IPMA Education and Training Series: “Let practitioners speak” – An open invitation to the PM community for the development of Annotated Project Handbooks (APHs)


Professor John-Paris Pantouvakis

Chair, IPMA Education and Training Board

Athens, Greece

Project Management is an applied discipline in much an analogous way to constructing a road, flying an airplane or performing a surgery. Applied disciplines require performing in real-world situations, not merely having knowledge about the subject matter. Performing, in turn, requires hands-on experience, possibly coaching, analysis of successes and failures and integration of lessons learned. This may be straightforward for some disciplines, such as medical doctors and airplane pilots, where many similar cases can be found and made available for study. Unfortunately, Project Management is not one of them. Projects are unique by definition, happen in different locations, represent a collective effort of different project teams and extend, usually, over a long period of time. Such features make embedding hands-on project management experience in training programs problematic.

In my view, this explains why most project management training programs are generally theoretical in nature or at least with a minimal practical dimension. Many courses spend too much time on teaching concepts and methods and too little on practicing in real-world projects. Likewise, there are many project management books that include exercises mainly confined to testing knowledge on theoretical issues, or on performing relatively simple numerical calculations. The value of existing E&T programs and literature cannot be diminished, however, it can be argued that practical advice is by enlarge incomplete and segmental in many current offerings.

This in turn makes a lot of successful project managers to be based on limited academic grounds and a lot of trainers and educators (like myself) to have an excellent theoretical background, much of which cannot and possibly will never be applied in practice. As such, Project Management seems to be somehow fragmented between theory and practice; the former is accomplished in Universities, Colleges and many books and the latter is practiced in the real world. Do real professionals benefit from the thoughts of all those books and research papers published every year on project management? Do educators, trainers and researchers benefit from practical insights? In my mind (I may be wrong), yes, but only in a small percentage. Ask professional project managers how many books or how many research papers they read or ask educators, trainers and researchers how much they base their courses on current practical experiences and you may corroborate this argument. And there may be good reasons for this such as lack of time, limited relevancy, perceived high value of the effort vs benefit ratio etc. The fact remains that we need a different approach to be able to educate and further develop project managers for real-life projects through Education & Training (E&T).

IPMA (International Project Management Association) has long been advocating competency based certification where theoretical knowledge is coupled with appropriate skills and attitudes gained through practical experience. Much of IPMA effort has been streamlined towards certification with limited effort devoted to E&T. As a matter of fact the two disciplines are kept separate and they are not related to one another. There is a sound theoretical and regulative basis for this.

What is important is that E&T is considered as an independent endeavor. This means that one may select between different courses and/or develop through self-study. The concept seems working, as more than 200,000 IPMA certificate holders may indicate. This, in fact does not mean that there may not be a more efficient approach. And a proposal of such an approach is the subject of the remainder of this paper.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by members of the IPMA Education and Training (E&T) Board or other IPMA leaders on the subject of project management education, training, careers and related topics. More information about the IPMA E&T can be found at http://ipma.ch/education. 

About the Author

john-paris-pantouvakisJOHN-PARIS PANTOUVAKISflag-greece

National Technical University of Athens, Greece

& Chairman IPMA Education & Training Board 

Athens, Greece

John-Paris Pantouvakis, M.Eng., M.Sc., PhD, C.Eng; following a ten year career in industry moved to Academia and is now a Full Professor and the Director of the Centre for Construction Innovation at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). John-Paris is also an Adjunct Lecturer and a Postgraduate Module Coordinator at the Hellenic Open University. Currently (2015-17) he chairs the IPMA E&T Board and he is the President of PM-Greece, the Greek IPMA Member. John-Paris is also a First Assessor for IPMA Certification in Greece and an IPMA Project Excellence Awards Assessor. He has chaired the 26th IPMA World Congress in Greece. More information is available at his personal website (http://users.ntua.gr/jpp/jpp_en.htm).

To view other works by Prof Pantouvakis, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/john-paris-pantouvakis/