Project management training
is the need being met?
Dr. Charles J. Teplitz, D.B.A., PMP, Professor of Project Management, University of San Diego,
School of Business Administration
Providing training to current and aspiring project managers has become big business in recent years. Independent providers, consulting firms, professional societies, and universities are offering training in this rapidly growing field in ever-increasing numbers (the seminar offerings from the Project Management Institute (PMI®) alone increased 74% in 1999). One driver of this sudden surge in interest is reflected in the exponential growth in applicants to become certified in project management. According to PMI, the number of certified project managers increased 49% in the year 2000 (Project Management Institute 2001). One reason for this exponential growth is the requirement by many firms that their project managers obtain the certification in order to retain their positions within the company (e.g., AT&T, Motorola, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). To become certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®), the candidate must complete a lengthy examination and qualify for certification (and recertification) based upon work experience and formal training. It is the requirement for formal project management training and continuing education that is driving the demand figures for project management training through the roof.
A recent PMI survey of PMI member consultants and trainers resulted in a listing of nearly 1,000 organizations that provide project management training, with courses ranging from basic fundamentals to industry specific highly detailed courses (Project Management Institute 1998). While many of these organizations base their course curriculum upon PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), this is no guarantee that the courses are meeting the needs of the participants.
Exhibit 1. Industries of Participants
A review of the Project Management Journal as well as the proceedings of recent PMI annual symposia failed to produce a single article in the Education/Training track that addressed the issue of ensuring delivery of needed training. The lack of research in this area may be attributed to the sudden and explosive demand for project management training.
This paper will describe a study undertaken in an effort to answer the following questions: Are providers of project management training addressing the needs of their customers in terms of course offerings, pedagogical methods, and industry specific knowledge? What are the credentials of firms providing project management training to corporate customers? Is there a consistency in curriculum, scheduling, and costs across providers?
The study involved mailing questionnaires to two different groups involved in project management training: (1) those purchasing PM training and (2) those providing PM training. The goal of the study was to determine if the needs of those purchasing PM training were being sufficiently met by the providers of such training.
Exhibit 2. Number of Employees of Respondents
Exhibit 3.Years as PM Training Provider
Exhibit 4. Employees per Provider
Group One consisted of 570 managers from Human Resource departments of randomly selected organizations employing 10 or more PMI members. HR managers were selected as the first group of subjects for the survey since they represent the firms purchasing project management training. These individuals are usually responsible for contracting with training providers and for recommending training programs to employees seeking continuing education. These individuals were felt to be a centralized contact in the best position to represent the project management training practices of their firms. Their opinions were sought as to the preferred types of project management training from the corporate HR perspective. The HR managers returned 70 complete and usable surveys: a 12% response rate. Exhibit 1 lists the different industries represented by the respondents. Exhibit 2 shows the range of company size as represented by the number of employees. From these exhibits, it is clear that a well-diversified group was sampled, thus no industry specific conclusions will be drawn.
Group Two consisted of 206 randomly selected project management training providers listed in PMI’s 1998 survey (Project Management Institute 1998). These participants were selected due to their knowledge of PMI and its certification program. Theirs opinions were sought as to the types of project management training they most frequently provided. The providers returned 45 complete and usable surveys: a 22% response rate. Exhibit 3 demonstrates the number of years the responding training firms have been in the business of project management training. Considering the recent exponential growth of demand for project management training it is no surprise that so many firms are relatively new to this field. Exhibit 4 shows the range of provider firm size as represented by the number of trainers they employee. Exhibit 5 demonstrates that there is quite a variation in the annual number of courses offered by the providers responding to the survey. These exhibits demonstrate the heterogeneous demographics of the group of providers surveyed for this study, although the high correlation on numerous responses indicates there is also a great deal of similarity between providers. This is likely due, in part, to their relationship with PMI, and the tendency for their courses to follow PMI’s PMBOK® Guide.
Different survey instruments were mailed to each of the two groups of respondents. Group One’s questionnaire consisted of 23 limited response and open-ended questions regarding the type of project management training programs they sought for their company’s employees. Questions centered on preferred course structure, curriculum, location, duration, etc. They were also asked about the degree of upper management support for project management training, the relative size of the project management training budget, and any requirements by the company or its clients for PM certification.
