This book is the result of a collaboration among the three instructors responsible for Technical Project Management, one of the ten required classes in the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Master of Engineering Management is a world-class online program, consistently ranked in the Top 10 by U.S. News & World Report. Unlike many self-paced, online degree programs, the Engineering Management program provides a collaborative learning opportunity in which students work together to complete actual projects from their workplaces, discuss weekly topics, and participate in weekly web conferences. All of the students in the MEM program are experienced engineers, working full-time as they complete their graduate studies. The course and this text are targeted to the interests and needs of such mid-career professionals, who value practical principles and guidance.
The Technical Project Management class is designed to help students build on their past experiences and develop effective strategies for managing complex technical projects, with an emphasis on applying project management concepts to real-world problems. In the weekly web conferences, the class comes together in community to discuss the lesson topics, considering the practical applications of the concepts in each subject area.
Course Learning Objectives
The course learning objectives are the following:
- Identify and explain the value of critical skills needed for effective management and leadership of projects
- Assess one’s own abilities with respect to critical project management skills and develop a plan for addressing weaknesses
- Explain and apply methods for comparing and selecting/prioritizing competing projects
- Define and analyze steps needed to effectively initiate a project
- Describe, design, and apply processes and tools needed to effectively plan a project
- Design strategies and methods needed to effectively monitor and control a project’s performance with respect to project objectives (costs, schedule, quality, and others)
- Analyze, apply, and design strategies and methods needed to effectively identify, assess, and manage project risks
- Describe, apply, and analyze strategies and methods needed to effectively audit a project
- Describe and apply methods for effective closure of a project
The main textbook for this class, Project Management: The Managerial Process, by Erik W. Larson and Clifford F. Gray, provides a wealth of details on project management theories, practices, and procedures. However, in our seven years of teaching the class, we have seen students struggle to balance prescriptive theories about how projects should unfold, with the realities of how they actually do unfold in the modern world. For that reason, we wrote this book as a supplement that would explore the uncertain realities of technical project management in the ever-changing environment of today’s business world.
This book is organized around the fifteen lessons of the Technical Project Management course, with an emphasis on the connections between the various stages and practices of technical project management. After all, in practice, a project manager must continually draw on a wide base of knowledge, connecting, for instance, effective negotiating techniques with best practices for scheduling and resource allocation. No phase of a project unfolds in complete isolation from other phases of the project. Everything is connected. Our goal in this book is to create doors and windows in the normally self-contained silos of activities involved in technical project management, drawing connections between planning and risk management, between risk management and ethics, between ethics and supply chain management, just to name a few of the many connections you will read about in this book.
We’ve chosen to publish this book as an open educational resource, making it available to anyone with an interest in technical project management. We were inspired to do this by the Wisconsin Idea, a philosophy embraced by the University of Wisconsin that encourages sharing new ideas and practical information far beyond the borders of the university itself. From its earliest days, the University of Wisconsin has been a pioneer in delivering course materials by any means necessary, starting with inexpensive pamphlets and correspondence courses, and expanding to include radio and television broadcasts, and now online courses of all kind. We hope this open educational resource will serve as another example of Wisconsin’s proud tradition of promoting learning throughout the wider community. You can contribute to this effort by emailing comments about ways to improve this book to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond to every comment, and whenever possible, revise the book to reflect our readers’ own personal experiences in the world of technical project management.
Throughout this book, we emphasize that project management is something you can really only learn by doing. It is not simply a matter of mastering a set of tools. In the real world, projects unfold in complex contexts. To succeed as a project manager, you need to be reflective and attentive, ready and able to learn about your project and adapt when necessary, from the earliest days of research and evaluation on through to project completion. In other words, you need to think of each project as a knowledge acquisition process. Successful project managers never cease in their efforts to gain experience in all aspects of project management.
We hope our students will find this book helpful as they continue their learning journey through the world of technical project management.