This book is the result of a collaboration among the 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.
The course learning objectives are the following:
- Acquire basic knowledge about projects and project management.
- Develop an understanding of knowledge, skills, tools, and practices used in project management.
- Apply project management knowledge, skills, tools, and practices in real-life situations.
- Explore how contemporary issues and examples connect to fundamental project management topics.
- Emphasize the critical role that culture plays in effective project management.
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 many 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.
The fifteen lessons of this book are organized around the Technical Project Management course, while the appendices cover additional key topics. “Appendix A – Risk and a Changing Climate” provides detail on how our changing climate will increase risk and uncertainty in the performance of civil infrastructure in ways that are difficult to predict. With the third edition, we have included two additional appendices. In “Appendix B – Quality Management,” we explain the need to build in quality from the ground up, with a focus on the role of quality in the project management triangle and the importance of well-defined requirements in delivering quality on a project. In “Appendix C – Project Recovery,” we discuss the challenges involved in identifying and resolving problems on a project impacted by a multitude of variables, and we present tools and techniques for assessing options and developing a recovery plan.
In each lesson, we highlight 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. We release this third edition in the midst of the COVID-induced disruption. While the magnitude and specifics of the current circumstances could not have been predicted, the reality of disruption was a primary motivation for writing this book. The real-time events we’re all in the midst of have reminded us that while preservation of geometric order can be appropriate, coincident, rapid adaptation to living order realties is unavoidable. Striking that balance provides opportunity and enervation for the thoughtful project leader. Much will be different—accelerated by COVID—but change is constant and disruption is inevitable.