Trouble viewing? Open in web browser.

Journalist Resources Stanford News Stanford Experts Contact Us
Stanford University homepage

News Service

April 7, 2006

Advanced project management program wins international award

By Dawn Levy

Putting the contents of the Library of Congress online. Bringing a new drug to market. Exploring space.

Completing immense projects on time and on budget requires that managers handle complexity in their own organizations and adjust to dynamic market conditions. But can managers be trained to succeed at such formidable endeavors?

"In the mature project industries—aerospace, construction, pharmaceuticals—people know how to manage small numbers of large projects with complex supply chains," says Professor Raymond E. Levitt, academic director of the Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program. The trick is to adapt and deliver project management capability that is "process light" to industry sectors such as information technology (IT) that tend to have large numbers of smaller projects, Levitt says.

The SAPM program has undertaken this challenge since 1999 and recently received the 2005 Distinguished Non-Credit Program Award from the Association for Continuing Higher Education. The award is an international honor that recognizes unique achievement and innovation in the delivery of continuing higher education.

Program faculty, alumni and current participants gathered March 28 in Encina Hall to celebrate the award and hear from a panel of program graduates from Advent, Charles Schwab, Cisco and Stryker.

Participants in the SAPM program have included managers overseeing the IT portfolios of eBay and Cisco, the building of Mormon temples, the workings of the city of Larkspur, Calif., and the operations of the Alaska Pipeline, the Orange County Sanitation District and the Stanford Blood Center. Among the alumni are managers for Gravity Probe B, a project that for more than four decades has brought together hundreds of research collaborators from Stanford, NASA and Lockheed Martin to put the theories of advanced physics to the test. They have included employees of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, who wanted to learn how to better manage a portfolio of grant projects, and employees of Itron, a global company that consults for the electric power industry. Executives at Bank of America, Intel, HP and Kaiser Permanente also count among the ranks of SAPM alumni.

Proud graduates put "Stanford Certified Project Manager" on their business cards, Levitt says, whipping out two dozen graduates' cards as proof. "In a number of companies, this has become a required credential for moving upward," he adds.

Theory today, practice tomorrow

The SAPM program is a partnership of the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD), which provides continuing education on campus and via online courses to address the career-long education needs of top managers and engineers, and the San Mateo, Calif.-based project management training firm IPSolutions Inc. (IPS), which works with clients in Fortune 500 and other organizations worldwide to provide custom workshops, classroom training, assessments, mentoring and on-site leadership. Tuition is $2,495 for individual on-campus courses and $1,095 for online courses. Stanford faculty and staff qualify for reduced rates and may use Staff Training Assistance Program (STAP) funds for the courses.

It's not simply a "how-to" program, stresses Levitt. "We want to help participants develop the right mindset—a particular outlook and set of principles—that will help them get strategic initiatives accomplished. Flexibility is a key concept. Things never go exactly as planned, and so you have to create a structure for projects that can react quickly and effectively to change—that's the 'advanced' part," Levitt says.

Words like "mindset," "outlook" and "principles" may suggest a theoretical approach, but the program is above all dedicated to providing concrete solutions for real-world problems. Peter Tapscott of Varian Medical Systems, a recent SAPM graduate, attended Stanford as a graduate student in the Management Science and Engineering Department. "The thing I really love about [the SAPM program] is that we're getting the great academics out of the same building where I went to grad school, but the combination with IPS makes this a really compelling series of courses and the practical information that we get out of it is just terrific," he says.

Carissa Little, professional education program manager for SCPD—and also an SAPM graduate—notes that the curriculum offers participants ideas that they can take back to work and use on Monday. "People are surprised they can actually make a difference using the content immediately," she says.

The 'accidental' project manager

While the SAPM program targets senior operations managers who find themselves playing increasingly significant roles in their organizations, the program also attracts what Levitt calls "accidental project managers"—technical experts with good people skills who have been made into project managers but have never trained to perform in that role. "It could be a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente, a chip engineer at Intel or a software developer at Intuit who has been assigned to manage a project or multi-project program and feels the need for the framework, tools and techniques for managing projects," Levitt says.

