Wharton, Insead, Harvard, Stanford, London Business School, Columbia, IMD, MIT, Instituto de Empresa, Chicago,…the world most prestigious business schools, don’t teach project management as a core course to the future business leaders as part of their flagship MBA programmes.
Senior executives seem to neither fully understand project management nor regard it as an important means of business strategy execution. Yet, only a few of the world top business school’s Masters of Business Administration (MBAs) teach project management as part of their core course curriculum.
My vision is that by 2020, most of the MBA programmes worldwide will offer Project Management as a mandatory course.
While conducting my research, I discovered that most heads of organisations view project management as a highly technical discipline—an area for engineers and information technology (IT) professionals. Consequently, they:
- Lack a basic understanding of how to link each of their strategic projects with the company’s overall strategy,
- Do not devote much time developing in-house project management competencies,
- Fail to implement a formal project selection process and investment committee, which discusses, prioritises, and decides on all the new project proposals, and
- Lack the means to monitor the success or failure of their strategic projects.
But why do so many senior executives feel this way? In an attempt to get to the deeper reasons for their views, I discovered that:
- Most of the highly regarded business management gurus, those that influence the way businesses are managed (e.g., Professors Frederick Taylor, Peter Drucker, and Michael Porter), do not mention project management and/or the importance of its link with strategy execution in their theories,
- Project management is not a highly regarded topic in most of the finest business publications, and
- Only very few of the world top business school’s Masters of Business Administration (MBAs) teach project management as part of their core course curriculum.
I will focus on the third finding, which is the main theme of my article.
Ignored by most of the world Top MBA programmes
After determining that most business management gurus and the finest business publications disregard project management and its link with strategy execution, I wanted to find out whether the same was true at the top business schools. Specifically, I wanted know whether the MBA programmes at world-renowned institutions such as Harvard and INSEAD, which teach the world’s future chief executive officers (CEOs) and senior executives, actually include project management as part of their core business curriculum.
Over the past 40 years, the MBA has become one of the most sought-after degrees in the world. Many of the current top managers have gone through this business programme, and most future leaders will do. The traditional MBA programme has a duration of between 12 to 24 months, and it is divided into two blocks. The first block is composed of core courses, which are mandatory for every student. The second block comprises an extensive list of elective courses, from which students select a certain number that relate to their specialisation. (Note:I only look into the top 100 Masters in Business Administration, and no other kind of Master)
Research into the Inclusion of Project Management Courses
Using the Financial Times 2010 ranking of the world’s top business schools, I researched whether any of them taught project management as either a core course or an elective. The chart below shows the results of my research:
The results are astonishing: Only two of the top 100 MBA programs in the world teach project management as a core course. The first business school that required its students to take a course in project management is the UK’s Cranfield School of Management, which is ranked 26th in the world. The second and last business school that teaches project management as a mandatory course is the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, ranked 64th in the world.
Why Project Management courses are absent from standard MBA Curriculum
Although the absence of project management from the standard MBA curriculum is hard to believe, my research shows that there are a few explanations for this omission.
First, no significant changes have been made to the MBA core curriculum since it was first launched half a century ago. The programme’s core courses still generally include the following:
These core courses are intended to cover the most important areas of businesses today and in the future. Their content strongly correlates with how companies are organised and with the most discussed topics in the business press.
Second, MBAs reflect the theories of many of the business management gurus. Some of these gurus teach or taught at these top business schools, and the fact that their teachings largely ignore project management greatly influences the composition of the MBAs.
Third, although project management has become increasingly important over the past century, this trend has been unnoticed and its exact importance to the business world is very difficult to estimate.
Why Project Management should be part of the core MBA curriculum
A company without projects is something that no one can imagine. Projects are the best way to create significant value to an organisation. This can be done via new products, international expansion, acquisitions. It is also a good way to increase efficiencies or reduce cost. Without projects, there is no change and no transformation. The selection and execution of the right projects can create significant competitive advantage for a business. Project management has become a core competency for business leaders and managers, yet, it is not taught in most of the Top MBAs offered worldwide.
In addition, there are several reasons why I believe project management is important for an MBA programme curriculum. The three main ones are:
a. All of the MBA students (have been) or will be (sooner or later) involved in projects when they will join the business world after graduation. They might play a role as a sponsor, stakeholder, project leader, or team member. But it will be important that they know the basics of how to execute a project and make it successful.
b. In the current market conditions, I see that many companies demand that their high potential employees have basic project management and execution skills and manage a large project in order to gain promotion to a more senior level (for example: Philips, P&G, Siemens).
c. Since last year, some leading companies require project management as number one competency for their Corporate Strategy jobs (see Nike’s job offer for a Corporate Strategy and Development Manager in 2014)
d. If business schools and MBAs do not teach future leaders how to choose, prioritise and execute projects, who will?
PD.1. I wrote this article in 2014 for the business magazine Today’s Manager, from the Singapore Institute of Management