Preventative medicine: PMI teams up to teach next generation

It's a true story, but it's also a fable that teaches an important lesson about project management.

The story involves an international banking firm that launched a major point-of-sale project designed to develop a system for gathering data on consumer spending trends. The project involved modifications to existing software to bring the system competitively to market at a time when other companies were working on similar systems. Time to market was critical.

The company budgeted $600 million for the project, and a team of more than 300 was given three years to complete the work. But only 18 months into the project, the whole thing began to unravel.

“They let it get away from them, and before long they were significantly behind schedule,” said consultant Lee R. Lambert, who was brought in by the company to perform a comprehensive mid-course evaluation to confirm that the market entry date would be met. Lambert's advice was to abandon ship. The bank lost the $400 million it had already invested, but if not terminated the project would have been a $1 billion disaster.

What was the root cause of this failure? Two basic tenants of PM were not followed.

This case not only points out the importance of adhering to PM principles, it also confirms the importance of the partnership between the W. P. Carey School’s Department of Information Systems and the Phoenix chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI).

The chapter and the department have joined forces to be sure that the next generation of IT professionals will know how to manage projects to obtain maximum results — on time and on budget. The two organizations have already collaborated on various projects, including a conference on virtual project management and an Arizona Leaders in Project Management roundtable featuring top executives and academics in the field. The chapter also has been working with the W. P. Carey School and other area educational institutions to organize student project management clubs as well as offering scholarships.

Now, to further interest in the field, the PMI is challenging students statewide in the Collegiate Project of the Year competition. Students who manage projects as part of their coursework or internships will be able to enter their work in the competition. The projects will be judged on their adherence to accepted PM methodology. The winner will receive recognition and a significant award. Lambert, who has trained more than 50,000 students in 22 countries on the value-added use of the project management process and its associated tools and techniques, will be among the judges for the competition.

Lifelong learning

In a sense, PMI and ASU are inoculating students against costly project management lapses, explains information systems department Chairman Michael Goul.

"Getting the project doctors involved in prevention — while students are learning about doing projects — is our approach," he said.

Rebecca Knight, vice president for External Relations at PMI’s Phoenix chapter, sees the partnership with W. P. Carey as a way of fostering lifelong learning in project management, something that will help students transition into multiple industries “so they aren’t boxed into any one industry. ASU Information Systems students are the project managers of the future,” she said.

Knight, who is program manager for information systems at Choice Hotels International, said her own career has been aided by the fact that project management was her core platform. That allowed her to transition from the financial services industry to IT. “It’s a platform to take you to other places, to leverage the transition into other industries,” she said.

Knight said the Phoenix PMI chapter encourages student involvement by offering them discounted membership fees. She said that networking opportunities offered through the chapter are invaluable to helping students as they prepare to launch professional careers. The Phoenix chapter has 2,400 members, making it the third largest in the region behind the Silicon Valley and San Francisco chapters.

Although PM is not a new concept, its benefits have recently become widely understood and its use has spread to all industries, with construction and IT being two of the primary drivers, Knight said. Project management uses a series of processes to execute projects efficiently and effectively.

According to the Project Management Institute, managing a project should include five steps: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. PMI recently launched a new professional certification, PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner, the preeminent agile certification in the market. The certification validates a practitioner’s ability to understand and apply agile principles and practices on basic projects. Knight said it exemplifies the importance of adapting to the shifting business climate.

“Agile projects are ever-increasing in the IS Management landscape,” she said.

PM in the classroom

As project management has grown as a profession, training and education opportunities have increased. Several universities now offer project management majors or specializations, and most incorporate PM coursework into their business programs. One reason for the field's new prominence is the growing awareness of costly or failed projects in an era of scarce resources.

Goul recognizes the importance of project management skills for students. The department’s program management classes often bring in lecturers from the Phoenix PMI chapter. Goul said that IS students who take advantage of PMI membership are gaining entrance to a high-quality professional society that delivers on its promise of lifelong learning.

“Our students and faculty continue to gain significant value from the IS Department’s ongoing relationship with the Phoenix PMI Chapter,” Goul said. “Since our inaugural joint conference last year, we want PMI members to know how we sincerely appreciate that they come and speak in our classes, that they assist us with leading-edge project management pedagogy and that their members’ knowledge of practice inspires our students to be ready to hit the ground running upon their graduation.”

Lambert was a founding member of the five-person team that formulated and implemented the Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Program, now recognized as the world’s standard in the profession of project management.

Lambert said he believes that it is essential that university students and faculty partner with professionals in the PM community because of the importance of capitalizing on the benefits across multiple industries.

“None of this is new, but there has almost been a wide-spread awakening to the potential of PM in the past few years,” he said. “People are beginning to realize that there is a better way to do it. Using PM, you can see a crisis coming down the road and move to avert it. This works for every industry.”

Bottom line

  • Following established PM principles is critical to the success of projects in all industries, including Information Systems.
  • The partnership between the W. P. Carey School’s Information Systems Department and the PMI’s Phoenix chapter will foster lifelong learning in project management and will help students transition into multiple industries.
  • A growing number of universities now offer project management majors or specializations, and most incorporate PM coursework into their business programs.
  • An increasing number of industries have started following PM principles to help them identify and avert any crises coming down the road.

Project Management Institute - Phoenix Chapter