Please identify three criteria where improvement could be made, or where the writing becomes weak.
21st Century Graduates for a 21st Century World
December 27th, 2012
The job market for graduates in the class of 2015 is a starkly different market than the one that existed fifteen years ago. Even though the internet has been in popular use since 1995, the use of the internet as a business tool did not fully come into maturity until the early twenty-first century. The proliferation of the internet into the business sector has dramatically changed the scope of businesses and they way they operate. Evidence of this can be seen with the emergence of companies like Netflix and Amazon, which have successfully competed for market share, and in some cases driven their competitors fully out of markets they previously dominated. The internet is the primary driver of change within businesses in the twenty-first century, due primarily to the pace at which information, goods, and services can be exchanged. Consequently, it has accelerated the pace at which change needs to occur to maintain a competitive business.
This environment of extreme change has also changed the scope of desired skills that businesses wish to acquire from new graduates. One of the key changes is the increased amount of demand that has been generated for graduates with project management skills. A recent feasibility study has shown that project management skills are listed as one of the most industry desired skill sets for new graduates. The reason for this demand is the skills learned in project management are the primary set of skills needed for businesses to adapt to rapid changes in their market, or changes in customer needs. Project management skills also have a host of problem solving skills for complex issues. Businesses find these problem solving skills desirable when facing difficult problems, or difficult customer requirements for a particular project. Due to the generic nature of the problem solving and analysis skills that are taught in project management, the skills have found uses in a wide variety of professional fields.
The skill sets have migrated from traditional roles in architecture and engineering and have taken root in project based businesses, web site development, even professional library services. The use of project management as an analysis tool has even found roots in academia, specifically, for analysis of creative works to allow for discussion of artistic endeavors as academic pursuits. Current students need to come into their markets with an understanding of project management, as the skills are utilized, either directly or indirectly, in a growing number of professions, and these skills are vital to their ability to compete with more experienced candidates in the job market. To understand the value of these skills in various fields, a brief overview is required.
A project is defined as "a temporary and one-time endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service, that brings about beneficial change or added value" (Patel, 2008). According to Patel, project management is "the discipline of organizing and managing resources in such a way that these resources deliver all the work required to complete a project within defined scope, time, and cost constraint" (2008). Project initiation is a formal process that requires the project to be developed, analyzed, and proposed. During this phase of the project, specific roles must be identified and filled, such as the project sponsor, proposal team, and selection committee. Simply put, these roles identify who has ownership of the project, who should put it together, and who should review it to see if and when this project should move to the next phase. Even if a new graduate is not participating in this phase of a project, they must understand the process that each company has in place for project initiations. Understanding the company's process of project approval will give insight to the company culture, as well as illuminate what the company believes is its focus. This will allow the new graduate to evaluate the company's values and see if they are in-line with their personal and professional goals, as well as determine the nature of work they are to be assigned.
Moving forward, from the evaluation and approval phase, the project comes to a planning phase. It is within the planning phase that the primary challenge within project management is faced, defining the amount of time a project should take. "The task that gives project managers the most trouble is coming up with a project schedule before the project tasks are well defined and before many important project decisions are made" (Patel, 2008). This is the most critical phase for any project, because it is during this phase that a project manager and project teams are selected, deliverables are defined, team cultures are constructed, budgets are finalized, and the ability to communicate effectively in a professional environment is shown. This is also where the project starts to take on character, moving from a well defined idea, into an actual product with real benefits and real faults. A newly hired graduate is most likely made aware of this phase, but do not yet play an active role. It is important for a new graduate to understand how decisions are made during this phase of a project, to further understand company culture, as well as understand where their work is to fit into the project as a whole. Understanding the full scope of a project allows for team members to fully understand the impact their work has on their company. It also allows the team to break the project into manageable parts and define short term and long term deadlines. It is also important for a new graduate to know that their performance review is strongly rooted in this phase of a project. Performance metrics for teams are defined at the same time the deliverables are set up, and each project manager will define their expectations of communication based on the project flow and schedule of deliverables. Whether it is communicated or not, it is this phase that sets up all expectations of the project, and project teams, moving forward.
