How well do business-related university courses incorporate project management best practice?

How well do business-related university courses incorporate project management best practice?

Peter CarrMore and more organizations are finding a need for their employees to have project management knowledge because the work people do is increasingly project-based.

Not only that, but as the world becomes more complex and advances in technology are made every day, project activity and project management is becoming equally more complex. The skills are not something you can simply learn on-the-job – you need to have the theory behind it too.

The prominence of project management best practice in business-related university courses is obviously something that varies per institution. At the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada we endeavour to incorporate real-world examples and learning to empower students not only with project management theory but also the experience too.

University courses are often criticized for being distant from the real world so it’s vital that case studies and experience are available to students. We’ve got the largest co-op programme in the world where students alternate terms in the work place with terms at university. Project management on paper and project management in an organization can be very different.

Best practice and university

Students are not taking university courses to learn solely about project management best practice, otherwise they’d have gone directly to PMI* or PRINCE2®. However, we are fully aware of the importance of teaching students about frameworks and methodologies. In the classroom we provide them with the theory and examples and this includes telling them about the various best practices in each area. For example, if we are doing work on project teams then we explain which best practices support this.

It’s important for students to know there are frameworks used in organizations but we can’t teach them every best practice out there. We select the various elements of best practice based on the relevance of each to the particular area of the course we are teaching at any given time. Often we also bring in real research that has led to new best practices, such as looking at why projects fail or why they exceed scope.

Those on university courses need to have an awareness of the vast range of methodologies available in the industry they are going into – agile, PRINCE2 and PMI are just some methodologies we all know of.

The risks of not teaching best practice at university

Although the working world is moving increasingly towards projects in every industry, there are still organizations out there that don’t use best practice frameworks or haven’t moved with the times and use outdated frameworks. Such companies will see great benefit from students coming out of university courses with an awareness of the latest in best practice and what benefits the frameworks can bring to the company. Their knowledge can improve the way projects are managed in the business.

At Waterloo, one of our courses even enables students to sit the entry level or foundation level qualification (the CAPM) in PMI because they’ve been introduced to the framework both in theory in the classroom and in the real world during a placement in an organization.

If we don’t give students an awareness of best practice frameworks, even just a basic understanding of the different types, we leave them in danger of making the same mistakes that are continuously made in the project management world. They are more likely to become part of project failures rather than success.

University research and the development of best practice frameworks

The research conducted by universities around the world can certainly influence the development of best practice in project management as long as it is applied and focused on very current, relevant areas of this industry. Research is regularly undertaken to produce best practices and design the content of courses because it highlights strengths and weaknesses on a larger scale than just one company or even just one country.

The biggest issue right now in project management is the heavy focus on processes and technicalities rather than people, organizational and soft skills. This is something lacking both in best practice and, consequently, in project management. The industry needs more clearly defined ways of managing project teams and understanding the political forces at play within organizations – people play such a significant role in projects and yet they often seem to be an afterthought, if a thought at all.

We know project management is becoming more aware of this need for best practice in people as well as processes because it’s reflected in PMI’s 2013 edition that includes an entire chapter on stakeholder management. Before this area was just a small part of another chapter. We see it also in agile methodologies, and PRINCE2 Agile™ introducing behaviours as well. There’s a growing recognition it’s important, but there’s still a long way to go.

For more information about project management best practice, see our PRINCE2® and PRINCE2 Agile™ sections.

'PMI' is a registered mark of Project Management Institute, Inc. PMI is not affiliated with AXELOS. PMI does not endorse any AXELOS Qualifications.

Do you agree that project management best practice forms a practical part of academic further education for those students studying for business qualifications? Have your own studies included aspects from IT Service Management or PPM frameworks? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below. Also, if you have any ideas for future AXELOS blogs, please use our Suggest a Blog form to tell us what you would like to read here.

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