Awareness of project management in a formalized context has exploded in recent years. American universities are perhaps the best example of the increased interest in project management. Since 1999, the number of higher learning institutions offering project management degree programs has ballooned from 12 to over 600. MPS President Kendall Lott recently sat down with Mr. John Cable, Director of the University of Maryland’s Project Management Center for Excellence, to discuss the recent demand for formal project management education, which you can hear in his podcast, “Pragmatism from the Ivory Tower”.
Nearly everything people do, especially in the work place, can be analyzed through a project management lens. As the American work environment becomes more competitive, formalized project management experience helps job applicants immensely. According to Cable, the demand for employees with project management skills has increased, leading to a spike in professionals pursuing project management degrees, especially at the graduate level.
Cable, a licensed architect and general contractor, has been teaching graduate level engineering courses at Maryland since 1999. Cable says his typical student is one who has spent a few years in the workplace since receiving a Bachelor’s degree in some area of engineering. When asked, students often feel comfortable with the technical aspects of their jobs but admit they lack planning and decision making skills. Cable also says that the successful students in his project management courses are level-headed professionals with a knack for seeing the big picture without ignoring the details.
“We are looking for individuals that have a very unique characteristic in one sense. And that characteristic is somebody that can think in the macro view and in the micro view.”
Traditionally found in business departments at universities, project management is now an integral part of several different academic disciplines. At Maryland, the Project Management Center for Excellence is part of the A. James Clark School of Engineering. Project management courses have also been incorporated into law and policy degree programs, particularly in the area of legal contracts.
As the number of workers with project management training grows, Cable predicts the future American labor pool will be much better at linking technical skills to management skills than in the past.
“I see a future in which the individuals that are involved in project management have far superior people skills to the one’s today.”
With an increased demand for formal project management education, it will be interesting to see how the supply of project management programs will continue to unfold. Perhaps programs specifically dedicated to project management will blossom. Maybe project management curriculum will continue to be integrated with disciplines such as engineering and law or even become part of the typical undergraduate’s core classes alongside writing and baseline math courses.
No matter which trends evolve in the future, Cable does not see project management as an isolated field of education. Project management is a complement to – not a substitute for – technical knowledge.