During the execution of a project, the project manager has a strong focus on the deliverable deadlines and meeting schedules. An effective project manager will avoid meetings as much as allowable by the scope of the project, as meetings pull team members away from work done on their deliverables. However, it is almost impossible to avoid meetings entirely. As a team member, particularly a new graduate that is trying to prove themselves to their managers and their team, it is important to understand the specific communication goals for every meeting. Whether that meeting is to discuss a merging point between individual pieces of a project, or the project manager needs to communicate a change in the project scope, it is important to keep in mind that this meeting is viewed as a critical step in the project and should be utilized in the most efficient manner possible.
Overall, the process of project management is straightforward, with obvious stated goals and benefits. The ability to utilize the tools of project management often define whether a project is to be successful. The tools in project management are a generic set of detail oriented tools, used for analysis of complex problems and timeline planning. One of the most useful tools is the drill-down technique, which is used to view individual components of a problem, or timeline. Use of the drill-down lays out a chart of dependencies, and demonstrates where hinge points exist. A hinge point is just a place where several smaller pieces that come together to form a single point. In a problem analysis, it is useful to see what is underlying a hinge point, so that the actual problems can be identified and project scope adapted accordingly. The drill-down is also used to break apart a project into manageable tasks that are then assigned to the project action plan.
The action plan is the overview of the project execution. It can take on several forms, a to-do list, or a Gantt chart, or a critical path analysis chart are all examples, and pieces, of an action plan. Each has its own value, but using them together will allow for a comprehensive action plan, that clearly shows your dependent and independent tasks, as well as prioritize the importance and timing of each task as the project matures. Defining these tools any further is outside of the scope of this paper, however illustrating to some degree the generic nature and flexibility of the tools is needed.
It is the generic nature of these analysis and implementation tools that allow them to have the broad impact that they do for businesses, however, it is also important to realize that projects exist outside of business too. Planting an organic vegetable garden has the same level of complexity and planning requirements as rolling out an update for a web site, and several parallels could be drawn between the projects. Due to the newfound availability of information from the internet, and the collaborative spirit with which it is designed, large volumes of free information can be found on almost any topic imaginable. Consequently, this large volume of information has lead to the ability to create project undertakings both in and out of the professional scope. This, in turn, has expanded the roles and definitions of project management beyond their historical boundaries of engineering and architecture.
Project management understanding is now even considered pertinent knowledge for art majors. The Journal of Research Practice published an article in 2011, reviewing artistic works within the scope of a project, and discussed the implementation of project management skills as a tool for analysis of a creative project. "Various artist-researchers, agencies, and universities have introduced their own expectations from research in art and design. In the UK, for example, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)--a central funding body to support research in art and design--aims to support research that makes a difference not only in the research community, but also in a wider context. Its Research Grants Scheme includes the following aim: 'to support well-defined research projects of the highest quality and standards that will lead to significant advances in creativity, insights, knowledge and understanding, of interest and value both in the research community and in wider contexts where they can make a difference'. Here, 'well-defined' is to be understood as projects which pursue clear research questions arising from a research context, follow well-specified research methods, and specify aspects of project management and dissemination of results" (MĂ¤kelĂ¤ et-al, 2011).
Project management is also seen as a valuable skill for modern website development and graphic design. With the progression of technology, web pages have moved beyond a simple page of informational text, into an interactive customer experience, with more functionality and interactivity expected of the modern web page. A prime example new demand is found in an abstract published by the Arts Libraries Society of Australia and New Zealand. In the abstract it shows, "The first generation Arlis/ANZ website was very Web 1.0. Developed and launched in 2004, before the critical mass of Web 2.0, the original Arlis/ANZ website did not provide the level of collaborative functionality now common in an everyday internet experience. The site focused on providing information, and recording and publicising some of the Society's activities. Amid the recent fast pace of change in online tools, the site that had been an achievement worth celebrating in 2004 no longer effectively represented the activity that was going on, and gave the impression of a still and inactive Society" (McKeon et al, 2008). The processes for creating, managing, and measuring effectiveness of web sites have also evolved in complexity over time, to the point where modern web pages, such as the ones seen for online colleges, are often developed with the same levels of complexity that engineering projects are required to fulfill. This became apparent to the Arts Libraries Society of Australia and New Zealand when they took on a project undertaking to redesign their web site. "It quickly became clear that for the project to remain manageable for all concerned, we needed efficient and simple mechanisms to manage communication and documentation. These mechanisms also needed to enable the Arlis/ANZ Web Manager to direct the project strategically from a distance" (McKeon et al, 2008). This illustrates the migration of project management requirements outside of their historical boundaries, and being required in projects that were inconceivable when the processes were originally defined in the mid-1950's.
