Project management education

a road map to the year 2000


October 1991


Itzhak Wirth
St. Johns University, Jamaica, New York


Not unlike other professional education, successful project management education relies upon a continuous, constructive dialogue between the educational system and the industrial system [18]. Here we offer a brief review consolidating a panel discussion entitled Project Management Education for the Year 2000. The panel included five project management experts representing high-technology manufacturing, construction, pharmaceuticals, information systems, and education. The discussion took place at the 1990 Project Management Institute Seminar /Symposium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A list of references is attached to this article and it includes the panel members, and others who attended and contributed to the discussion.


In a rapidly changing socio-economic environment worldwide, and a corresponding change of the project management context, the questions addressed here are:

  • What are industry's skill-needs in project management for the year 2000?
  • How can the educational system satisfy those needs?


The results of the panel discussion revealed a broad spectrum of ideas, observations, and recommendations for educators in project management. These results were analyzed, and are presented below in a framework of four components:

  • Project management context for the year 2000
  • Industry's skill-needs in project management
  • Audience profile in project management education
  • Delivery methods of project management education directions

The results, we would argue, suggest some new directions for planners and entrepreneurs of project management education programs. As well, the results set a framework for continued deliberations, inclusive of ongoing industry/education dialogue, for refinement and update of project management education in the future.


Four important trends were identified in project-based industries, particularly in construction [2], and likely in other major industries engaged in large-scale projects. These four trends are:

The global market. Project organizations can no longer rely solely on their local markets for revenue generation. Instead, they must compete internationally with growing intensity [5].

Fragmentation within industry. Project-based organizations are growing increasingly fragmented into specialty sub-organizations, each of which is independently subcontracted, thus playing its specialty role in the complex process of project execution. For example, within the construction industry, owners, suppliers, designers, architects, trade contractors, general contractors and others, are increasingly autonomous [2].

Multi-project management. The vision of an organization engaging in single mega-project management is no longer realistic in industry's mainstream. Organizations must be equipped with multi-project management capabilities in order to survive, thrive and succeed [1].

Project management technology. Computerized managerial tools, techniques and decision support systems are rapidly spreading to match a growing variety of needs [1]. Also, computer systems induce change and improvement in the management and quality of communications in the organization.


In lieu of the above trends, important changes in industry's skill-needs and the project manager's professional profile are anticipated during the course of this decade. These changes encompass three areas:

Integrative/interface management. The project management professional is first and foremost an integrator [1] The project manager is particularly conscientious of the diversity in skill profiles among individuals and groups participating in the same project. This diversity is growing [2] and consequently integration occupies a growing share of the project management professional's overall attention and responsibility. Project Management turns into Integrative, or possibly Interface, Management [1].

Integrative management, and the integrator, are employed at all hierarchy levels; at the multiproject level, mega-project management level, as well as in medium size and very small projects, or sub-projects. Integrative management is composed of vaguely defined skill areas, including coordinating and facilitating [1], communicating [4, 13], planning [1, 13], and conflict resolution [2]. Everybody involved in the project must learn and be proficient in these areas [4].

Boundary-spanning management. Emerging socioeconomic environments for the year 2000 include three important forces: globalized markets and intensified competition, organized consumer groups with growing influence politically and in the marketplace, and regulatory requirements that must be incorporated in project planning, particularly in new product development so common in the pharmaceuticals industry [3].

Table 1. Audience Distribution Trend Among Various Project Management Programs

Ref. No. Audience Characteristic High School UnderGraduate Master's Program Short Seminar
1 No academic or industrial experience X X    
2 No industrial experience     X  
3 Diverse industrial experience     X  
4 Diverse academic experience     X  
5 Small projects experience     X X
6 Large projects experience     X X
7 Long industrial experience       X

The project management professional will be increasingly preoccupied by the need to deal with these forces on behalf of his project organization. This will place the project management professional at the boundaries separating the project organization from other organizations and from its socioeconomic environment. Thus, more of the project management professional's time and attention will be allocated to this “boundary-spanning management” at the expense of the project organization's internal affairs management. This trend is expected to continue throughout the decade.

Technical core management. As allocation of responsibility and attention to integrative management and boundary-spanning management increase, “technical core management” [17], inclusive of the use of more standardized tools, techniques, and procedures, would tend to be delegated to specialized support staff. For example, scheduling using activity networks, cash flow analyses, financial reporting, and quality control processes, would increasingly utilize computerized processing expertise. Technical core management, more easily than other areas of project management, is programmable, and the need for direct involvement and work-time of the project management professional would be relatively small.


Project management educational programs are aimed at all project participants and are designed to produce “project management professionals: not necessarily “project managers” [2, 4]. Table 1 describes the distribution of audience envisioned for the coming years among various program types.

Three distinctive audiences for project management education emerge in Table 1.

First the audience with no academic background or work experience in project management (see characteristic 1 in Table 1); an audience most prevalent in the high school [12] and the undergraduate college and university level [2, 9]. Some project management concepts and applications could be presented in the high school program, similar to the need for the introduction of certain accounting concepts and concepts of law [12]. In addition, undergraduate college and university programs should expose students to project management applications relevant to their various departmental majors and specialties (e.g., civil engineering and construction, industrial engineering and management, performing arts administration, physical education, health administration, business administration, and others) [2, 9].

The second audience is diverse, including a mix of varied academic and work experience in project management [5], such as small project work experience [1, 4, 5, 15], large project work experience [2, 4] as well as no practical experience (see characteristics 2 through 6, in Table 1). The majority of this audience category is found at the graduate level, master's programs designed for full-time day study or part-time evening study. Necessarily, the diversity of this audience produces “generic” project management learning, with possible comparative study of project management across industries. In general, the university it is more difficult to provide “industry-specific” education or “project-specific” education for this audience category [5].

