Critical IT Project Management Competencies: Aligning Instructional Outcomes with Industry Expectations

Critical IT Project Management Competencies: Aligning Instructional Outcomes with Industry Expectations

Faith-Michael Uzoka (Department of Mathematics and Computing, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada), Kalen Keavey (Library, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada), Janet Miller (Student Counselling Services, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada), Namrata Khemka (Dolan, Department of Mathematics and Computing, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada) and Randy Connolly (Department of Mathematics and Computing, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/IJITPM.2018100101

Abstract

Academic computing curricula generally focus on teaching the specific technological skills expected of new graduates in their disciplines. Yet when it comes to hiring these graduates, behavioral skills (also called soft skills) such as communication and personal integrity are almost always rated as being more important than the technological skills. This mixed-method research project adds to the understanding of skill expectations required for new hires by providing information from a global sample of project management professionals. Both the quantitative and qualitative results are in accord with the vast majority of the extant literature in that behavioral skills were seen as more critical than technical skills. Implications and recommendations for educators, curriculum developers, and prospective graduates are discussed.
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Introduction

The novelty we want is always close to the familiar. - Mason Cooley

Anyone who has spent significant time reviewing academic papers knows that one key criterion by which papers are evaluated is originality. Yet scientific advancement is based not only on novel Kuhnian paradigm shifts or unexpected empirical evidence, but also on the slower, more methodical delivery of results that validate (or possibly extend) prior research or evidence. One area in which compelling overlapping evidence has been accruing over the past decade or more is in the research into what kinds of skills employers are looking for in their entry-level computing employees. Some of these studies have looked at computing graduates in general, while others have examined just the more specialized sub-disciplines, such as software engineering (SE), information technology (IT), or information systems (IS).

Previous studies have emphasized the need to bridge the gap in industry-university skill expectations in computing project management (hereafter referred to as IT project management), which is sometimes interpreted by the academic institutions as a call to teach currently fashionable technologies (Stevens & Norman, 2016). The urgency to bridge this gap is amplified by the fact that today’s organizational growth comes with business and technical (IT-driven) process complexities. These complexities exist in the face of aggressive competition, which challenges organizations to seek appropriate IT-based strategic and tactical solutions that in turn, require appropriately skilled IT personnel. Similar to project management, IT project management is a complex activity that is conceptualized around the building blocks of individual and group relationships, individual and group cohesion, key performance indicators, and the identification and management of the sources of project failure (Cicmil, Cooke-Davies, Crawford, & Richardson, 2009). Industry tends to view IT project management as mainly a managerial activity (e.g., Maylor, Vidgen, & Carver, 2008), while academic departments tend to view it as mainly technical one (involving software development and testing) and often train students in project management based on a general framework provided in IT project management texts (e.g., Stellman & Greene, 2005). While this provides some (especially technical) project management skills, it might be deficient in terms of entry-level project participation skills.

Despite the abundance of literature on IT project management skills requirements, some unresolved questions still remain. To what extent does a university IT graduate fit into organizational business and process complexities that require IT solutions? How adequate are university IT project management courses in preparing computing students to meet industry expectations? What level of emphasis is placed on soft/behavioral versus technical skills in IT project management by the industries versus academic departments? This paper adds to the research in industry-university competency expectations by presenting the results of a quantitative and qualitative survey of employers on the skills required in IT project management. By understanding the critical project management skills from the point of view of actual project managers/team members, the study provides further impetus for the re-examination of IT project management programs offered by universities and colleges.

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Literature Review

Academic computing disciplines have had, at times, an uncertain relationship with industry expectations. Well-established disciplines tend to have their own well-established academic curricula which helps inculcate the intellectual framework needed for success in the field (Becher & Trowler, 2001). Such disciplines often feel less need to align curricula with industry expectations. Younger disciplines tend on the other hand to have less rigorously defined academic architectures. These more recent disciplines will also be more likely to be interested in aligning themselves, at least to a certain extent, with employer expectations. This is especially the case for computing disciplines for which there is strong employer demand for graduates.

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