Why Business Schools keep neglecting Project Management competencies


By Prof Antonio Neito-Rodriguez


Prof Marco Sampietro, PhD
SDA Bocconi School of Management
Milan, Italy


Digitalization, mergers & acquisitions, international expansion, business model redesign, new product launch, cultural transformation.

All these strategic initiatives are common projects undertaken to stay alive in the current unpredictable markets. Today, to be successful, organizations require leaders with strong project management competencies.

Yet, according to our research, only 4% of the Top 200 Business Schools in the world offer project management as part of their MBA core curriculums.

If you are looking for an MBA that will teach you one of the most relevant competencies in the next twenty years, forget about Harvard Business School, Insead, MIT, Columbia, Wharton, IMD, Instituto de Empresa or London Business School.

Look for the following leading edge business schools: Alliance Manchester Business School, BI Norwegian Business School, Cranfield School of Management, SDA Bocconi – School of Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Singapore Management University, Lee Kong Chian, St. Gallen, Temple University – Fox School of Business

The 2020 Business Model – From Process driven to Project driven Organizations

If we summarize what all companies and organizations around the world do, we can state that they perform two types of activities: they execute processes to produce, sell, and distribute products and services, and they implement projects to ensure that the organization survives and keeps growing in the mid and long term.

While most traditional organizations are process-based, it is hard to find an organization that does not perform projects as well.

Yet, over the past decade, organizations have been relying more and more on projects. The reason is quite simple: fierce competition and customer preferences have shortened product life-cycles thus new products become commodities much faster and new or enhanced products or services are required more frequently, and processes have to be improved and updated (significant process improvements, such as digitalization, or business model transformation, represent huge transformation projects).

In theory, in order to perform these two types of activities successfully, organizations would need to split into two separate entities as the respective business models are quite different, often conflicting. Yet, this does not often happen. According to some thought leaders, such as Costas Markidis or Julian Birkinshaw, this is one of the main reasons why organizations fail in implementing their strategies.

It is worth mentioning that managing projects does not only refer to planning, executing, monitoring and controlling one single initiative. In fact, organizations:

  • Run hundreds of projects in parallel, often sharing resources. If resources are not properly allocated among projects, conflicts and performance issues will most likely arise.
  • Run projects that alone might have limited value, while when grouped with other projects they are able to deliver much greater impact and benefits to the organization. This means shifting from projects to programs.
  • Run projects that are synergic at times and at other times conflicting. In this case having an overall view of the project portfolio is beneficial.
  • Have to select which projects must be carried out. In most cases, the number of ideas outweighs the organization’s capacity to implement them. As we have seen with companies that failed in the past (Kodak, Nokia…) selecting the most valuable projects can represent the difference between keeping the company alive or not.
  • Run projects and processes in parallel: the issues on one side are reflected on the other side. Again, having a broad view of the portfolio of initiatives (projects and processes) may help in correctly allocating the resources and managing the different relations between projects and processes.

For the above-mentioned reasons, project management should be a core skill for many employees, managers and executives. However, while for the former the need for project management training is well understood, for the latter we have enough evidence and extensive experience in executive education to know that the development needs are not well understood. There is general misconception about the role that managers and executives play in project management. Normally, the perspective is that project management can be fully delegated to good employees while managers, executives and board directors play a limited role.


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About the Authors

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez



Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez
(antonionietorodriguez.com) is the world’s leading champion of Project Management and Strategy Implementation. He is the creator of concepts such as the Hierarchy of Purpose featured by Harvard Business Review, or the Project Manifesto; which argues that Projects are the lingua franca of the business and personal worlds from the C-suite to managing your career or relationships. Antonio was nominated Thinker of the Month by the prestigious Thinkers50.com, who identifies the most influential management thinkers in the world, inc. Michael Porter, Clayton Christensen, Rita McGrath.

Author of the best-selling book “The Focused Organization” and a much in-demand speaker at events worldwide, Antonio has presented at more than 160 conferences over the past 15 years, regularly evaluated as the best speaker. European Business Summit, Gartner Summit, TEDx, and EU Cohesion Policy Conference with EU President Donald Tusk; are some of the events he has delivered inspirational speeches. A pioneer and leading authority in teaching strategy execution and project management to senior executives at top Business Schools; currently visiting professor at Duke CE, Instituto de Empresa, Solvay, Vlerick, Ecole des Ponts and Skolkovo. Email: [email protected]

Marco Sampietro

Milan, Italy

Marco Sampietro obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Bremen, Germany. Since 2000 he has been a professor at SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan, Italy. SDA Bocconi School of Management is ranked among the top Business Schools in the world (Financial Times, Forbes, Bloomberg, and The Economist rankings). He is a Core Faculty Member at SDA Bocconi School of Management and teaches Project Management in the MBA – Master of Business Administration, and GEMBA – Global Executive Master of Business Administration programs. He is Faculty Member at MISB – Mumbai International School of Business, the Indian subsidiary of Bocconi University, and Visiting Professor at IHU – International Hellenic University, Greece. He is also a Contract Professor at Bocconi University and Milano Fashion Institute for the Project Management courses.

He was a speaker at the NASA Project Management Challenge 2007, 2008, and 2011, in the USA, and a speaker at the PMI Global European Congress, Italy, 2010.

He is Member of the Steering Committee of IPMA-Italy. He is co-author and/or editor of 10 books on project management and 7 books on IT management. Among them: Empowering Project Teams. Using Project Followership to Improve Performance. CRC Press, 2014. He is the author of award-winning case studies and papers. Dr. Sampietro can be contacted at: [email protected]

To see other works by Marco Sampietro, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/marco-sampietro/