For the past eight years on the MSc in Management of Projects at the University of Manchester, we’ve been setting an assignment called the ‘Project Management Video Documentary’. Teams of students are tasked with creating a video documentary of a live case project based on an analysis of the project and interview with the associated project manager.
Interview questions are based on the current APM Body of Knowledge. Over the years, we have generated a collection of 190 sets containing approximately 3,000 questions asked of experienced project professionals by aspiring project professionals. So, what is it that future project managers want to know about the real world of project management?
Based on analysis from the current academic year, we found that their questions centred on the technicalities of projects and the project practitioners themselves. In our word-cloud of professional practice questions ‘project’ and ‘manage’ were (unsurprisingly) the most prevalent, but ‘cost’, ‘risk’, ‘stakeholder’, ‘team’ and ‘plan’ were also apparent.
What will I be working on?
Students want insights into practicalities of projects. Those who want to pursue a project management career wanted to know what things will form the first tasks they will be involved with.
However some students do not see project management as a career of choice but rather as a tool they can use in their careers. For them, project management is a life skill for working in the projectivised organisation. They are going to be delivering their value or change through projects, and they are going to be concerned about teams, risk and so on.
What do they want to know about you?
What do students want to know about project practitioners as people? The most common questions are:
- What are your proudest achievements?
- Why did you want to be a project manager/what do you like about it?
- What was your route into project management?
- How do I develop status as a project management?
- What should be my priorities for learning in project management?
- What skills can be learned from your example and the example of your project?
- What is the most complex and time-consuming thing that you do in your work?
- How does your work help with your career plans?
You are a role model and a gateway into their career
What does a project management student who wants a career in project management see when they look at a practitioner like you? They see you as a gateway and a model. Your office and your work site provide an authentic, non-institutional learning environment. They are keen to know how to start their career and further develop it. They are aware that they are responsible for their own progression. Your work provides a model of activities done in professional practice and you provide a model of professional behaviour.
The practitioners who have worked with us on our unit also provide formative assessments of student performance and feedback. There is only one kind of feedback our students really want from us – the score. Whereas, being told that their questions are meaningful and interesting and that their work is good by those that they hope to be like is far more resonant. Ultimately, you give them an authentic social context for their career intentions and a sense of the potential of belonging to a specialist body.
Why is it useful for you to know these things?
This can be useful for any project manager or project organisation that wants to get involved with higher education institutions that teach project management. Perhaps the organisation or practitioner has CSR obligations and they are looking to do outreach of some kind. Our findings are clearly useful if you are invited to do careers talks or co-develop any educational experience in projects. As academics, we are also keen to develop positive and long-term exchanges with project practitioners and project organisations so that we can contribute to project management knowledge and better prepare our students for future project work – and bridge the gaps between theory and practice.
Our students are neophyte project managers, they have these questions now, they will also have them when they appear in your organisations as your junior colleagues. It can be terrifying to ask questions when you are the new person and keen to gain face with your new colleagues. Now you know the kinds of things you could lead on in conversations and the most useful stories to pass on to your juniors.
This blog was co-written by Dr Ian Stewart and Dr Kun Wang
Dr Kun Wang is a Lecturer in Engineering Project Management at the University of Manchester.