For many managers, project management can be tricky. Mid-level executives may find themselves unexpectedly thrust into running projects, and not be adequately prepared for the challenges. In fact, even an otherwise experienced manager with an MBA might find himself a bit lost.
“Project management, in most business schools, isn't a big part of the curriculum, but it's a very important subject on the non-degree side,” says Dan Stotz, senior director of executive education at Georgia State University's J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
Indeed, some motivated project managers may gloss over a lot of the prep work, such as project planning, in order to get right down to business. Many times, Stotz says, “what happens is a project manager will agree to a deadline without doing the proper analysis to determine exactly how long it will take.”
“So they'll tell the CEO of the business, 'that can be done this year,'” when in practice, the project will actually take much longer.
This is where executive education programs in project management come in: they can provide a framework for planning and managing projects so that managers can efficiently execute them. Often, these courses attract people who already have some project management experience, but need to skill-up before jumping into a big project.
According to Jorit Nühs, who teaches project management at the University of Otago School of Business, “some come completely fresh into it, without having any project management experience, but most of them have had some kind of exposure through their current role.”
In his five-day course, students are introduced to a mix of case studies and guest speakers, so that they can understand some of the theory and practical applications.
Courses like this can also be relevant for more experienced project managers. George Merguerian, who teaches the three-day “The Art of Project Management - Tools and Techniques” at Erasmus University's Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), says that for those who already have a lot of project management experience under their belt, the course can “give them a structure,” which can be otherwise difficult to develop in the workplace.
“You can always do this without training, but it's inefficient,” Merguerian notes.
And as projects get more complicated, having a good knowledge of a project management framework can be indispensable, for those working in all kinds of industries. At Otago's most recent offering of the “Project Management” course, for example, “we had everything from lawyers to people from the port industry; IT, police, and even people from the event and sports management industries,” says Jorit Nühs.
In some respects, this diversity of industries represents a widening conception of what a “project” actually is. In the past, a project mostly meant building or developing something, but today it can mean organizational projects, such as the integration of social media into a company, or implementing new employee training methods, for example.
Previously “you might have expected just engineering companies to come to such courses,” says George Merguerian, “but now you get diverse industries coming, even banking, because they want their teams to be able to undertake improvement projects and change projects.”
However, while organizational projects are becoming more common, there are still executive education courses that focus strictly on technical project management. For example, MIT Sloan offers a two-day course called “Managing Complex Technical Projects,” which is designed for project engineers in industries such as automotive manufacturing and aerospace. Wisconsin School of Business also offers a two-day course in “Managing Complex Technical Projects” that appeals to engineers, architects, and scientists.
Executive courses in project management: the takeaways
One of the main benefits that can come out of an executive education course in project management is a better understanding of leadership. RSM's George Merguerian says that the “soft side of project management” is typically a challenge for project managers.
“Usually in projects, the technique is not so difficult,” he says. “You practice it in a structured way, you have a reason for doing things, there's a plan – you can learn all that.”
“The hard part is the people side. How do I get the team to devote their time to the project? How do I make the project interesting?”
Some courses in project management can also provide a concrete résumé-booster. For example, GSU Robinson's five-day “Certificate Program in Project Management” course provides participants with an actual certificate, which helps participants “to position themselves to get a promotion, or change careers, or change jobs,” according to Dan Stotz. Additionally, some students who complete the certificate go on to become certified “project management professionals” by taking a test (which the certificate course prepares them for).
But perhaps the most tangible benefit of a course in project management is career advancement. Of the people who took Otago's “Project Management” course last year, some have since received promotions, and according to Jorit Nühs, “they're now full-time project managers.”