A unique approach to promoting project management awareness in the local community

Background

Over the last several years, the PMI® Southwest Ohio Chapter has been working toward expanding the awareness of project management throughout the business and university communities. The Chapter is active in the university community with a program called the University Connection. The University Connection has been supporting four local universities by providing volunteer PMI members as speakers, student club support, and in some cases even teaching project management principles. Likewise the Chapter has kept in touch with the needs of the local business community by means of an Executive Action Group (EAG). The EAG consists of corporate leaders from nine area corporations that actively support PMI membership and programs. Awareness of PMI in the community-at-large is still a largely unrealized objective with the majority of the outreach being in the form of sponsored workshops and seminars in Project Management related areas. An active Community Connection is one of the stated chapter goals of the chapter.

The Southwest Ohio PMI Scholar Award was devised as a means to fulfill this goal by leveraging the efforts of the EAG, the University Connection, and the affiliated Universities, in a project planning contest that focuses on community needs. As a proof of concept, the Southwest Ohio Chapter sponsored a pilot Project Planning Contest at Xavier University. The contest was “piloted” at Xavier because of Xavier's involvement with PMI and because of their commitment to “service learning.” Service learning is intended to give students a real-world experience using concepts and techniques taught in class while simultaneously giving assistance to a worthwhile organization in the community. Not-for-profit United Way Agencies were solicited as project clients in an effort to expose their organizations to the educational and productive benefits of good project management.

Developing the Judging Process

Professor Kloppenborg's graduate level Project Management class (Management 954) at Xavier was selected for the first phase of the pilot. Planning for the contest began in earnest during the summer of 2001 so that the judges could be ready for the December 1st student presentations. It was decided that the original panel of judges would come from the EAG and that they would be responsible for developing the judging criteria and determining the judging process. Professor Kloppenborg is also an experienced judge for the Association for Quality and Participation (AQP). This previous experience suggested that five judges would be sufficient for this competition. The EAG had determined that the judges should be PMP® certified with at least five years of project management experience. Alternate judges were also selected to fill in for any judge whose schedule unexpectedly changed, to act as facilitators of the process, and to provide a source of trained judges for the next phase of the pilot program.

The project deliverables as outlined in the course syllabus were the Charter, the Work Breakdown Structure, the Responsibility Chart, the Schedule, the Budget, the Communications and Control Plans, and finally the Presentation. The first task of the judging team was to develop judging criteria (Exhibit 1) for the deliverables that followed the PMBOK® guidelines and that everyone could agree upon. The list was reworked as the judges started to get experience with the deliverables and was finally pared to the following.

Now that the elements were identified it remained to weight each element in terms of its influence on the success of the Project. Once again the initial panel of judges had to get together both electronically and face-to-face to set the standard. This was first accomplished using a commercially available decision support tool, but the weighting was later added to the judges tally spreadsheet (Exhibit 2).

The five-point rating scale and the approach to developing a consensus among the judges were also based upon AQP competition experience. The five-point rating scale proved adequate to distinguish differences among the teams and provided a basis for forming a consensus among the judges. The procedure was to compute the average score for each of the 21 judging criteria. If all the judges’ scores were within one point of the average, the score was considered a consensus. If a judge's score was more than one point from the average, the judge explained to the other judges why he gave the rating.

The next order of business for the judges was to get some training and practice in the judging of student material. About a week before the student presentation the judges got together and reviewed student deliverables from previous classes. This three-hour session proved valuable not only in setting expectation levels for the quality of student deliverables but also in getting the judges familiar with working together and reaching consensus.

Exhibit 1. Judging Criteria

Exhibit 1. Judging Criteria

It was critical that the judges kept scoring notes as they worked so that these consensus discussions could be meaningful and didn't require a constant, time-consuming review of the deliverables. The consensus discussions brought out points missed by the out-of-range judge or by the other judges and in almost all cases the scores were adjusted to attain consensus. The judging notes and consensus discussions also provided the basis for feedback to the student teams after the judging was completed.

