Teaching project management to management teachers

Antonio C. A. Maximiano, Associate Professor, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil

To become a management teacher, one must carry out a series of interrelated tasks with both creative and operational contents. It is not unusual that a prospective teacher of management fails either to develop a creative idea or to deal with the operational activities needed to form the concept into a finished product within the required quality standards. Frequently, candidates are unable to deal with these two dimensions. As a result, there is an enormous failure rate amongst graduate projects.

Universities have recently shortened the length of graduate programs, to 2.5 years for each degree, therefore, increasing the time constraints for students. This is a typical project management situation, although not usually treated as such. Management graduate students are frequently unable to work with project management concepts and techniques.

An integration of procedures, both the planning and execution levels, are needed to help students to become proficient in the essence of project management, therefore increasing the output of graduate programs. This paper suggests procedures for applying project management concepts and techniques to graduate projects in the field of management and related disciplines. This paper is based mostly on the contents of the PMBOK® Guide (PMI 1996) and on the author's experience as counselor of graduate work.

The Product and the Project Life Cycle

Failure in academic projects is likely to occur when the candidate has either scheduled his operational work without a good definition of the research subject or is not aware of the operational implications of developing the concept into a finished product. A high project management skill level is generally needed to effectively plan and execute the project work in order to take the product from inception to delivery.

The Product

The product of a graduate project is the dissertation (or thesis). The product has two stages: dissertation proposal and final report (or finished dissertation).

The dissertation proposal is a document submitted by the student for a qualification examination. It is a project plan, formatted for assessment of its quality level and feasibility. The approval of a dissertation proposal means that the student is able to work in order to deliver the final report.

Execution of the project plan leads to the final report stage, the main deliverable. Once the report is approved by the examination board (formed by faculty members), the project reaches its completion. The student then obtains the title of master or doctor. From a project management standpoint, the successful completion of a graduate project means that the plan has been effectively executed. It also means that:

• The final product has been delivered meeting or exceeding the quality requirements

• The examination has contributed to ensure the appropriate level of quality for the final product

• The project plan had sufficient elements to ensure such quality. Successfully going from project plan to project final report is a matter of skillful project life cycle management.

Project Life Cycle

The phases of a graduate project varies from institution to institution, but it may generally be regarded as the life cycle of a project with scientific and technical objectives. The life cycle of a graduate project begins when the student is enrolled in the program and reaches its conclusion upon presentation and approval of the dissertation. The main phases of this life cycle are represented in Exhibit 1.

The life cycle of a graduate project is not a linear flow of events. As it happens in any other type of project, it is a path with many decision points, redefinition, and overlapping phases (Thompson 1996). As it was explained in the previous section, there are two main phases in the life cycle of a graduate project:

Exhibit 1. Life Cycle for a Graduation Project

Life Cycle for a Graduation Project

Exhibit 2.Work Breakdown Structure for a Graduation Project

Work Breakdown Structure for a Graduation Project

Exhibit 3.Work Breakdown Structure for the Deliverable of the Graduation Project

Work Breakdown Structure for the Deliverable of the Graduation Project

• Planning and preparing a project proposal

• Executing the project proposal in order to deliver the product. The life-cycle idea is the basis for applying project management tools. Viewing the life cycle in anticipation makes it easier for the student to plan and implement the project.

Project Planning

As the most important task at the beginning of a project, the counselor should insist with the student to prepare a project master plan. Such plan allows the student to visualize the forthcoming job as a whole, and manage its milestones and deadlines.

A project master plan begins from a work breakdown structure (WBS). There are many models for a WBS. Exhibit 2 presents a WBS inspired by a proposition from DeLucia (PM Network 1998), with a sampling of the most common activities in each of the components.

The dissertation, being the heart of the graduate project, is by far the most difficult and complex component to plan. Including this component in the WBS makes the student aware of the commitments it implies with. Such as, content, quality, criteria and time constraints. Exhibit 3 presents a detailed view of the dissertation component broken down into subcomponents intended to guide the student into dealing with the most important part of the project.

