A growth industry: project management education programs

A new requirement for project managers at work on large government IT programs has launched a trend: Experienced IT professionals are headed back to school.

As the IT project managers search for ways to get the now-required training, universities turn to partnerships with private technology training providers to meet the demand.

'It's typically not an area where universities can handle a large volume of the training because there is so much need,' said Bill Ferguson, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University's CIO Institute in Pittsburgh.

But with this fall's new rules that mandate an IT project manager oversee major IT missions, agencies are seeking immediate help'government faces a severe shortage of certified project managers.

Under the Office of Management and Budget mandate, project managers must qualify for their positions if they manage projects with budgets of more than $5 million.

To define an IT project manager's role and clarify what comprises proper certification, the Office of Personnel Management on Aug. 28 issued a 21-page document full of detailed descriptions.

'There's a growing need in the federal government to have specific job information on what project managers do,' said Tara Ricci, personnel research psychologist with OPM who helped define the IT project manager job classification. 'Up until this point there was not a specific guideline.'

Ferguson agrees the new guidelines are needed. Before the new OPM job classification for federal IT project managers, there was no defined or consistent career path for project managers to follow, he said.

Ricci said the new guidelines eliminate guesswork and runaround as groups fill key positions. 'It's all in one source of information,' she said. 'It lays out job tasks, competencies, and guidance to staff new positions and training for agencies to have available.'

The guidelines also are flexible enough to allow agencies to determine how the project managers will be trained and to add their own requirements for certification, she said.

The requirements, developed with input from agencies and from the CIO Council, allows agencies to train IT managers in-house or to choose outsourcing.

It is too soon yet to know how many of the IT project managers will receive training in-house or elsewhere. But some universities with prominent IT education programs and their private partners expect the number to grow significantly.

Gearing up at Carnegie

Ferguson said Carnegie Mellon adds its strength and value by helping develop the content and assuring its quality.

The Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon and the university's Chief Information Officer Institute has partnered with corporate trainers PM College, part of project management consultant PM Solutions Inc. in Arlington, Va.

The CIO Institute and PM College will hold its IT Project Management master's certificate program twice next year.

A student enrolling in any of the five courses will pay $1,295, although federal employees get a discount, as do those who enroll in all five classes, said Debbie Bigelow, president of PM College.

With those allowances, a federal worker could complete the five-course program for about $8,000, Bigelow said. As students complete the work, they also earn credits toward a master's degree.

The classes examine topics such as identifying IT requirements and IT project schedule management and will be held from January to June and then again from July to December.

The training program has expanded its schedule and will hold courses at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute in Arlington.

'Some have said more than $50 billion worth of projects are at risk because of not having enough IT project managers,' Ferguson said. 'That's an indicator of the amount of funding going into IT projects.'

'A Terrific Idea'

George Washington University in Washington has partnered with corporate trainers ESI International to provide a course of study similar to what Carnegie Mellon will begin offering in January.

'Better training for program personnel is a terrific idea,' said Chris Yukins, an IT professor at George Washington. ESI International's partnership with the Washington institution resembles other programs for contract managers, Yukins said.

'As the federal IT marketplace has exploded over the last few years, the key problem hasn't been in contract management but in aligning users' needs with the marketplace,' he said. 'With better project manager oversight, agencies will be more successful in getting the best value for their procurement dollar.'

Christine Miller Ford is a freelance writer


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