Group Two’s questionnaire also consisted of 23 limited response and open-ended questions, although the questions were not identical to those posed to Group One. For this group, questions focused on credentials of instructors, demographics of clients, course structure, curriculum, location, duration, etc. They were also asked if their courses followed PMI’s PMBOK® Guide and if their instructors were certified PMPs.
Exhibit 5. Course Offerings per Year
Analyzing the Results
Thanks to the generosity of the respondents, we are able to derive a fairly clear picture of the project management training field. While space does not permit us to report all of the findings, we will describe a number of the more notable.
Views of the Customer
Project management training appears to be offered to employees in all of the industries responding. Course topics preferred by the HR managers covered all areas of project management. The most popular topics included: Project Planning, Scheduling, PM Software, Risk Management, and Cost Management, among others. These topics closely follow the major areas of the PMBOK® Guide. In addition, while customers unanimously prefer to receive industry or company specific training, seventy-three% of the Human Resource manager respondents indicated they preferred to outsource their course development, rather than handle this internally. Their position is likely in response to the lack of qualified internal trainers as well as the notion that existing “generic” courses can still provide substantive training appropriate for their employees. When asked who they contact for development and delivery of coursework, 72% said they prefer to seek out expert consultants. Half of the firms indicated they might also approach a training firm or a professional society (e.g., PMI) to handle the training, and one third indicated they also would consider using faculty from a local university.
Regarding PMI, when asked if their company requires the PMP® certification of its project managers, only 12% indicated in the affirmative. When asked if their customers require PMI certification for the PMs working on their projects, only 3% responded “yes,” although another 17% said it depends. When asked if their customers require PMI approved practices be employed on their projects, 66% clearly responded “no.” These responses seem counter to the commonly stated reasons given for the rapid increase in PMI membership as well as the growing number of PMPs. Perhaps corporate clients simply assume that successful (high quality) project managers know and follow the guidelines recommended by PMI, so do not explicitly request PMI approved practices.
When asked how supportive executive management was of project management training in their company, 65% rated it as “supportive” or “very supportive.” Yet, when asked what would most effectively improve their company’s current PM training efforts, fully one third of respondents cited “more management support,” and another third cited “additional funding.” The HR managers indicated however that it was the functional managers and upper management who had final authority for offering PM training to employees, while the project manager and HR department had lesser authority in this area.
Views of the Provider
Sixty-eight percent of the training providers responding to the survey were incorporated, with the remaining being sole proprietorships or partnerships. When asked about the background of trainers, 70% of the providers indicated they employed at least some trainers with master’s degrees while over 30% indicated some of their trainers held terminal degrees (e.g., Ph.D., J.D.). In addition, 65% of the firms indicated they employed at least some trainers who are certified as PMPs, although most indicated that fewer than 50% of their trainers were certified.
Exhibit 6. Percent of Trainers Providing PM Training to Various Job Titles
The training providers were asked several demographic questions with regard to their clients. When asked how clients initially learn of their services, virtually all respondents cited referrals and reputation as the number one method. In this telecommunication era, it was not surprising to learn that the second most successful promotional tool was the firm’s website. Less than half the firms use direct mail advertising and only five rely on mass advertising. Exhibit 6 demonstrates the diversity of participants in their training programs, ranging from entry-level employees to top executives. As might be expected, over 80% of their courses are offered to larger firms, companies of more than 500 employees.
With regard to course curriculum, the trainers were asked if their programs were designed to follow the nine function-based sections of the PMBOK® Guide, the five process-oriented sections of the PMP exam, or neither. Interestingly, over half indicated they followed neither of the PMI related programs. Of the remainder, six out of ten still followed the PMBOK® Guide categories while only four of ten had designed their courses around the five areas of the PMP exam. It is likely those not following either PMI format offer courses that are not program-oriented, but simply create courses as the demand presents itself. Those following one of the PMI formats have likely established a series of courses leading to a certificate, thus requiring a programmatic theme. While the PMBOK® Guide categories and PMP categories follow different philosophies for the project management process, the PMP topics obviously rely on the functionally based topics of the PMBOK® Guide. Often those programs described as following the PMP format are offering preparation geared directly to future exam participants, while those programs described as following the PMBOK® Guide are geared more toward providing in-depth training in project management basics.
