Partnership with Academic Communities

Project Management at the University of Portland

Interview with Dr. Gary Mitchell, Pamplin School of Business Administration, University of Portland

by Sharon Watkins, PMP

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a representative from a Chapter sponsor - the University of Portland - about the Project Management offering within their Operations & Technology Management program. Dr. Gary Mitchell, Emerald Distinguished Professor of Operations & Technology Management leads the project management courses, and our conversation led to the exploration of a number of exciting benefits that could arise from more connections between academic communities and students, project management practitioners, and the PMI Portland Chapter. Creating these ties with the local PMI community has driven the University of Portland’s Chapter sponsorship.

There are some real benefits to engaging with the local academic community. The knowledge and expertise sitting ‘behind the ears’ of project management professors and academics is a valuable resource. Project management courses can be audited by non-student community members or taken via the non-matriculation option. For community and Chapter members not yet PMP certified, UP’s Project Management Processes and Certification course provides a foundation in PMI methods and standards preparing for certification. In addition, opportunities for mentor-mentee relationships between community members and students can provide project-managers-in-training with some help grounding their knowledge and getting started, and at the same time help PMPs maintain their certification through PDU reporting under Categories D and E for Mentoring. Clearly a win-win.

Coming to the discussion as a graduate of technology management myself, I was interested in the types of students that pursue project management. With all the talk of project management being more of an ‘accidental career’, I wondered how many of the students in the Operations and Technology Management program actually sought this as their focus and how these students can best take advantage of the program to lead to fruitful project management careers.

As you might expect, students in the UP undergraduate program tend to lack hands-on experience, and tend to be motivated to learn enough to make informed choices regarding which career paths to target for their entry to the workforce. Graduate students tend to be mid or advanced-career professionals with deeper knowledge and experience in project management method and practice and seek to either re-tool or to deepen their knowledge to move ahead in their chosen fields.

Students take project management as part of UP’s Operations and Technology Management (OTM) program. In the OTM Masters of Science program, they can choose focus on a combination of business analysis, business systems modeling and project management, for example. They must also obtain a foundation in decision modeling, operations management, performance management, human resource management, and database systems administration. As Dr. Mitchell describes, managing projects is certainly not an isolated event, and practitioners need the solid foundation regarding the business and technical environments in which they operate. They need both the technical and managerial toolset to succeed in project management; a profession that draws on expertise in more than one discipline. This is one likely reason that people tend to come to project management after years of work in other related disciplines.

The Project Management courses offered at UP include Bus 545 Project Management and its undergraduate counterpart, BUS 452.This course covers team building, leadership styles, organizational culture, stakeholder relationship management, communication strategies, risk management. These courses include a project assignment with a fictitious business case focused on planning a project with high uncertainty and risk. Students develop a project plan and a bid proposal, and present their proposals to a panel of industry judges representing the executive management of the fictitious client. The judges select the 1st and 2nd place proposals, and provide the student teams with feedback on their work.

BUS 548, Project Management Processes and Certification, provides a foundation in PMI methods and standards, and is geared to pursuit of the PMP or CAPM certifications. If you are seeking a way to brush up on your PM knowledge, non-students can participate via either the non-matriculation option, and obtain course credit towards degrees outside of PU, or can pay half price and audit classes.

Of course, knowledge without practical application and a network only goes so far. Dr. Mitchell describes some strategies to provide the practical grounding for his students. Opportunities to connect with professionals in the field are important, and he regularly brings project practitioners to lecture in his classes as guest speakers. Of note for our PM practitioners, the opportunity to lecture to a group of students also provides PDU credit, as part of Category D reporting, which involves serving as a PM speaker or subject matter expert, creating and disseminating knowledge for the profession.

Another method Dr. Mitchell uses to ground knowledge in practical applications is the annual Operations and Technology Management Case Competition for students focused on Supply Chain, Operations Management and Project Management. In the case competition, students demonstrate OTM knowledge to judges by developing real-world business cases prepared and presented by an industry expert. Students work during a compressed timeframe to identify their proposed solution to the case, write a solution proposal and deliver their presentations to a panel of judges. The case problem varies from year to year based on the case expert, but all cases involve project management. The cases are rated, and feedback is provided on the teams’ proposals.

UP also plans to pilot a semester-long ‘project practicum’ course, which will include an annual Case Competition focused just on project management cases. The competition will be open to students of other local universities, with local businesses providing the real-world project cases. PM leaders would provide feedback, and judge and rate the cases. Dr. Mitchell hopes the practicum will be introduced in the year 2016, which could be a potential opportunity for collaboration with PMI.

Dr. Mitchell and the broader UP OTM program seek to establish enhanced partnership with professional venues to connect students with industry leaders in various fields, including supply chain management, health care operations, information technology management, manufacturing, and project management. He hopes for a targeted approach to engaging PM students, and we discussed some additional strategies to accomplish this. Attendance at industry networking events is useful, but factors such as intimidation due to lack of industry experience and expense tend to prevent students from attending local chapter events. PMI could partner with educational institutions to host educational events at local university campuses. It would be useful to establish additional professional venues to facilitate student networking and recruiting and target student attendance, at the same time as offering PDU and educational opportunities for practitioners. 

The Operations Management Association (OMA) offers an example of successful partnership between an industry organization and academic institutions. OMA networks with industry leaders to foster relationships, and integrate students of multidisciplinary backgrounds into the fields of operations and project management. In the past, OMA has organized plant tours of local companies such as Frito Lay and Craft Brewers Alliance, invited guest speakers to UP from companies such as Regence, Boeing, Hewlett Packard and others. UP OMA also has a strategic relationship with The Association for Operations Management (APICS), a national organization with more than 30,000 members from 15,000 organizations. APICS brings together global industry leaders and practitioners in operations management, enhancing knowledge and opportunities in the field. Activities by OMA and APICS are one useful model of how the Project Management Institute can continue to grow its strategic relationship to academic communities.

About Gary Mitchell

mitchell garyGary Mitchell is the Emerald Distinguished Professor of Operations & Technology Management at the University of Portland, Portland Oregon.  He holds a B.S. (1984) and an MBA (1988) from the University of California at Riverside, and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington (2005).   Professor Mitchell’s research focuses on project management, the impact of potential disruptions on operations, new product development projects, and supply chain and inventory management under imperfect information. He has been active in information systems development and project and supply chain management consulting since 1981. He founded a successful supply chain management software and consulting company in 1993 from which he retired in 1998 to pursue his academic interests.


About the Author

watkins sharonSharon Watkins, MBA, PMP, CSM is a career IT systems integration professional and former management consultant with Deloitte Consulting, with industry experience in business analysis, customer/user-experience, web strategy, project management and knowledge management roles.

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