Choosing a project management course

The difficulty of choosing a project management course

How should one choose a continuing education course in project management?

A vast number of project management courses are available; shorter ones with durations from two to five days and more advanced, longer ones – typically two years for master’s degree courses (and of course longer for PhD programmes in project management). These courses come at a range of prices from free online courses to quite expensive courses with extensive residential blocks.

People often wonder whether they should opt for a generic project management course or for a specialized course such as an Agile project management course, an IT project management course, a construction management course or a course on project leadership. To add to this confusion, more specialized and advanced courses (e.g. critical chain project management courses) as well as course to prepare you for specific project management examinations also exist.

Courses are offered as fully online (distance education), partially online (blended) or presented in a classroom. The presenters are from a variety of organizations that include national and private universities, colleges, and other training providers, including individual trainers.

The courses are popular, both with project managers and with others wanting to follow careers in project management. So, how should you go about deciding which course is best for you?

Consider choosing a general project management course that develops a variety of practical skills in your workplace  

You want to make sure that the course you chose, relates to your workplace.  The first advice regarding the choice of a project management course should therefore be that developing of relevant, practical skills forms a central part of the curriculum. Therefore, make sure that practical assignments, done in the workplace, form an integral part of the course.  If such assignments form an important part of the course, a generic (or general) project management course normally suffice as your first project management course (instead of a more specialized one e.g. a construction project management course, IT project management course, engineering project management course or agile project management course, etc.)  Work performed in small groups or syndicates also contributes significantly to the development of project management skills.

Choose a project management course from a credible university of other institute 

A second, important consideration for people who want a course to improve their CVs is that the value of any certificate depends entirely on the credibility of the institute issuing the certificate. Said one well-informed advisor: “Rather have a certificate for successful completion of a short course from the most credible university than a PhD from some unknown institute.”  So, the general credibility of the university (or other institution) is essential. Normally universities are most credible.  In this regard one should however note that a high general rating of a university does not necessarily imply that they are leaders in project management. Therefore, (a) first check out their standing on a website such as https://www.topuniversities.com/qs-world-university-rankings to establish the general standing of a university. (b) Then inquire about undergraduate and more advanced postgraduate degree courses they offer in the field of project management, especially master’s degrees in project management and PhDs in project management.  Both these criteria – the general standing of the university and their credibility in project management are essential for the qualification to be worthwhile.  Furthermore, you don’t want to be a guinea pig, therefore ask how many years the university or other institute has been presenting the project management course you are interested in.  Also, what do people who already did the course, say about their course? 

Choose a project management course taught by a team of credible lecturers

A third consideration is the lecturers who present the course. Project management is a multi-disciplinary field and no single person can claim to be an expert on the wide range of dissimilar aspects – from interpersonal aspects such as teamwork and leadership to ‘technical’ aspects such as cost management, scheduling, risk management, information systems, quality management and commercial aspects such as project feasibility and project procurement management.  While a single presenter is generally acceptable for a basic course with a duration of a few days only, any more substantial course should be presented by several lecturers, each specializing in a specific aspect of project management. Lecturers should have both practical project management experience and solid academic credentials.

Consider a generic project management course

Finally, it is normally good to start off with a generic project management course that covers the basics of project management, including several knowledge areas e.g. procurement, risk, quality, etc. Admission criteria for more advanced courses e.g. to prepare you to write professional certification exams often include such prior learning.

The development of project management courses

The nature of project management courses evolved very significantly over the years: in the 1980s most project management courses focused merely on project scheduling, project budgeting and project control. From the mid-1990s most training providers offer courses with a much wider scope. While project cost management, project scheduling and control still makes much of the backbone of most courses, they nowadays typically include aspects such as managing projects in stages (with stage-gates in between), project stakeholder management, scope management, project risk management, project resource management (including human resource management), project procurement management, project quality management and communications management. In the year 2000 several courses taught people how to select the best project management software, but currently only a few dominant software providers offer courses on their specific project management software such as MSProject or Primavera.  

Therefore: make sure the institution you select is actively involved in project management research and stays abreast of new developments.

Modes of presentation of project management courses online, blended or classroom

Courses that are presented fully online have become popular and are often cheaper than those that require attendance of seminars, classes or workshops, especially if time away from the workplace and costs related to travel and accommodation are taken into account. Many however agree that, especially in a field where skills need to be developed, such as in project management, contact with the presenter and work within small groups are key. In an attempt to get the best of both, hybrid project management courses are becoming common.

Several project management courses are presented in-house for specific companies while other courses are open to the public. A credible service provider will be able to offer both types of courses. 

Generic project management courses versus courses based on specific standards or methodologies

Some project management courses are based on a specific project management framework or methodology such as PRINCE2, or a specific project management standard such as that of the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK or the IPMA (International Project Management Association) ICB4. Standard. Others draw on principles from a variety of standards, methodologies and textbooks.

Some courses aim at developing skills while others prepare candidates specifically for the PMI’s CAPM or PMP certification, or for IPMA certification. Experience has shown that people who have done a generic project management course that includes for example scheduling, cost management, procurement, risk, quality management, etc. before attempting an exam prep course, find the exam prep courses easier. They therefore also have a better chance to pass an international certification examination.

While most project management courses target project managers and project management contenders, a few more advanced courses focus on business-related aspects of project management such as project feasibility studies, business cases, project selection, programme and portfolio management, benefits realization management or value management.  These courses normally require a basic understanding of project management principles as well as financial / business principles as prior knowledge.

In conclusion: a good starting point is a generic project management course from a credible institution

Unless you already have extensive knowledge of project management, it is wise to start with a general project management course, offered by a credible university that specializes in project management. The institution should have a team of lecturers with practical project management experience, each specializing in a specific project management knowledge area. 

Such a course provides a solid base for managing projects more successfully, as well as for further education and international certifications. Advanced courses and specialized course will build on the knowledge and skills taught on such as course.