Project Scope Management

Research projects involve a combination of not only management and technical problems, but also of creativity and motivation. The main problem is not the 90% of problem solving techniques, but the 10% of inspiration.

Exhibit 4. Milestone Chart for the Graduation Project

Milestone Chart for the Graduation Project

Modern project management emphasizes in the understanding of the needs the project is expected to meet (Frame 1995). In areas other than in academics, the client is usually the driving force behind the process of clarifying the needs. Even when there is a client, the process is not deprived from pitfalls. In academics, the problem is much more difficult to address because of the absence of a formal client. Graduate work counselors should always stress the search of a client or user, such as a professional society or a group of executives, as sources of help for inspiration.

Close to scope management of academic projects, are the choices of a subject and research design. A singular and sound research question is clear evidence that the candidate has a welldefined subject, and knows what direction to follow. It is also an indication that the needs of the candidate or those of a focus group have been clarified. Having his or her goals defined, the student will subsequently need content and methodological orientation, to develop the question as a research design.

Preparing the project proposal is contingent upon the choice of a research question and a research design. Students should be trained to think in terms of two kinds of questions:

• “What” questions, such as “What are the determinants of project success?” These questions lead to a survey type of research design.

• “How” questions, such as “How do project manager leadership influences team performance?” These questions lead to a correlation type of research design.

Project Quality Management

Project time management is a function of decisions made on scope, quality and resources availability. It is also a skill.Many management students fail their graduate projects.Not because they lack technical competence, motivation, or inspiration, but because they are unable to deal with the basics of project management. Which includes identification, sequencing, and scheduling.

Project quality assurance is the process of increasing the likelihood that the product will meet the relevant performance and technical quality standards. Quality assurance goes beyond the reach of the immediate relationship between counselor and student. This is the function of a quality system used to address the following dimensions of quality management for academic projects:

• Definition of quality policies and standards for dissertation form and content

• upply of disciplines with emphasis on research methods

• Supply of seminars with emphasis on dissertation preparation and critical analysis

• Procedures for continuous improvement of project work, such as a milestones calendar or regular meetings with counselor or board or counselors

• Definition of procedures for counseling work.

Quality control of academic projects is a process with two major checkpoints: qualification and presentation (or final examination). The effectiveness and importance of these control procedures tend to decrease to the extent that the quality assurance system is in place and properly at work. If this is not the case, qualification and presentation become a go, no-go word. This is similar to the traditional control where industrial firms used inspections until a few years ago. Instead, examinations in the academic world are performed by a certification function in line with the modern philosophy of total quality control, which is prevalent today in the business world.

Project Time Management

Project time management is a function of decisions made on scope, quality and resources availability. It is also a skill. Many management students fail their graduate projects. Not because they lack technical competence, motivation, or inspiration, but because they are unable to deal with the basics of project management. Which includes identification, sequencing, and scheduling.

A graduate program is usually concurrent with other activities. Many students are also executives, professionals, or teachers. An adequate level of personal organization is needed to deal with all those time-consuming jobs. The activity chart or project master schedule should reflect a global account of the student responsibilities.

Certain decisions taken on the project life cycle may either accelerate or decelerate the project work, therefore determining how much time the student will have left for classroom, office, and field activities. For instance, some students prefer or are advised to do the fieldwork only after his or her credits have been completed, while other students perform the two activities concurrently. In the past, some students chose on taking a subject, and consequently working on a fieldwork after completing the remaining credits. Today, time constraints and revised academic procedures no longer tolerate such waste of time.

As an example, Exhibit 4 proposes an activity sequencing diagram intended to deal efficiently with the life cycle of a graduate project.


Frame, J. Davidson. 1995. Managing Projects in Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

DeLucia. 1998, February. On Today's Menu: The Italian Dinner Project. PM Network.

Project Management Institute. 1996. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. (PMBOK® Guide). Upper Darby, PA: Project Management Institute.

Thompson, Gary R. 1996. Project Definition—An Alternative to the “Patchwork” Project. PM Network (May).

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
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville,Tenn.,USA



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