How well educated is your prospective project manager

The Ohio State University

James Granger

The Ohio State University

Ed. Note: The following article summarizes a report by the PMI Education Committee. Copies of the report, “Current Status of Project Management Instruction in American Colleges and Universities,” are available for $3.00 ($5.00 for non-members) to cover printing and mailing costs. Please address requests to PMI, P.O. Box 43, Drexel Hill, P.A. 19026.

Introduction

Each spring the campuses of American colleges and universities witness the annual recruitment activities of private corporations and public agencies. Much time and energy is put into this search for potential managerial talent and prospective corporate leadership.

While a variety of managerial positions are being offered, it is not unreasonable to assume that among the possible position^ to be filled would be that of project manager. Given that this assumption has some validity, potential recruiters might be interested in how well trained or educated such prospective project managers might be in the theory and practice of managing these temporary efforts. This paper presents a preliminary description of what the university educated potential project manager might exhibit in the way of training in project management concepts.

The picture of the educational background of prospective project managers presented here derives from a recent survey of project management instruction in American colleges and universities funded by the Project Management Institute and carried out by its Education Committee. A formal report of the survey results has been deposited with the Project Mangement Institute. The observations and comments noted here have been distilled from that report in order to highlight the findings of the study. Those interested in the technical details of the study should request a copy from the executive officer of the Project Management Institute.

Using a principal criterion of student body enrollment or size along with secondary criteria of reputation and likelihood to offer work in project management, approximately 50 colleges and universities having departments or schools of Business Administration and Engineering were contacted by mailed questionnaires. A total of 26 Business departments and 19 Engineering departments responded. Each department was asked to identify and describe those courses either totally or partially devoted to instruction in project management. A total of 91 courses (48 in Business and 43 in Engineering) were identified. In addition to specific course description, the departments were asked to supply information with regard to the general availability of project management instruction.

Observations Regarding Project Management Instruction

What is the likelihood that a prospective project manager will have received some instruction in project management? In view of the fact that 3 out of the 4 departments responding indicated that they did offer project management instruction, the prospect of the potential project manager knowing about the area is pretty good. What exposure he does receive, however, is most likely to occur in a regular course offering as contrasted to a short course. The likelihood of his taking a course completely devoted to project management is relatively small since only one out of three departments reported courses totally devoted to project management. Engineering departments tend to offer more courses focused solely on project management than does business. When project management is taught as part of another course the chances of it receiving high emphasis are rather small. It is more likely to receive low or moderate emphasis.

In examining credentials for possible exposure to project management concepts, the prospective recruiter would be advised to direct his attention primarily to individuals completing the master’s program since both departments indicated that such students were a primary target audience. This emphasis on graduate education is also reinforced by the finding that about half of the courses required graduate standing as a prerequisite. If the student is an undergraduate, it is most likely that he will have taken work relative to project management only when he is at the advanced or upper level undergraduate status.

Course Objectives and Content

Perhaps the most important question to be asked by our recruiter would pertain to the nature of the course in which the student participated. What were the objectives of the course and what was the content and experiences to which the student was exposed? Answers to these questions would be dependent upon whether or not he was in Engineering or Business and whether or not the course was totally or only partially devoted to project management concepts.

An examination of course objectives disregarding these two variables indicates that the primary purposes of the course (or emphasis within a course) are to provide an overview of project management, an understanding of project management theory, and how project management relates to the student’s major area. These objectives were followed closely by objectives relating to gaining experience with project management techniques either by an in-depth study of one technique, practical experience with a technique, or a survey of current techniques.

What topics or content areas were emphasized within the courses studied? Again, looking at the full set of responses we note that the topics of project planning, scheduling, and controlling head the list. The topics of network analysis, project evaluation, resource scheduling follow closely. Topics receiving relatively lesser emphasis, with only a few courses indicating them as topics discussed, were those relating to personnel management, the history of project management, parent-organization relationships, external communications, and the future of project management. An examination of the topics emphasized points up that the potential project manager is most likely to have encountered those types of techniques which deal most directly with the project itself as contrasted to the project in an organizational setting and the necessary relationships existing between the project and its parent organization. Interestingly, there are only minor variations between Business and Engineering courses with regard to this relative ranking of topics. The topical emphasis reflects that it is the direct project management skills and not the human relations skills being emphasized in the courses. This situation may occur because concerns with human relationships may be covered in other courses.

Experience with Project Management

Evidence was collected with regard to not only objective and topics but also the methods of instruction used in the courses. Following traditional university practices, the lecture discussion method was most commonly used being employed in approximately 80 percent of the courses. Course work, however, is not all lecture-type presentations. Both Engineering and Business courses indicated that the second most commonly used instructional procedure was the preparation of individual project reports and case studies along with computer simulations. There was a slight tendency for Engineering courses to give proportionally a greater emphasis to utilization of actual project cases as part of the instructional procedure. Instructional procedures such as field trips were not a very popular approach to providing the student with actual project management experience.

Course Descriptive Data

Information was collected on each course with regard to variables such as, frequency of offering, prerequisites, place or location, and similar items. In general, it was observed that courses containing project management instruction were offered on-campus. Students enrolling in the course are generally majors or minors in the particular departments but apparently enroll on a somewhat voluntary basis since only approximately half the courses indicated that it was actually required by the department or college. If teacher-student ratio is important from an instructional endpoint, then students in Engineering have it better than those in Business courses since the typical enrollment in Business was 40 students while in Engineering it was only 24 students.

Besides asking the prospective project manager if he has had some exposure to the area, where else might a recruiter investigate in order to determine if there has been some exposure? One possibility is by looking at the course titles listed on the student’s transcript. If one is examining the credentials for a student in Engineering, a recruiter might look for course titles such as Engineering Planning Project Planning and Management, Functions of Construction, Construction Planning and Controlling, and CPM in Civil Engineering. In the Business area, a recruiter might look for titles such as Production Operations Management, Organizational Management, Systems Management, Materials Management.

Closing Notes

Based upon the responses to the survey noted in the introductory section, it appears that project management concepts and principles have been assimilated into the curriculum of a fairly large proportion of colleges and universities throughout the United States. In the typical case, presentation of material relative to project management and this condition is most likely to exist in Engineering and less likely in Business Administration departments. The types of knowledge most likely to be acquired by our prospective project manager focuses upon the specific dimensions of projects such as planning, scheduling, controlling and acquiring knowledge of techniques related to these dimensions. Apparently little emphasis is given to such dimensions of project management as organizational relationships, communications, and personnel problems. It is perhaps in this latter area that corporate in-service training and staff development programs can give emphasis since the student comes with knowledge of techniques but not how such techniques and principles might actually operate in actual working conditions. Such a recommendation however rests on the assumption that human relations and communication skills are a necessary and vital part of successful project management and thus should be facilitated either before or on the job.

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.

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