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Education in Project Management

by Mira Vlach on December 14, 2008:

Summary: Project management requires a good deal of particular skills, which are good to acquire in advance. To prepare for managing more demanding projects there are several basic forms of education to choose from.

Imagine yourself being a fresh graduate who has just finished the secondary school or university. Somehow you have found out that in 7 years' time you will receive a task to manage a company reorganisation. This should last for approximately 2 years and include relocating the company, replacing 35 % of employees, internal changes in divisions and the introduction of a new manufacturing technique. You don't know anything about the company, you'll be introduced to it half a year before this project starts. What forms of education would you choose for your preparation in order to succeed in the up-coming project (or any other project which you find difficult to manage at this moment)?

This article focuses on the opportunities for education in project management. To be able to manage a project you need to have at least partial knowledge in the specific field and be able to have good command of the generally recommended procedures of project management. When all the other conditions are met i.e. you have available resources, people etc., then the following equation is applied:

The ability to manage projects (managing skills) + the knowledge of the project topic (expertise) = the ability to manage a particular project

The expertise is not relevant to this article. When you lack expertise in a certain area, it may simply prevent you from managing projects in that area. The ability to manage projects is partially given by innate predispositions, personal character etc. However, everybody can develop this ability and thus achieve better results. Therefore, let's have a look at the opportunities for personal growth in project management.

Forms of education

Among the most common forms of education and development in project management are included these:

The specifics of the different forms of education are as follows:

Different background of PM students

If we take participants of trainings as an example, we can find various people who come to learn:

Of course all of them will have different needs. Therefore it is good if the content of the training can be as much adapted to their needs as possible.

Another factor which influences the choice of education is also the learner's motivation. The principal aim should be to have more successful projects. This can also convert to happier customers, higher self-confidence and the fact that then you can set higher aims. On the personal level, motivation can even be a certificate, pay rise, promotion, higher prestige etc.

What to learn?

There are many disciplines combined in project management. On one hand, it is necessary to have soft skills – communicate well, motivate and manage people, deal with conflicts, negotiate, moderate a discussion etc. Next to this, it is necessary to manage the project itself, which under normal circumstances requires planning, monitoring and other tools which are not often used for classic managerial work. Lastly, but not the least, the knowledge of contracts, finances, supportive software and other areas is often necessary.

Although there are several various approaches towards project management, which sometimes noticeably differ, there is a common recommended best practice. The main standards are set by organisations IPMA and PMI. The core of their recommendations is definitely worth knowing. It is good to start with a simple guide with basic advice on which it is possible to build on. This simple instruction can be obtained e.g. from a quality book or training course.

The advantage of an early start

Because project management requires so many various skills, it is definitely an advantage to start its mastering as soon as possible. You can start with organising games or activities at a summer camp, with a simple project in your first job etc. This is also a good way of finding out whether this sort of job is what you enjoy doing and would like to do in the future.

It is not realistic to assume that you will learn to manage projects during your first important project. In such a situation it is also good to attend a quality course, but even more useful is to find a good consultant, who can help especially with planning and starting off the project well.

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