Project management involves the planning, organisation and management of time, labour, budget and resources (employees, software, building materials, etc), in order to achieve a clearly defined goal (e.g. launching a new product, erecting a building). All project management programmes are part time and are typically aimed at current professionals with leadership responsibilities, or those who hope to move into such a role. The course content is therefore heavily geared towards the workplace.
The discipline is closely associated with, and originally developed from, heavy industry and construction. Engineering, architects and quantity surveyors who are seeking to develop their project management skills are therefore well catered for, with three part time programmes are available from Waterford IT (MSc), DIT (MBA) and Trinity College (PDip). The DIT programme provides expertise in the all-round business skills (leadership, strategic management, etc) that would one expect from the world’s leading business qualification, as well as modules aimed specifically at construction project management.
The other two (cheaper!) programmes focus exclusively on project management in the construction sphere with modules on issues such as people management, IT, and the legal aspects of construction.
Interested parties, who require the financial support of their employer toward fees, would be well advised to clearly identify the benefits to the company of your enrolling before approaching the boss. Dr Trevor Orr, Course Director in Trinity College, says there has been a ‘bit of a fall back in class numbers’ with the ongoing recession, which has hit construction particularly hard, dissuading employers from sponsoring employees.
The employer benefits from the increased skill set of the employee, and the fruits of a work-based project carried out by the student. Examples of recent projects, which the students themselves propose, include an examination of the costs and benefits of high bay lighting, and underpinning accident prevention through risk assessment.
The benefits to the learner are substantial according to Dr Orr. ‘Project management qualifications are very important for anyone hoping to progress to senior positions,’ he explains. ‘These skills – contract management, risk assessment, etc – are not really taught at undergraduate level and they’re highly sought after within the sector. In addition, people learning through CPD [continuous professional development] will not have the qualification to show for it that a postgraduate has.’
Project management qualifications therefore, are a key requirement of construction managers. But recent years has seen the discipline, with its highly desirable traits of controlled budgets and effective outcomes, become more and more popular in other sectors of the economy.
IT Tralee provide a postgraduate Certificate in Computing Project Management; a minor award from which students can progress to an MSc in Computing. The course, according to Head of Computing and Mathematics Dept Aisling Sharkey, is designed to provide IT professionals with the skills not only to lead a team, but also to function effectively as part of a team and understand other people’s roles. Skills such as research ability, defining goals, scheduling and task management all contribute to the student’s workplace performance and the overall marketability of their CV.
According to John F Kelly, Director of the Centre of Project Management, which provides a distance learning MA in Project Management, it is ‘evolving as a discipline. Traditionally project management was needed to manage resources in construction projects, but it is now widely used to manage organisational change.
More and more organisations,’ he continues, ‘are recognising the need to identify and implement the changes that are strategically required, or are being forced upon them.
Kelly identifies the recession as a typical cause of these enforced changes. ‘Project management is all the more critical now; it gives direction and focus at a time when more and more are being asked to do more with less resources. Maybe a small bit of wastage could have been afforded in the past, but not anymore. Project management can deliver efficiencies.’ He identifies SMEs that are attempting to grow as a sector that could particularly benefit from adopting project management; ’15 to 50 employees is a huge change.’
Courses will typically cover specialised software and management information systems, which play a vital role in project management, but Kelly feels it’s equally important to never lose sight of the human touch. ‘Software’s only a tool, but people run projects. There is a need for good people management skills as targets need to be met in a short time frame. The project manager needs to develop good relationships with others.’
The key to good project management is its successful adaptation to different sectors, and students of the MA programme, as with all project management courses, are given the opportunity to apply in the workplace the tools and techniques they have learnt. Students also undertake a project for their employer, or a third party company. In what Kelly describes as ‘a very powerful learning experience’, students present their findings to the businesses, which then provide feedback to the college.
Aside from UL, non-industry specific project management programmes are also available from UCD Smurfit Business School (MBS or MSc), and the Communications & Management Institute (Advanced Diploma – approved by the Project Management Institute).