Is there a big gap between project management academics, and those who offer training? And do project managers need both? These were just some of the questions that were raised at a recent BCS conference, where a panel discussed the differences between project management education or training.
The evening began with a vote on the motion: Education and training are well aligned to meet project manager development needs.
3 in favor (including me).
13 against
3 Abstentions

Why do you agree? I believe there is enough academic research and training available for project managers. PMI sends out the PM Journal which is packed with research. PM Today contains articles that are based on academic research and properly footnoted. My book Project Management in the Real World draws heavily on academic research to inform and support practice. Prof. Darren Dalcher is the head of Middlesex University’s National Centre for Project Management. He is a practical man who is interested in applying theory to real-life situations. In just a few minutes, I was able to come up with many reasons why project managers should have access to education (i.e. I was able to come up with a lot of ideas to justify how project managers have access to education (i.e. How one supports the other.
Bob Hughes, University of Brighton and ISEB, presented the portfolio of ISEB qualifications. It includes the practical (Foundation & Practitioner qualifications) as well as the academic (Higher Education Diploma), which attracts 400 candidates a years, mainly from overseas. Bob said, “Although my academic background is not unusual for ISEB,” “There’s an attitude of leaving the academics behind and leaving the practitioners to it.” This could also be said about other practitioner-led organizations and doesn’t bode very well for any alignment between practitioners and academia. Could this be a disconnect that I haven’t seen before?
Bob spoke about SFIA which aims to rate professional competence. He said that it was very different from aligning that to the result of a training program. “We don’t believe that if you take a multiple-choice exam, you become a competent project manger.” This is something I agree with and it adds an additional dimension to the discussion on education and training: that of experience. I believe project managers learn through experience, as well as education and training opportunities.
Maven Training CEO Melanie Franklin argued that both education as well as training are necessary to prepare project managers. She stated that education “builds the brain” and training “builds skill.” Understanding the business context is crucial for project managers. This is a product education: the ability understand the world in and apply critical thinking to your skills and experiences. Capability is a result of training: a combination of competence and process. She said, “If we need to do x specifically,” she said, “we’ll train in x.”
She gave a version Kolb’s learning cycle and explained that context and capability, motivation, and performance all equal capacity. Businesses need the ability to deliver projects. She said that education and training are about people. It is possible to motivate people by developing them. She explained that “I don’t believe we can have one without another.” “But just because we have qualified people doesn’t mean that we have more capacity.”
Miles Shepherd said, “In this country, there is a great hatred of book learning.” “If the academic is not accepted, how can project management become a profession?” It is a trade, like gas fitting.” He stated that we still need education and training. He said, “I’m not too certain how we’re aligned.”
During the Q&A, we discussed where some these challenges are coming from and it was pointed out that employers have a lot of questions to answer. Employers are looking for ‘useful’ people and not just those with an MSc.