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Project Management in Education

Sometime ago, a colleague and I were invited to propose on providing project management training to a government supported education provider. This enterprise covered a wide range of topics through a variety of media, including local TV. They were, therefore, collectively involved in a large number of in-house assignments or "projects".

Quite a small group within the organization felt that their efforts would be better served if the concept of project management could be introduced. Indeed, in their spare time over a couple of years, they had developed some philosophies, procedures, life-cycle steps, and so on. The time had come, they felt, to broadcast the good word, but "credible experts" were needed for the task.

Funds were raised and, as of necessity, the Personnel Department were authorized to hire consultants (us). Knowing how important it is to get on the right track, use the right cultural language of the organization, and send the right messages, we had included two meetings with the "working committee" as part of our proposal. The first was to flesh out and agree the content outlined in our proposal and the second to confirm the training product and review the workbook we had by then prepared.

The training would consist of two four-day workshops, each to a separate group with follow-up to be provided several weeks later. It would cover forty to fifty people in all. We were assured that the attendees would be experienced in managing the enterpriseÍs projects.

We should have known we were in trouble by the second meeting because

  1. the manager responsible was not present at the second meeting,
  2. the composition of attendees at the two working group meetings were quite different,
  3. a recent personnel survey just released showed that the organizationÍs morale was at a low ebb,
  4. the Personnel Manager responsible for hiring consultants was transferred to "other priorities", and
  5. only one member of the working group would actually attend the workshops.

The first workshop was arranged to take place just before Christmas. In the event,

  • all regular hotel meeting rooms in the vicinity were booked and we were squeezed into the reception room of a small restaurant,
  • the Personnel Manager only managed to notify the designated attendees on the Friday before the Monday 8 am start,
  • the manager responsible distributed quite a package of departmental reading and a self test on his material to be done over the weekend, ostensibly in preparation for the course, and
  • the attendees were all members of the organization's union.

In order to raise the profile of the workshops and to demonstrate top management commitment to the project management concept, we prudently arranged for the organizationÍs president to open the workshop with some suitable introductory remarks. Unfortunately, the president had not been briefed on our location, and when he eventually tracked us down, arrived over half an hour after we had started. From then on, it only got worse.

Collectively, the group was justifiably miffed at the short notice, the mandatory direction to attend at a busy time of the year (work interrupted by Christmas partying?) and, of course, the extra-curricular weekend homework. Two individuals in particular seemed to be determined to be non-responsive and made a repeated play that "they were confused" by the instructors. (I learned later that the supervisor of one of them was also at the same workshop. )

Somehow, we struggled through a very painful four days. Needless to say, the second workshop was canceled outright. We insisted on a de-briefing meeting to the "working group" at our own expense. This time the manager was present, flanked by yet another group of people. The best we could do was to establish that we had indeed delivered exactly what had been agreed upon and point out that those attending had somehow been inadequately prepared.

The issue of "customer satisfaction" was never even raised!

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