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Lessons Learned from Teaching Project Management
By Scott R. Coplan

Project management methodologies offer valuable theoretical frameworks. Unfortunately, a practitioner can spend more time deciphering these methodologies than putting them to practical use.

I had nine weeks to teach project management to mid-career clinicians. To be effective in this short period, I decided to teach my students the practical application of the theoretical methodology described in the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).

As a 30-year practitioner of project management applied to information technology projects, I intuitively understand the difference between practical application and theory. However, teaching what I know intuitively is a challenge. Nonetheless, this is what I did:

1. I never understood why it made sense to organize a project management course by each Knowledge Area found in PMBOK. Knowledge Areas are sets of skills project managers must know if they expect to manage projects effectively. For example, effective project managers must know how to manage scope, time and cost.

While project managers need to understand the Knowledge Areas, they must know how and when to apply them during a project. PMBOKs Process Groups organize projects into Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control and Closing. PMBOK states that Knowledge Areas and Process Groups interact, concurrently, throughout projects. Even an experienced project manager using PMBOK can get lost in individual Knowledge Areas and lose sight of how and when to apply them to the Process Groups or project lifecycle.

My solution was to turn PMBOK on its head and teach my class based on Process Groups, addressing Knowledge Areas as they occur throughout a project. This was a challenge, particularly since PMBOK fails to include an effective picture that conveys Knowledge Area and Process Group interaction throughout a project. I found that hypertext links on a Web page offered a pictorial solution that displays how Process Groups and Knowledge Areas fit together. As an example, click here.

2. This also gave me an opportunity to address another issue. PMBOK describes Process Groups as re-occurring consecutively throughout a project. The sequential nature of Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control and Closing is confusing. I never felt comfortable with this sequence when applied to Execution and Control. When I see Execution and Control sequentially, it reminds me of driving a car without steering it. I addressed this last issue in my class by always displaying Execution and Control as concurrent Process Groups.

The feedback from the class was that these two ideas effectively communicated how to put a well-respected project management methodology into practice.

Scott has 30 years of experience that includes strategic reviews, project planning, requirements definition, process reviews, acquisition assistance, risk management, software testing and acceptance for ongoing projects, audits of completed project, analyses of failing system implementations, and development and implementation of successful system projects. This also includes transferring a consistent approach to developing and managing projects to clients.

Scott is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society. Scott
is also a member of the Health Information Systems Society (HIMSS) and chairs the Task Force Work Group on Health Information Technology (IT) Contracting and the Task Force Work Group on Project Management. In addition, he holds a faculty position at the University of Washington School of Nursing, where he teaches project management for health care IT. In 2003, Scott and Randy Gainer of Davis Wright Tremaine published “Liability of Hospitals and Their Officials When Technology Projects Fail,” Bureau of National Affairs Health Care Reporter, Vol. 12, No. 39, pp. 1528-1535.

Scott’s commercial website can be found at, he also maintains a blog here.

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