The third audience is distinguished by a relatively long work experience, including the in-depth practical knowledge of a single industry (e.g., construction, pharmaceuticals, utilities, information systems, etc.), or a long work experience in a single project type (e.g., small, large-scale, R&D, etc.). This audience category is found in the short seminar setting of project management education, mostly interested in “industry-specific” or “project-specific” learning [4, 5, 14, 15]. As shown in Table 1, this latter audience overlaps with the graduate level master's program audience (see characteristics 5, 6, and 7, in Table 1).


Delivery methods of project management education vary primarily with respect to the form of instructor/student interaction, and with respect to the extent to which flexibility in instruction scheduling is permitted. A range of delivery methods is currently in use with a number of new methods in the preliminary implementation stage, and others under development.

Traditional delivery is based upon scheduled, face-to-face, instructor/student interaction. This format is most often found in full-time academic degree programs; part-time/evening academic degree programs; university extension certificate programs; corporation in-house programs; on the job training and internship; and short, less than seven days, seminars. These programs remain uniquely suitable for conveying to the student the particular “culture” within the temporary organization and the project life cycle. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, including project site visitation, guest lectures by project management practitioners, simulation of project management in the classroom by means of role-playing, and computer-aided simulation. Among these, the longer term university degree programs remain superior as a basis for a project management career, while the shorter certificate and on-the-job-training programs would meet the specifications of more focused “industry-specific” and “project-specific” needs [2, 4, 7].

Non-traditional delivery methods have emerged in recent years, permitting flexibility in both instructor/student forms of interaction and instruction scheduling. “Distance learning” has experienced success using a combination of videotape, electronic-mail, video-conference, and telephone-conference, for scheduled interaction between student teams around the world, and a single instructor in Washington, D.C. [16]. During the coming years, “distance learning” and “teach-yourself” methods are expected to expand and gain popularity, and incorporate new technologies, including software development, yielding massive additional learning resources, such as database systems interrogation, project management simulation capabilities, and touch-screen technology [1].


The project management professional's profile is becoming more complex, with varied responsibilities. The expectations it must meet are increasing rapidly as we approach the year 2000. Careers in project management, it appears, would be founded on well-rounded educational programs such as academic graduate degree programs which include not only the study of project management tools and techniques and the acquisition of management skills, but also a form of indoctrination into the project management organizational culture and life within the matrix organization. The resulting project management career pattern would cut across industries and exercise the “generic” project management experience.

Other professional careers may employ the project management discipline as a component, a supplement, or an occasional part-time assignment within a given major field of interest or within a commitment to a single industry. Here the more specialized educational programs would be sought, utilizing in-house training and internship programs, and short seminars, producing the “industry-specific” or “project-specific” professional. Should organizations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) initiate educational programs leading to “industry-specific” certification? Or “project-specific” certification? Should PMI administer such programs? Or should it retain an accreditation responsibility only [2]?

The university system is willing and has the facilities to provide for the need of industries for “industry-specific” programs, but financing is lacking [5]. Should industries engage in the financing of “industry-specific” education at the university?

What form of administration is most suitable to deal with the financial/ accreditation/educational issues for success?

Industry/education forums should continue to discuss these and additional questions in the future.


The author wishes to thank Stacey A. Della Femina for her editorial assistance.


Panel Members*

1. Archibald, Russell D. President, Archibald Associates, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

2. Brunies,Regula A. Vice President, Revay and Associates, Ltd., Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

3. Kirchof, Nicki S. Project Administrator, Pfizer, Inc. New York, New York, U.S.A.

4. Levine, Harvey A. Principal, The Project Knowledge Group, Clifton Park, New York, U.S.A.

5. Menard, Pierre M. Director, MPM Program, University du Quebec, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


6. Curling, David. Principal Consultant, Loday Systems, Ltd., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

7. Briscoll, Reginald F. Senior Planning/Scheduling Engineer, Bechtel Corporation, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

8. Ford, Dianna. AECL Research, Chalk River Laboratories, Chalk River, Ontario, Canada.

9. Frank, Bruce H. Center for Professional Advancement, East Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.A.

10. Hamburger, David. President, David Hamburger Management Consultant, Inc., Spring Valley, New York,U.S.A.

11. Hiltz, Mark J. Project Manager, Solicitor General of Canada, Gloucester, Ontario, Canada.

12. Plata, Ernest J. Director of Science Administration, Oncogan, Seat-tie, Washington, U.S.A.

13.Staples, Robert G. Project Management Consultant, Monroe, Virginia, U.S.A.

14. Teplitz, Charles J. Associate Professor, School of Business Administration, University of San Diego, San Diego, California, U.S.A.

15. Wailer, Ronald P.C. Operations Manager, Johnson Controls Inc., Arlington Heights, Illinois, U.S.A.

16. Youker, Robert. President, Management Planning and Control Systems, Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A.


17. Thompson, James D. Organizations in Action. McGraw Hill Book Company New York, 1967.

18. Wirth, Itzhak. Program Design in Project Management Education: A Road Map. In PM Network, a professional magazine of the Project Management Institute, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. Vol. IV, No. 3, May 1990.

*All panel members and discussants participated in a formal discussion, titled Project Management Education for the Year 2000, at the 1990 PMI Seminar/Symposium in Calgary, Alberta,


Itzhak Wirth is currently associate professor of management at the College of Business Administration of St. John's University in Jamaica, New York. Itzhak is a graduate of the Technion in Haifa, Israel (BSME), INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France (MBA), and University of California at Berkeley (MS and Ph.D.). He is a member of the PMI Education Committee.




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