As for the classroom, virtually all respondents indicated they incorporate printed materials, in-class exercises, PowerPoint or overhead presentations, and case studies in their courses. In addition, nearly 80% of the training providers reported that their average class size was fewer than 20 students. It was not disclosed whether course size was kept low for benefit of the students, or was a function of the number of client employees available/approved for the training. Interestingly, some trainers reported offering courses with up to 50 participants in a class, obviously less personal attention and less opportunity for interaction in these large courses.
In comparing questions common to both groups, some significant differences between the customers and the providers did appear, specifically regarding course delivery. The first noticeable difference pertained to preferred pedagogical methods. The HR managers indicated their strong preference for company specific lecture as the most effective teaching method for their purposes, followed closely by the use of role-playing (or simulations). The training providers, on the other hand, rated role-playing (or simulations) and generic lectures as their preferred methods. Exhibit 7 shows their ratings of various delivery methods on a scale from 1 to 5 (5 is most preferred). Of particular note is the disparity between the two groups regarding generic lecture. While the providers prefer to use this method, the HR managers indicate they feel this method to be less valuable to the participants. The discrepancy is easy to understand. The HR managers would prefer that employees be instructed on applications specific to the firm and its industry. The training providers, however, find it easier to use generic lectures, which they can provide equally to employees of numerous client firms, regardless of industry. Thus, it becomes a matter of convenience (and cost savings) for the provider while providing the client with less specific training than desired (a win-lose situation).
Exhibit 7. Preferred Classroom Methods
A second significant difference revolves around the duration of a class. Providers indicate their most popular courses are two-day and three-day courses. The HR managers indicate a strong preference for one-day courses (see Exhibit 8). How can this disparity in responses be explained given that the HR managers send their people to the courses of the training providers? The fact that companies prefer one-day courses indicates a possible reluctance to have personnel away from their duties longer than necessary. They would likely prefer to incorporate “just-in-time training,” with participants obtaining a lesser quantity of specifically needed training, with additional training to be obtained in equally small chunks at a future time. The trainers, on the other hand, would likely prefer to take advantage of “economies-of-scale,” having instructors spend more presentation days at one site, with one group. This approach would minimize program administrative costs such as registration, marketing, printing, etc.
Conclusions and Future Study
The study described above attempted to learn more about the project management training environment by acquiring information from both sides of the supply chain: training providers and their customers. The high rate of response to the survey by training firms indicates a strong interest by providers as to the desires of their customers.
It is clear from the findings that providers of project management training are, for the most part, supplying the field with comparable high quality training programs meant to provide up-to-date knowledge of all aspects of project management. Multiple training tools are being used to provide participants with stimulating classroom experiences by incorporating proven pedagogical methods. Multimedia presentation styles combined with combinations of lecture and hands-on experiential opportunities provide the students with multiple inputs of information.
Exhibit 8. Preferred Course Duration
It is also clear from the findings that a majority of providers of project management training are not meeting all the needs of the customer companies. Companies seem to be looking for brief (one-day) training sessions in which employees can be taught specific, currently needed, subject matter. Providers who are flexible in their offerings can easily meet this need. However, the lack of “economies of scale” for such short courses would likely force up the price per participant. Such a tradeoff between cost and efficacy is one that must be considered by the customer.
The more difficult requirement of those seeking project management training is providing courses with company specific applications. The development of such courses not only takes a considerable amount of time, it also requires the cooperation of client personnel to provide course developers with adequate examples of company procedures, forms, etc. Many firms are not willing or able to provide such access to outside trainers either due to time constraints or proprietary concerns. The alternative would be to develop such courses utilizing internal personnel. Unfortunately, most personnel are occupied with current project requirements or they lack sufficient teaching skills. Either way, internal development of courses is difficult for most small to moderate size firms.
This initial study was the first step in analyzing the current state of the field of project management training. A follow-up study is underway seeking more specific responses to concerns about course structure, program offerings, and student needs and wants. Results will be presented at future meetings.
Project Management Institute. 2001, March. PMI Today, p. 3.
Project Management Institute. 1998, June. 1998 Survey of Project Management Consultants and Trainers. PM Network, pp. 27–42.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA