Their mission has always been the same: to carry out a project. But the way they do it has been evolving for 60 years. Project managers are the embodiment of agility within a company. Training them therefore requires constant adaptation, made possible by research in this field, of which SKEMA was one of the pioneers in France.
How to teach project management? If, after 60 years of history, the question still arises, it is because it is based more on practice and experience than on theory. But it is above all because the discipline adapts to its time, according to the needs of companies that are always asking for new skills.
These new realities have given rise to new awareness, which in turn has given rise to new methodologies. Among those that dominate today are Agile project management, Agile Scrum project management, Green project management, and other approaches that emphasize the need for flexibility without neglecting the obligation to formalize the project before starting it.
Once Upon a Time in America
These English terms are not there by chance: the project world and its history are Anglo-Saxon. Its origins go back to the professional associations created in the United States in the 1960s by large engineering companies and public institutions. In 1969, the Project Management Institute (PMI) was even created. This association of practitioners taught project management from the perspective of detailed planning supported by management tools. Good practices then began to emerge and spread, and sectoral differences are now seen as less important than the unifying activity of project management.
With these new activities, new economic actors appear very distinct from each other, including project managers. Their mission is to develop a product or a service in a unique way, within a given timeframe, and within a given budget. The market will accept the new American management standards at a time when Japan’s industrial and commercial performance was beginning to worry.
The role of French industry
But it was not until the 1990s that France began to integrate project management into its companies. Mentalities are gradually changing, and these new ways of doing things often represent an internal revolution in their organizational model. Japanese companies were the model to follow, especially Toyota. Why did it take the Japanese three years to bring out a new car model when it took the French manufacturers five?
It took the determination of industries that were pioneers in this field in Europe, such as Renault, whose general management took the step very early on to move from a hierarchical-functional organization to a project-based organization, often matrix-based, where the functional departments retain power and capitalize on the knowledge. Other sectors, such as the construction industry, were among the precursors, precipitated towards these new practices by increasingly unique international orders.
Looking for project management
Project management research in France began in the North. Roger Declerk, a teacher-researcher at the University of Lille, gave an extremely clear vision of what makes the world of projects unique: the project-operation distinction. Declerck is the author of the MAP method (management and analysis of projects), developed in the book Méthode de direction générale, co-authored with Debourse and Navarre. This management method insists on the dimensions of project formalization and human communication. The dynamic interaction between decision-makers and analysts is essential. It suggests alternating sequences of action and training, and the use of specialized rooms where the materialization of ideas and exchanges will be conducive to creativity, thanks to the use of psychosociological techniques (nominal group method, creativity techniques, confrontation groups). These devices were to be used to organize the action and make the groups live in the projects, to build the processes of collective creation, and to ensure the integration of the projects in operation. The MAP method then sought to develop and even protect, creativity and opened up avenues centered on the principle of convergence.
SKEMA at the forefront of project management
At that time, few training centers developed project management programs. But this was the case for the IAE of Lille and the ESC Lille, which merged with the CERAM in 2009 to become SKEMA. These institutions immediately established links with the largest professional associations and with networks of researchers such as IRNOP (the International Research Network on Organizing by Projects), which since 1993 has brought together researchers from Europe (including French researchers from CERAM and ESC Lille), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden. Therefore, the very early interest shown by ESC Lille and CERAM, and therefore by SKEMA, in the managerial revolution that was taking place with project management is no longer in question. Not to mention the determination of these institutions to teach it in a dynamic and evolutionary approach.
Beyond research and teaching, SKEMA is an organization based on innovative project management. It often defies the headwinds to develop these teachings in its nine international campuses. As Dean of the Brazilian campus, I can attest to this. Through project management, new challenges and opportunities such as the multicultural dimension, learning about new digital tools and the societal transformation we are experiencing have been integrated into the SKEMA campus experience in Belo Horizonte. Our project management program involves many professionals invited to present experiences as unique as those of the mega infrastructure projects that Brazil needs so much! This is a great experience for our students, and it completes their preparation for internationally recognized certifications.
Every era has its managerial utopias, such as project management. And the latter has sometimes shown its limits: from the escalation of projects to the risks of burn-out. It is a new opportunity to reflect on it and to find new virtues: often, a period of regeneration between several large projects allows new knowledge to be disseminated within the company, to take a new breath, and to give a new meaning to the commitment of the project’s actors. The human management of the company then invited to reinvent itself.