During the practice session the logistics of the presentation judging session were also worked out. It was obvious that a facilitator was required to enter the scoring data and to determine which topics would require consensus discussions. Since alternate judges had also been recruited one was able to fill this role at the final scoring session, which resulted in an efficient scoring process.

Exhibit 2. Judge's Tally Sheet

Exhibit 2. Judge's Tally Sheet

Project Execution Process

While the PMI judges were getting organized, the students were also busy. The Project Management course consisted of five Saturday classroom meetings, each lasting eight hours, and outside team meetings and collaboration as dictated by the individual projects. One of the course deliverables was due at each class meeting (except the first). Half of the final class session was reserved for the Project presentations and final judging.

The project selection process began with the University and the local United Way issuing Requests for Proposals to area not-forprofit organizations. Representatives from the successful client agencies met with the student teams toward the end of the first class session. Each agency appointed a Project Advisor to act as the client representative on the Project Team.

The Projects for the pilot class ranged from a classical Information Technology (IT) project to an unconventional marketing project. The purpose of the IT project is: “to provide the Agency with a plan for developing, selecting and launching a computer system that fully integrates their accounting, billing, quality assurance and clinical case management systems.” The purpose of the marketing project is: “to better serve the children through the development and implementation of a comprehensive marketing and recruitment plan to address the need for more volunteers and greater diversity, resulting in a more amicable atmosphere with cultural identity between the Court Appointed Special Advocates and the children.” These projects were challenging and definitely “real world.”

The first task for all the Project teams was to understand their client's project need and then to translate that need into a focused Project Charter. Since the agencies served are primarily Social service agencies, this structured approach to formulating action plans is not necessarily the norm. Working with the agencies throughout the duration of the course the students developed the remaining deliverables. Knowledge of the Project Management processes were transferred to the agencies as well so that the principles of Project Management could be put into practice as the Plans developed.

Judging the Deliverables and the Presentations

The deliverables were sent to the judges immediately after the training session. This allowed five days to review and score all the documents without input from the other judges. The judges and alternates assembled at Xavier about an hour before the presentations so that the scores could be tabulated and the day's agenda reviewed. The judges are reminded to take plenty of written notes on each presentation. The judges are also reminded of typical judging errors when judging live presentations:

•  First Impression—The tendency to make an initial favorable or unfavorable judgment about a team and then ignore subsequent information

•  Halo Effect—Inappropriate generalizations from one aspect of a team's performance to all aspects of a team's performance.

•  Contrast Effects Error—The tendency to rate one team relative to another, rather than on the judging criteria.

•  Similar-To-Me-Effect—The tendency on the part of the judges to rate more favorably those teams that they perceive as similar to themselves.

Each judge had a scoring sheet for the presentation and was also looking for improvements in some of the previously reviewed deliverables that might raise the team's scores. Many of the teams had improved their deliverables for the presentation.

Each team had 20 minutes to present their projects. A 10-minute question-and-answer period was also available after each presentation. Another important feature of the presentations was that the agency representatives were present. Each representative was introduced and gave a brief overview of the Project from their perspective. This perspective gave the judges a better understanding of some of the problems that team faced that may not be obvious in the deliverables. The agency perspective also provided insight on whether the student and the agency were working closely on the same goals. The enthusiasm, and in some cases even passion, of the teams and the agency sponsors was evident.

Immediately after the presentations the judges met to consolidate the scoring, achieve consensus where necessary and develop the individual team and overall class feedback. The first step was to record the scores for the presentations from each judge including any improvements to the deliverables scores. The facilitator then highlighted those criteria that needed a consensus discussion. The consensus discussions started with the presentation piece since it was “fresh.” The teams were now people with personalities, and the projects had more significance, so the discussions were energetic. During the discussions, one of the alternate judges took notes of significant items to include in the feedback.

