorate in project management. Has the effort paid off?

Dr. Bourne: I've been in project management for 20 years and before that in IT, so I was at a time in my career where I wanted to take some time for reflection. In pursuing a professional doctorate, I was able to expose myself to theory that fit my own professional experiences and to pursue research in an area that I felt was very important: relationships in projects. The doctoral degree has given me more knowledge and credibility in project management to start moving down the relationship-side path of project management. It's easier to to control schedules and project scope, but it's still very hard to deal with the people. The doctorate has given me a whole new perspective to move forward and to raise the bar for the profession.

Mr. Moseley, do you think a doctorate in project management is worth pursuing?

Mr. Moseley: Absolutely not. Based on my 26 years of program management experience, the way you gain credibility is to actually do it. In fact, I've been told by not just one but several of my mentors: “The way you learn project management is you have to get in and fail. Once you fail at it, then you learn all the things you should have done right and you become good at it.” Hats off to Lynda for having the wherewithal and the initiative to pursue her degree, but the way you gain credibility is to practice project management versus spending “x” number of years pursing a doctoral degree.

Dr. Bourne: Clearly, that's Al's own personal point of view, but there may be some cultural differences—whether it's the difference between the culture of the United States and Australia or the military versus business—on the concept of failure. Certainly people will fail, and they do learn from failure, but understanding why they've failed is probably more important than just failing. The culture that I work in tries to approach failure in a blameless environment where people can learn and not necessarily take things personally.

What trends do you see driving project management training and education in the future?

Dr. Bourne: In Australia, there's a large group of “gray hairs” who learned project management the hard way. At the same time, a large number of graduates from universities are entering the field. As the gray hairs are ready to retire, they need to be given the opportunity to mentor the younger group on how to be successful in the current work environment. On the same note, graduates need to approach the gray hairs to find out about managing projects in the cultural climate of the business world.

Mr. Moseley: One of things we're focusing on at DAU is delivering acquisition training to what we call “the point of need.” A certification course may last up to 10 weeks, and supervisors cannot always let their project managers be away for so long. We recognize that not all program managers can participate in in-residence training, so we've established distance learning. We've challenged ourselves to be more of a conduit for online training to ensure that program managers become the best they can be. At the end of the day, project managers must deliver capability. If they can't deliver capability, somebody who can will replace them.

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Rather than going to a university and listening to someone with a Ph.D. talk about theory, program managers are more likely to seek out training where there are practitioners.

—Alphronzo Moseley, Defense Acquisition University, Fort Belvoir, Va., USA

Dr. Bourne: We both agree on the principles of project management, but our approaches are quite different, but isn't that great? The real issue is how we as a profession can support project managers as they seek continued improvement from lifelong learning. PM

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.

PM NETWORK | JANUARY 2007 | WWW.PMI.ORG

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