A couple of years ago, I remember sitting in my car listening to a radio program, riveted to a discussion with Dr. Melvin Levine, co-founder of the non-profit All Kinds of Minds allkindsofminds.org .
The subject was his (then) new book, Ready or Not, Here Comes Life, in which he explores why so many young people struggle with the school-to-work transition in life, “a pivotal time that claims more than its share of unsuspecting victims. In fact, most people are better prepared for their retirement than they are for the startup of their working lives!”
At one point in his discussion on how we might better prepare young people for post-school life, he asked the question, “Why don’t we teach kids project management?” Why not, indeed?! I have thought often about that question since hearing that radio program.
Then a few weeks ago, my interest in teaching kids project management was piqued again when I was reading about an organization founded by George Lucas https://www.edutopia.org/ in which he advocates project-based learning.
Lucas was often frustrated as a student in classes he found to be abstract and meaningless. He suggests that interdisciplinary, project-based learning in which students learn using real-world problems and challenges provides context and meaning, but also the opportunity to work in groups to develop “emotional intelligence.”
An engineering class, for example, could require students to build a house that is constrained by a budget and timeline, and has to meet quality requirements such as the ability to withstand particular climatic or weather conditions. Students would be graded on individual and group success, including the project’s “intellectual quality and how well team members got along.”
Project-based learning teaches civility and the ability to work in teams, according to Lucas. “People don’t get fired for being stupid. They get fired for not being able to work with other people,” he says.
You could argue that all kids in school are exposed to the idea of time management in that they’re given deadlines, and they have to achieve quality standards in that they get grades, etc. So there are certainly elements of projects and project management in most classroom settings.
But how much does the average school setting truly embrace what Levine and Lucas are advocating? Some ideas might include:
How much thought do students give to the consumers of their work? Who is their audience and what is their influence on their work? Who has power? What kind of power do they have? Do they think about the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor for their stakeholders?
Definition of Success
Do they consider that the definition of project success depends on who you ask? It would seem there is something there that could be useful to most students. Whose definition do I need to pay the most attention to?
How about scope definition? What’s in and what’s out. How do they respond to creep?
What about Lessons Learned? Do they capture thoughts about what’s working to build their “corporate memory?” And, importantly, are they rewarded for working well with others, and what’s the consequence if they don’t?
Evidentally, this topic is on the minds of others in the field of PM. In fact, the November issue of PMI Today arrived in my inbox the other day, and a featured article is “New Toolkit for Teaching Youth about the Life Skill of Project Management.” (See pmief.org for downloads.)
In no way am I discounting all of the wonderful and creative things happening in today’s classrooms all over the country. In fact, maybe there’s a lot more project-based and project-management learning infused into many classrooms than I’m aware of.
I do like the ideas Levine and Lucas are advocating, however. Project management is a life skill and, as such, should certainly be something to which kids get exposed.
I won’t be moving a white board into the kitchen to facilitate dinner conversation on calculating the earned value of the evening’s meal preparation project any time soon. But there is plenty of real-life applicability of PM concepts on the home front. At the very least I can shed some light on scope definition and risk management on the next trip to the mall.