Once consensus was reached on all criteria and the scores entered, the contest winner was determined. The next task was to gather and evaluate the feedback comments. The goal was to provide at least one comment to each team emphasizing the deliverable that the team handled well, and one comment describing how they could have improved upon one of the other deliverables. Likewise the judges developed consensus comments on what they perceived as the strengths and weaknesses of the Project Planning competition as a whole. The announcement of the winner and the feedback comments were then presented to the class by the judging team.

The last step in the process for the judging team was to generate a “Lessons Learned” list. Efficiency of the process was the key concern because of the time demands on the volunteers.

Award Ceremony

The SWO PMI Scholar Award consists of a cash award given to both the student team and to the University. The University half of the award stipulates that the award is to be used to support the growth of Project Management in the university. The SWO PMI Scholar Award is given each semester and is presented at the University's Academic Awards luncheon. Representatives of the winning team and the SWO Chapter were present at the ceremony.

The winning team was also invited to a Chapter meeting to celebrate their accomplishment. The team was asked to give some of the highlights of their presentation and to provide some of the benefits (besides monetary) that they received from participating in this contest. Leaders from the United Way and from the UW Agency that worked with the student team were also asked to share their perspective of the endeavor.

Lessons Learned

The two most important elements in conducting this contest were the strong support of the EAG and the full cooperation of Professor Kloppenborg and Xavier University. The EAG provided the leadership and the planning skills required to successfully complete the entire effort in four months time. Professor Kloppenborg provided his experience in guiding the judging process, facilitated the timely distribution of deliverable documents, and even provided the facilities for the judging.

Another necessity for this undertaking is a Project Leader. One of the judges was appointed to this role and it proved to be a time consuming task. The Project Lead acts as a focal point for coordinating meeting times and locations, distributing the deliverables, communicating with the class instructor, getting parking passes and maps, and even coordinating the pizza delivery. As any member of a distributed Project Team knows, one of the biggest difficulties is software incompatibility. Between the students and the judges there were three different versions of MS Project, two versions of MS Access, and two versions of MS Word. Thankfully there were no other file formats to accommodate. The use of a collaborative or shared website to store deliverables, provide logistics information, and support a team discussion space is recommended for future competitions.

Strong team bonds were formed between the students and their agency Project Advisors. The students considered working with the agencies as one of the primary benefits of the course and many volunteered to help execute the projects after the class was complete.

The judges concluded that the consensus discussions were a valuable career benefit. The differing views from judges reflected the differing backgrounds and required each one to evaluate PMBOK® principles from new perspectives. It was also agreed that having these discussions among professionals who spoke the same “project language,” and who were analyzing projects in which there were no additional agendas allowed the discussions to be candid and insightful.

Conclusions

This Project Planning Contest was intended to result in a winning situation for all parties involved. Comments from the participants resulted in the following list of benefits:

•  Benefits to Students

•  Students get hands-on experience rather than textbook cases

•  Students get feedback from industry professionals

•  Competition adds excitement and interest to class

•  Students can receive a cash reward

•  Students get the satisfaction of helping a United Way Agency

•  Benefits to the University

•  University receives a cash reward

•  Instructor gets feedback from industry professionals

•  University strengthens community bonds by working with United Way

•  University strengthens corporate bonds by working with industry professionals

•  Benefits to United Way

•  Project Plans are developed to addressing Agency needs

•  Agency leadership exposed to structured planning process

•  Agency aided in recruiting volunteers from PM community

•  Benefits to the Chapter

•  Foster development of PM principles in the local Universities

•  Provides outreach opportunity in local community

•  Provides a development opportunity for members.

The local leader of the United Way summed up their benefits this way: “We're relationship oriented people, the task focus that the students taught us is what we need to get things accomplished.” For the SWO PMI Chapter and Xavier University that statement can be translated as Mission Accomplished.

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 or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA

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