Project management skills are still required, and in high demand, in fields that are considered "hard sciences", as shows by the feasibility study produced by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Foundation. "Based on the industry needs assessment, areas of Computer Science (Distributed Computing, Data Searching, User Experience, and Software Entrepreneurship), Physical Sciences (Materials Science and Scientific Instrumentation), and Biomedical Products (Combination Products) showed the greatest need and demand. Other disciplines that also showed promise included Biostatistics, Chemistry, Regulatory Issues, and Engineering Technology. Industry also identified critical thinking/decision making, leadership/management training, product commercialization, project management, and written and oral communications as the most critical professional skills needed in today's workplace" (Fisher et al, 2011). This feasibility study focuses on the industry requirements of their Professional Science Master's program, and details both industry and student demand for the program. Based on their findings on a graph titled "Most Useful Professional Skills", project management was listed with the highest combined total from their industry focus group study. In another study conducted by Lee Fui Tong from the Monash University, Malaysia, "There is a need to equip students with the skills that employers currently desire. Indeed, many employers have expressed dissatisfaction with their hired graduates, especially with respect to soft-skills; and projects failed not
because the engineer was technically incompetent, but because they lacked the requisite soft-skills. This shows that having technical skills alone is simply not enough as one also needs soft-skills to interact with others and to get the work task running smoothly" (2003). The nature of engineering requires project undertakings, and is the primary business model for engineering firms. Excellent project management skills from engineering graduates is required, as is the ability to clearly communicate complicated solutions for complicated problems. Having the engineering knowledge alone is not enough for modern firms. Tong summed this up in his conclusion, "Essentially, engineerspossessing a high proficiency in both technical and PM soft skills competencies are better prepared to enter the working world." (Tong, 2003).
It is the proposal of this paper that possessing project management skills is beneficial to all new college graduates. A detailed understanding of PM soft skills will better prepare graduates from every field to enter the working world. With the advent of the internet becoming a prevalent business tool in the early 21st century, it is the responsibility of each new graduate to take it upon themselves to learn the skills required to be competitive in the 21st century business market. PM soft skills have been identified as a key set of required skills to give companies a competitive edge in multiple industries, in multiple countries. PM soft skills are required for new graduates to truly show they are 21st century graduates, prepared for a 21st century working world.
Fisher, S., Perez, L. Market Analysis and Feasibility Study of Professional Science Master's Degree Programs for Universities in the Upper Midwest. Minnesota: Organizational Effectiveness Research Group, 2011. Web. 4 Nov. 2012
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MĂ¤kelĂ¤, M., Nimkulrat, N., Dash, D. P., & Nsenga, F.-X. . "On reflecting and making in artistic research." Journal of Research Practice 7.1 (2011): Article E1. Web. 1 Nov. 2012
McKeon, K., Thompson, E. "A Web 2.0 vision, Web 2.0 project management and real-world student learning in a website redevelopment project." Australian Library Journal (2008) 57(3). QUT Digital Repository. Web. 4 Nov. 2012
Patel, Vinod N. Project Management. Jaipur, IND: Oxford Book Co., 2008 eBook. 21 Dec. 2012.
Tong, L. F. (2003). Identifying essential learning skills in students' engineering education. Proceedings of HERDSA 2003, Canterbury, New Zealand. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.