Project Management Courses

Project Management CoursesThe most recent model curriculum for graduate information systems programs includes a project management course, which contains a balance of technical and managerially related skills. Prior research has shown that adoption of this project management course among information systems graduate programs is not extensive. This study compares the topical coverage of the courses that are being offered against the Project Management Institute's "Project Management Body of Knowledge" (PMBOK) and Georgia State University's Computer Information Systems graduate project management course in information technology. A web-based survey of 206 institutions with graduate information systems programs was conducted; 103 responded and 78 indicated that they had a project management course with 41 instructors completing the questionnaire (53% response rate). Data collected from the survey were then analyzed using descriptive statistics. With respect to the topics of project management found in the PMBOK, information systems programs are covering hard skills such as project scope and cost management to a large extent and giving less emphasis to soft skills such as human resource and project communications management. Also, procurement management is only covered to a very small extent. Similarly, information systems programs matched well with the benchmark course at Georgia State University in the extent of coverage for hard skills such as work breakdown, estimation, and project networks, but their coverage of areas such as project chartering and dealing with vendors and suppliers was considerably lower.

Organizations that have taken on large-scale projects will attest to the value of project management (PM) skills and techniques for coordinating complex multidimensional tasks over extended periods of time. It is generally agreed that PM is a necessary ingredient for successful completion of most large-scale undertakings. When projects fail to achieve their desired ends, the culprit is often identified as a weakness in PM. In a recent study of information systems (IS) project risks, lack of PM skill was ranked among the top five risks by a panel of experts (Schmidt, et al., 2001).

Model curricula for the IS discipline have always included some aspects of PM. The earliest recommended curricula for IS specialists anticipated that graduates would become project leaders and team members of systems development projects (Ashenhurst, 1972; Couger, 1973). Students were expected to understand organizations to the extent that was necessary to accurately create specifications of systems for their use. However, methods were not very rigorous, and business managers saw IS development as more of an art than a science (Richardson and Ives, 2004). By the 1980's, IS programs were emphasizing skills needed for technical work such as structured programming and systems analysis. Students learned how to define requirements, represent them in the form of data flow diagrams, and develop corresponding systems. In an effort to gain some control over the systems development process, concepts such the systems development life cycle (SDLC) were established. SDLC and the concept of phases and sign-offs were the central focus in terms of managing large-scale projects. In addition, more explicit descriptions of PM concepts were added to course objectives. In a set of IS curriculum recommendations made in the 1980s, Nunamaker, Couger, and Davis (1982) suggested a course on information analysis aspects of system development that included coverage of PM responsibilities such as management of change, problem resolution, and management reporting.

The most recent model curriculum for graduate IS programs includes a PM course which contains a balance of technical and managerially related skills. Students are expected to learn aspects of project planning such as scoping, scheduling, budgeting, and allocating resources. In addition, course topics address softer skills such as motivation, interpersonal relations, and leadership. Finally, items that affect project success are included such as culture and resistance to organizational change (Gorgone, et al., 2000).

Adoption of this PM course among IS graduate programs has not been extensive; only 27% of the respondents in an earlier survey reported that they followed the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) model curriculum guidelines to a great degree or completely (Johnson, et al., 2004). In the same study Johnson, Du, and Keil (2004), found that the PM courses offered did not necessarily conform to the AITP model curriculum guidelines for topical coverage. Specifically, it was found that coverage of PM topics was not uniform and that change management topics were not emphasized.

In addition to the AITP curriculum guidelines, which include suggested topics, there are other benchmarks against which to compare the courses that are being offered. This study compares the topical coverage of the courses that are being offered against two such benchmarks. First, the Project Management Institute's "Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge" (PMBOK) was used as a benchmark to determine how well existing courses cover the core areas identified in the PMBOK. second, building on the work of Keil and Johnson (2003), Georgia State's Computer Information Systems (CIS) graduate PM course in information technology (IT) was also used as a benchmark to determine how well existing courses cover the topics that are being taught in the Georgia State University (GSU) course. In this earlier paper, Keil and Johnson (2003) examined the GSU graduate IT PM course (part of a top ranked program) as an exemplar for what such an offering might look like.


IS projects are becoming more important for corporations, as companies seek competitive advantage through the application of IT. Still the rate at which IS projects fail to achieve or fall short of their desired objectives is high. According to Johnson (1999), only 26% of IS projects are completed on time and on budget and classified as successful. One possible explanation for this lack of success is a deficit in the educational background of project managers, which accounts for a lack of familiarity with good PM principles. A remedy for this deficit might involve requiring a course in PM for all students of IS. Alternatively, graduates could obtain familiarity in these topics through continuing educational programs from professional societies such as the Project Management Institute (PMI).

PMI is a nonprofit organization of PM professionals that has codified a comprehensive set of PM practices and knowledge into a framework with component processes. The core component processes are organized into nine knowledge areas that are summarized in Table 1. During the management of a project, these component processes are envisioned as interacting in a progressive, iterative, and overlapping fashion as the project moves closer to its intended goal of project completion. In order to achieve successful outcomes, a project manager needs to understand all knowledge areas and how their interacting processes change throughout the different project phases.

In a recent study, an example of a graduate PM course was described which is part of the core curriculum at GSU's CIS masters program (Keil and Johnson, 2003). The authors (one of whom was involved in the development and delivery of the course) describe the underlying approach of the course as one in which students develop the ability to identify and appraise elements of IT projects that may lead to failure. Students in the course learn about PM through case method teaching, group presentations, and minilectures. First hand experience in PM techniques is gained from in-class group exercises and homework assignments that use PM software.

Course content draws from articles published in practitioner and scholarly journals, business case studies, and a novel about software PM (DeMarco, 1997). Topics cover areas of broad management concern such as project chartering, risk management, measuring project success, project escalation, and de-escalation. The course also includes examination of several specific techniques of PM such as work breakdown structure, critical path method, resource loading and leveling, and post project audits. A summary of topics from the course outline is presented in Table 2.