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What is a good project to teach university students project management principles?

I tried one last semester, producing a video, but found it was too simple and the students did not have to work hard enough (and the network diagrams were too simple because there were too few tasks).

The project needs to fit into a semester and should neither be too large or too small. It should not require any extensive technical knowledge (that is, no software development projects).

Edit: Ideally, the project would require only skills that most never-employed 20 year olds would have. The project should ideally not require the students to spend any money (and the school is not going to give them any either).

Edit 2: Ideally, the project would take a group of 4 people 1 to 2 hours per week (per person) for 13-14 weeks.

Has anyone here had experience doing this?

  • You could always try something a bit meta, and ask them to manage a project with the objective of building a project management training module. :) – Todd A. Jacobs Dec 17 '13 at 4:07
  • @CodeGnome I think that could be fun....for students who have some background in PM already. Mine are pretty green (and young). – earthling Dec 17 '13 at 5:07
  • After a little soul-searching, I think this question should be closed because it doesn't really allow for a canonical answer. However, it would certainly be on-topic in our site's chat room. – Todd A. Jacobs Dec 18 '13 at 23:16
  • If by "One True Answer" you mean one you like best and want to accept, then yes. If you mean a truly canonical answer which is objectively true, I respectfully disagree. Please see this section of the help pages. – Todd A. Jacobs Dec 19 '13 at 0:08
  • Do you believe this is not a constructive subjective question? If you believe that, please let me know why because it seems constructive to me. – earthling Dec 19 '13 at 2:45
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When I signed up for the course "Project Management", honestly, I didn't expect too much. Thing is, I attended similar courses before and most of them were just boring. I mean, theory is nice and good, but you don't believe it until you get some hands on experience. People are like that and it's good, though sometimes annoying for the teachers ;)

Anyways, the "Project Management" (compact) course really changed my way of thinking! Why? Well, it had three major reasons (the second and thrid being more important to me than the first):

  1. The lecturer came from a small company and, thus, new what he was talking about. He gave examples for everything he was talking about. I mean, real-world examples, not these boiled down, idealized, artificial things...
  2. He used his management techniques to organize the course! He showed us everything in practice by managing 60 students he had never seen before in an agile manner. He let us participate and reacted to our questions
  3. He let us prepare different aspects in smaller subgroups. Thereby, he made us use the management techniques ourselves. We did Mini-Scrums (4 iterations in 20 minutes: split the work and assign the tasks, begin the work, finish the work, combine the work to the end result), we used timeboxing to prevent discussions to loose focus, etc.

So, in the end, he showed that what he taught worked in the larger scale (whole lecture) and he made us practice it ourselves (subgroups). In the meanwhile he spiced the theory up with stories about his experiences. The result was one of the best courses I every took.

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    What was the project that he used for you to work on? – earthling Dec 17 '13 at 12:15
  • The project was understanding and practicing the management techniques. Seems kinda twisted at first, I know, but it actually makes a lot of sense :D – Sven Amann Dec 18 '13 at 8:50
  • I'm a little confused. So, he would have you practicing management techniques by doing what exactly? – earthling Dec 18 '13 at 12:58
  • Think about "learning something" as a project. Then it consists of research, reading, practice, discussion, ... all these steps can be planned, broken down, estimated, distributed amongst several people, collected in documents, etc.. Now chose project management as the topic you want to learn about and you're there. – Sven Amann Dec 18 '13 at 16:45
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Why don't you get them to plan out their educational careers? There is a huge amount of potential for them to:

  • Articulate a vision of where they want to be in 5-10 years
  • Develop a business case to justify spending Mum's $$ on their education
  • Identify soft as well as hard benefits and costs
  • Identify stakeholders that they need to engage (Mum, profs, future employers, future spouse, etc etc)
  • Identify risks and risk management strategies
  • Define key deliverables and workflow, along with roles/responsibilities for their realization
  • Work out a benefits realization strategy for post-project confirmation that benefits are being accrued
  • etc

If nothing else you'll be doing a bunch of 20-somethings a favor by forcing them to think beyond a one-semester time horizon.

  • Great idea ! It also can be really useful in their whole life while it increases their interest in Project Management. – Alex Dec 17 '13 at 16:32
  • I agree, it is a good idea but I was really hoping for something they could complete in 15 weeks including doing a post-mortem. I guess I could have them come back in five years and do it then. ;-) – earthling Dec 18 '13 at 2:40
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The automation for the university admission system can be a sample project. Or the on-campus hiring/placement system can be another project they can work on.

  • As for automation, we cannot expect technical skills. As for hiring, there is no reason to believe they understand anything about a hiring process. – earthling Dec 17 '13 at 12:02
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    Sounds like you are grooming them for a role in HR then ;) – Marv Mills Dec 18 '13 at 17:01
  • You dont need technical skills or need to know hiring process, they just need to manage a project. Project manager should be able to deal with all type of projects. Drive this point especially if anybody points out that its technically or domain wise challenging. – ViSu Dec 19 '13 at 6:35
  • @visu You are right. However, a real project has real work without which status updates would be missing and I want a full real project. – earthling Dec 20 '13 at 7:04
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I am currently trying something very different for one of my project management classes that I teach at the University of Missouri. It is a short eight-week class, so there is not a lot of time. However the students are all MBAs, a lot with some work experience. So they are ready to move at a pretty fast pace. This semester the students are developing draft management plans for a project at the simulation center ( part of the med school).

For example, two weeks ago the class studied stakeholder management. In class, we analyze the stakeholders in a case (HMS pinafore) so that the students had some simulated experience. We are using the same case throughout the course; it allows the student to see the project from several different angles, and become very familiar with the one case.

Then last week one team of students developed a list of stakeholders, a communications plan, as well as an influence/authority matrix for the simulation center project. They presented this plan to the class and the simulation center, in order to get feedback and perfect it. They then submitted the plan this past Tuesday. That team is also responsible for updating the plan is additional stakeholders are identified during the rest the course. The group of students were able to identify some stakeholders that might have large influence over the project, that had not been clearly identified previously.

It is not perfect, but I think this approach is giving students a lot more insight into what a project manager has to deal with (even a few difficult stakeholders here and there perhaps). I will know more at the end of the semester and would be happy to share my results/syllabus/resources with anyone.

I would also say, that if you're looking to teach about agile, there are several excellent resources on the web for simulating an agile project using Legos. I've done this in previous semesters and it has been a very valuable experience for students to understand how important planning and understanding customer requirements can be, regardless of the type of methodology that you're using for your project.

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I use a designing and building a deck project. It is fairly simple. But simple enough to cover in a 14 week course and complex enough that your WBS, network diagrams and time and cost estimates need some research and thought. I have them watch the videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeDvNXAJ7vY parts 1 through 6. These videos really help them create a WBS and network diagram.

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