Graduate-level education—which includes continuing education and professional education—has doubled since 1970, Little says. SAPM's rapid growth—it offered one course in 1999 but now offers 12—reflects that trend. More than 7,000 students from almost 500 corporate, nonprofit, military and governmental organizations have taken SAPM courses, and 853 students have received the Stanford Certified Project Manager (SCPM) credential.

Another measure of the program's success is financial. In 2005, its on-campus and online offerings earned $2.8 million, according to SCPD Deputy Director Paul Marca. A portion of the revenues is divided among SCPD, the School of Engineering and the departments involved.

Completion of three core courses—Converting Strategy into Action, Mastering the Integrated Program, Mastering the Project Portfolio—plus three electives qualifies participants for the SCPM credential. Electives range from Project Risk Management, in which students learn that projects depending on distributed players proceed only as fast as the slowest one, to Managing Without Authority, in which managers learn to manage their peers and managers.

Lessons learned

The SAPM program trains executives, senior managers and program and project managers to develop and leverage their project management skills to gain a competitive advantage.

Making sure little projects don't fritter away resources better spent on big, strategic projects is a big lesson learned in Mastering the Project Portfolio, directed by Levitt, who cites an example from IT: "Somebody comes to one of the people working on a big project and says, 'My computer's crashed. I have a virus. Change my [Internet protocol] address.' These little projects, for which you get immediate satisfaction and somebody's very thankful, can easily distract people from the big projects."

Another big challenge: As jobs become more specialized, how do managers manage when they don't know anything about what their highly specialized technical workers are doing? "My favorite example is you have the programmer programming in Java; her boss learned to program in C, or maybe C++; his boss learned to program in Fortran; and her boss learned to program in Cobol," Levitt says. "If you go two or three levels up in the organization, they're completely out of date."

Adds Little: "The way to get around that is you manage the project rather than the individual."

In coming years, Levitt says, the program may offer "vertical coursework" relevant to specific industries, such as pharmaceuticals, construction, software or defense. The goal is to combine technical and managerial knowledge needed to lead complex endeavors, such as developing manufacturing processes that meet Food and Drug Administration certification requirements, implementing new enterprise business systems in large organizations, or managing joint efforts by military, corporate and nongovernmental-organization teams to rebuild national infrastructure and institutions in post-conflict situations like Kosovo.

Career control

"Your career's about how fast you can learn and change," William Malek, the program director of SAPM and chief executive officer of IPS, told attendees of a September 2005 graduation party on campus for new holders of the SCPM credential.

Robert Lyons, a technical management consultant in defense and industry, called the program "life-altering." His clients have benefited from what he's learned in each of the six courses he took, he said, sharing a lesson from a class taught by Jennifer Chatman of the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley: "A fool with a tool is still a fool," he said. "These classes will take away the 'fool' part for you."

Ruth Todd, Stanford's associate university architect in the Architect/Planning Office, has taken six courses and says she learned not only how to give better clarity and structure to the projects that she manages but also how to be a better team member on projects that other people manage.

Says Marcy Elaine Hilt, a group program manager at Adobe Systems: "When I started this program I managed products and things. Now I actually manage relationships between Adobe and other companies."

Charlie Bisbee, a senior project manager at Genentech involved in expansion of the company's Vacaville, Calif., manufacturing plant—a project with a six-year timeline and a $700 million investment—took Project Risk Management. He cited the diversity of his classmates, who hail from Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, eBay and Cisco, as "the real benefit."

David Leeds of Allstate said his company has put 138 of its employees through Stanford's two-day Project Manager 101 class. When seasoned project managers ask why they have to take the class, Leeds says he replies: "Even the best baseball players go to spring training every year."

Editor Note:

Photos from the March 28 gathering are available on the web at The photos are slugged "apm."



Dawn Levy, News Service: (650) 725-1944,


Raymond E. Levitt, Civil and Environmental Engineering: (650) 723-2677,

Related Information


Update your subscription

  • Email:
  • Phone: (650) 723-2558

More Stanford coverage

Facebook Twitter iTunes YouTube Futurity RSS

Journalist Resources Stanford News Stanford Experts Contact Us

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305. (650) 723-2300.