Interesting Observation That Project Management Is Something You Won’t Learn In Business School

First saw this post at Virginia Postrel’s site. The originally referenced post is by her other half, Dr. Steven Postrel here. Dr. Postrel writes:

A peculiar fact about business schools (at least in the USA) is that project management is not part of the regular MBA curriculum. Why is this peculiar? Only because a huge percentage of the work managers do is organized into projects, the success or failure of strategies often rests on the quality of execution of projects, and many of the principles and techniques of good project management are not immediately obvious. But hey, if anyone needs to know about this trivial stuff they can always go to a two-day workshop and get a certificate (probably from an engineering department). Or learn it on the job, which in this context often means screwing things up and trying to guess what you did wrong.

I guess on the one hand, I would agree that core management "science" topics (a bucket in which project management perhaps fits into) should be covered in business schools. That said, similar to a somewhat controversial post I wrote here on ethics courses in business schools, my perspective (from the vantage point of an MBA alum rolling back time and putting himself in an MBA student’s shoes) would be that I would not have wanted to shovel out top dollar for that type of course as a customer of the business school product. Project management is a knowledge base and skill set that many people pick up on the job, regardless of whether effectiveness of process, tools, and outcomes are measured systematically. At least I would not have wanted to pay for a project management course in a naked form. The topic could be combined with some other product, such as a product development/management, consulting methods, change management, operations, or governance course. Although I am clearly biased, I think it could play well in a consulting course, especially since projects and engagements are related (but different animals).

12 Replies to “Interesting Observation That Project Management Is Something You Won’t Learn In Business School”

  1. I agree that project management should be a part of MBAs. I would not combine it with operational management as that is an entirely different beast.
    I think project management should be stand alone subjects of a MBA but not all an MBA should be about. The reason being that in a day-to-day world you’ll need to do project management, operational management etc. in one job. True some positions have more of one than the others but you still find them all.
    My view is that most (if not all) MBAs do not get the mix between the science and the fluffy stuff right, concentrating on one more than the other (e.g. Engineering base MBAs focus a lot on the science and leave some of the fluffy stuff as single semester electives).

  2. I think I agree with you that project management probably should not be part of an operations course. Operations is a bit of a different animal. That said, I have been involved in consulting projects where one is trying to change the operations environment from one state to another and a project or program management-based approach plays a key role.
    I really like your comment “My view is that most (if not all) MBAs do not get the mix between the science and the fluffy stuff right, concentrating on one more than the other (e.g. Engineering base MBAs focus a lot on the science and leave some of the fluffy stuff as single semester electives).” I wonder where this shows up post-MBA though? Do people regret what they didn’t take? Or do they fail to grow themselves to a high of a potential that they could have?

  3. Project management is taught by MBA schools i.e. through the experience of managing several classes with multiple projects going on at the same time. It is like any of the soft skills, necessary but hard to teach. It is learned by experiencing.

  4. Hi Steve,
    At the MBA school that I just graduated from,we had an elective on project management.If one took the course, and had relevant experience, one could even apply for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam, which I took and cleared it.
    One interesting thing was the way project management was taught at the B-School. There was the usual stuff from PMI plus we had a lot of HBR case studies and analysis. Post MBA, I am taking up Management Consulting as a career and few of the Directors/Partners whom I have spoken to stress the importance of understanding the skills,tools,jargon and techniques of project management.

  5. Andy, thanks for the comment. I have to say I got most of my training on the topic from work. Can’t say that I am an expert by any means, but my experience in that area is sufficient for the work I currently do.
    Indian Blogger, thanks also for the perspectives. Also congrats on passing the PMP certification. Looks like you will also have an interesting time in management consulting. Good luck there. Project management is definitely an important area for management consultants in that engagements are time bound and often require lots of coordination.

  6. Guess joining PRTM. 🙂 While I was evaluating my options when I had some offers in hand,your past experiences with PRTM (mentioned in the blog) played an important role in my final decision.

  7. No way. That’s great, man!!! Congrats on finishing up the MBA and starting with a great firm. The experiences should go a long way for you.

  8. Everything I learned about successful leadership and project management were during my days at BlackRock! A technology intensive B2B investment management firm.

  9. Project management is changing to have more of an end user focus. The best way to do this is probably on the job with the use of a stable project management system like Vertabase ( that helps to shape a project intelligently.

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