George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

"Mom, What is Project Management?"


PMI-Certified Project Manager, CSM, Mom, PTA Member, Writer
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

This question -- "Mom, what is project management?" -- was posed to me by one of my sons last year. It's a simple query, but crafting the answer to accommodate a child's lens of my career was a bit more challenging. So here was my response:

"It's the profession of planning, organizing and managing many things, including people and projects, for example."

A follow-up question by my other son within earshot was, naturally, "What's a project?"

OK, another fair question.

I explained to my sons that a project is, simply, a temporary and unique set of tasks that have a definite beginning and end -- a specific example being a book report.

Identifying the Constraints

The good news about project management is that, for teachers and students, it's already an intrinsic part of your everyday charter: planning a curriculum, organizing field trips, completing homework -- all of these basic tasks can be put under the umbrella of a project. Therefore, they are something that can be managed, and given the right tools and techniques, managed well.

There are six basic what we call "constraints" that need to be managed closely with a project, and they are scope, schedule, resources, budget, quality and risk. (I have incorporated these in the below example.) If you can keep all of these constraints in balance, then you will have a well-managed -- and therefore successful -- project.

So, now that we’ve covered some rudimentary project management definitions, how can you take these principles and apply them to your everyday life, and your students' as well?

Let's start by taking a specific real-world example, which I will walk you through step by step.

Sample Project: Student Book Report

1. Define the Project's Scope

This is the "what's involved?" in a project. In this example, it may be a book report on Martin Luther King, Jr. Additional requirements should be defined, such as length, delivery format, type of report, citation requirements, etc.

2. Establish a Schedule

This would be the timeframe of the project. When will you assign the report, when should the students start the report, and when should they have it completed? The students could also include interim dates for a first rough draft and a final draft.

3. Assign Your Resources

These are simply the people involved in the project. In this case, the resources would be teachers, students and maybe even parents if they are involved in the review process.

4. Budget (Assess Cost)

This details what would be involved in terms of assets the students (or you) may need to acquire. Will the student need to purchase reference books? Book report covers? Additional supplies?

5. Rate Quality

While this constraint is a bit more subjective, quality would consist not only of what you determine to be the standards by which you grade the report, but also a checklist that the student can generate to ensure he or she will turn in a high-quality report, such as:

  • Do I have a topic sentence?
  • Did I check for spelling and grammar?
  • Is my report the proper length?
  • Is my report neat and easy to read?

6. Determine Risk

What are the risk factors for this project? For a student, it can be anything from competing priorities in getting the book report done, to a possible tendency to procrastinate. Risks are any "future" potential problem that may interfere with getting the book report project done on time, done on schedule and done well -- the basic triad of concerns for every project manager!

It is important to note that project management is also key to ensuring success with project-based learning initiatives in your classroom. By leveraging project management's core standards and principles, you can dramatically increase the success of your initiatives, no matter what stage or phase they may currently be in.

The book report is just one example of a project. How do you apply project management skills in your classroom?

Was this useful?


PMI-Certified Project Manager, CSM, Mom, PTA Member, Writer

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Stacey's picture

My daughter is currently working on a book report - this article will make it so much easier to help her keep on track! Thanks!

Chris's picture
PMI-Certified Project Manager, CSM, Mom, PTA Member, Writer

So happy to hear it - thank you!

Gloria Mitchell's picture
Gloria Mitchell
Middle school teacher

I've been thinking about the ways in which principles of agile management or agile development can be applied to curriculum development and project planning in the classroom. What if I, as the teacher, don't plan everything for students in advance, but instead work with the students to establish goals, and we use a collaborative, iterative approach to get us where we want to go?

Chris's picture
PMI-Certified Project Manager, CSM, Mom, PTA Member, Writer

Hi Gloria, this is a really excellent question, and I hope to answer it for you satisfactorily here.

Without getting too deep into the principles of Agile, it boils down to planning and deconstructing project tasks into small and prioritized components, which are worked on in short, intensive durations, called sprints. When a sprint is complete, team members regroup to discuss their completed tasks, and decide what is left on their list to do. Then you rinse, and repeat, as you mentioned.

So, here is what this could potentially look like in a really simplified form in your classroom: At the beginning of each day, you can hold a daily stand-up (or "daily scrum"), which is a short meeting to answer three questions: 1) What did we accomplish yesterday?, 2) What do we want to accomplish today?, and 3) What obstacles/challenges do we face?

An example of a single sprint session (which could last a day, a week, or even a month) could involve having your students work intensely on a science project, with each student working in a group on a different component. At the end of each sprint, you can hold a review to discuss what was completed, as well as a retrospective as a means to converse about lessons learned.

Please let me know if this answers your question, Gloria, and thanks for a great future article idea!

Gloria Mitchell's picture
Gloria Mitchell
Middle school teacher

Thanks, Chris! I'm familiar with the sprint, the daily stand-up, etc., from my husband's work as a software developer. I had thought I'd try this out and write about it from an English teacher's point of view. I'll be interested to know if you have additional thoughts, too -- thank you for your insights!

Chris's picture
PMI-Certified Project Manager, CSM, Mom, PTA Member, Writer

You're welcome! As you're fairly well-versed in Agile concepts, if there something more specific you'd like to learn about or want to see in a future article, please feel free to share it!

nuria g's picture
nuria g
Social Project Entrepreneur

Spending most of my professional career managing projects, I am now sharing the project management skills with elementary school students through project-based, experiential science learning using real-life projects. In our programs, we believe in student-driven learning and let them experiment, fail and learn.

First we let them approach a project idea completely unstructured, on their own - without any PM tools. They normally fail at achieving their project objective, but they learn from it. Then they learn about importance of planning - identifying the tasks, sequence, dependencies and schedule - however basic they are.

I think the first failing attempt is a powerful teaching moment. It gives them an opportunity to see the difference, it gives them confidence and motivation as they come to that conclusion on their own.

It is amazing to see how they are able to apply those skills in subsequent projects - with a lot less help from instructors.

This is a part of our hands-on experiential learning program at iSchool for the Future where children learn science using their environment and then in turn apply the newly learned skills and knowledge to improve that environment (

Chris's picture
PMI-Certified Project Manager, CSM, Mom, PTA Member, Writer

Love the work that you're doing with iSchool, Nuria. It's so great to hear that project managers like yourself are directly leveraging your skills and allowing the students to learn the rudiments of project management. Even more impressive is empowering them to fail as a means to a more self-reliant, confident endgame.

Appreciate you sharing some of the details of your inspiring work. If there are any future article topics you would like to read more about, please feel free to let me know, Nuria!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.