Effective approaches in instructing the project management tools of Gantt Charts and Action Plans will be covered in detail. This article is the second post on the importance of integrating real-world project management skills into undergraduate business school curriculum. The first post entitled, “Business School Curriculum Needs to Incorporate Project Management: Request For Proposals” is suggested to be read prior to this second part. In addition to the detailed Request for Proposal coverage, the first part contains background on why project management is so important in the workplace, general guidelines for project management instruction and two compelling student emails.
Below are three more student testimonials emails I received from teaching Marketing Management that contain appreciative acknowledgements that project management skills were immediately used during their respective internships that same semester:
“… I recognized the value of those assignments! For example, last weekend my organization had a promotional event which was attended by over 400 people. On behalf of the promotional company I worked with the venue owner and others. I used the RFP skills in negotiating the contract including how important it is to get everything written on the contract to make sure they don’t bait and switch. I developed a Gantt Chart to organize the event. … You were a great professor and a coach who pushed students to do better and really brought real life examples to class instead of just learning from the textbook. …
” This semester my most challenging class and rewarding class has been Marketing Manangement. The weekly assignments we were given taught me how to do many practical things in business (RFP’s and Gantt Charts) and also made me become a near expert in Excel….
“I must admit I learned a lot from you. It was difficult in the beginning, but I studied hard. You gave me the chance to actually apply many concepts that were just theoretical stories in my mind (Gantt Charts, RFPs, …). Now in my work those are things that people refer to me as the expert. I could have not achieved it without the assignments. …
Teaching Approach for Gantt Charts and Critical Path
Gantt Charts are horizontal bar charts that depict project tasks against a calendar. They are an instrumental tool in managing projects with (i) many activities that have varying completion timeframes, and (ii) the activities have timing interdependencies. Timing interdependencies simply stated involve activities that cannot be either started or finished before another separate activity (or activities) is completed. Gantt Charts force oneself upfront to plan for the staging and sequencing of these dependent activities. Once the Gantt Chart is completed it serves as an excellent tool to oversee how a project is progressing, especially from a critical path standpoint. So many projects get delayed and over budget because critical path activities are not focused upon.
Students first complete a Gantt Chart manually to assure they are focusing on the sequencing, timing and interdependencies of the activities. Depending upon the course I may choose assignments including the following listed below:
- Hospitality: Coordinating a conference including site selection, sponsorship, speakers, various promotional activities (brochure, mailings, email)
- Management Information Systems: Coordinating a management information systems project including system requirements; RFP development; bidder identification and pre-qualification; selection and negotiation; implementation and training.
During class I may demonstrate the concepts with something as basic as coordinating a recreational baseball league that involves promoting signup, coach recruiting, selection and background checks, player tryouts, grading by independent evaluators and drafting; and season scheduling involving pre-season, practices, jerseys, trophies and playoffs. This class exercise is a complimentary upload, Gantt Chart of Recreational Baseball Season Commissioner Responsibilities.
An example of a Gantt Chart Weekly Assignment is available as a premium attachment. As extra credit the students can automate their manual Gantt Chart on a free, very-user friendly, online service called Viewpath. Viewpath has a very good video tutorial.
Action Plans Teaching Approach
The experience for students to construct an Action Plan, that involves a multitude of activities with timing and sequencing issues, prepares them for the workplace. Simply stated, an Action Plan is a planned series of actions, tasks or steps designed to achieve an objective or goal. An Action Plan is conceptually a sophisticated “To Do List.” Many undergraduates have not yet applied basic checklist management skills to their personal and professional experiences.
Topics with students include:
- Project oversight becomes manageable by breaking down a large-scale project into chronological activities and tasks.
- Frequent status meetings are conducted with involved parties in person or by conference calling.
- Frequently update Action Plan by eliminating completed items and updating outstanding activity time frames and issues. Redistribute updates to project members.
- Database format allows sorting by responsibility and target completion date. These capabilities streamline the efforts of managing by critical path and responsible party.
The weekly assignment involves constructing an Action Plan on an Excel worksheet with the following columns:
- Activity Description
- Further Detailed Task Description
- Start Date: Target and Actual
- Completion Date: Target and Actual
- Status and Comments
Determining an appropriate application for a student assignment is relatively easy for most business school courses. Examples for courses include:
- Management Information Systems: System requirements, bidding, selection and implementation
- Service and Quality Management: Crisis Management Plan development and implementation
- Marketing Management: New Product Development Plan
Business School Syllabus Review Eliminates Project Management Coverage?
Undergraduate business schools need to understand the importance of covering project management topics. Just this year in developing a new course syllabus I included project management topics. To my astonishment the marketing department instructed me to eliminate these three project management tools that I had integrated into the course. The determination was made without even conferring with me.
Propelling Business Degree Curriculum Forward to Incorporate Project Management
Dr. Malcolm Wheatley of ProjectSmart astutely summarizes the importance of project management in today’s workplace:
Project management as a management discipline underpins much economic activity. In industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals, software and aerospace, projects drive business. And in the public sector, it is effective project management that translates politicians’ promises of new roads, schools and hospitals into gleaming new constructions that improve everyday life.
Business schools can improve the productivity of its graduates as they enter the workplace by incorporating project management topics as a basic element of undergraduate curriculum.