Local students in project management competition

March 25, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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The Project 2012, a Project Management Institute collegiate competition involving six Michigan colleges and universities, including some in the Grand Rapids region, will wrap up April 9 with final presentations by the teams and the ranking of them by the judges.

The competition is expected to increase the visibility of the project management profession in the western half of state, as well as provide cash prizes — and perhaps even jobs and paid internships — to the students.

Irwin Seating also may benefit from the competition: A Grand Valley State University team is using that company as the model for its project, and members of PMI have said Irwin Seating may be interested in using the information being researched and compiled by the students.

According to a staff member of the Project Management Institute, some 12 million new project managers are expected to be needed worldwide over the coming decade. Project manager salaries continue to climb, she said, with median salaries in the U.S. exceeding $100,000.

By competing in The Project, students also gain experience, putting them ahead of their peers in that job market.

The project selected for the competition is planning the process of applying for benefit corporation certification. Teams of three to six students entered the competition in January, representing Davenport University, University of Phoenix West Michigan Campus, Michigan Technological, Kalamazoo College, Grand Valley State University and Aquinas College. Michigan Tech and Kalamazoo College each entered two teams.

According to Ted Kallman, a member of PMI, the organization’s Western Michigan chapter got the idea for a B Corp. competition project from Fred Keller, CEO of Cascade Engineering, which last year became the first Michigan company to become registered as a B Corp.

The state of Michigan is considering legislation that would make benefit corporation a legal incorporation status. One of the reasons for U.S. corporate laws is to protect investors in the event a corporation does not do what it promises in order to be profitable. Benefit corporation legal status, which has been adopted in six states, recognizes that that company regards its beneficial impact on society to be as important as its profit motive. That could protect the management of a B Corp. should investors complain that profits should have been higher.

Kallman said the teams are developing and writing detailed plans for preparing and applying for B Corp. certification, as if their model company had asked for that.

He said the team of corporate executives who will judge the students’ projects will do so not as project managers but as key executives “who are asking themselves ‘Would I fund this?’”

According to Kallman, the competition has three “gates” or milestones each team must reach. The first was Jan. 20, when teams had to deliver a project scope statement and a project charter. That was reviewed by a standards judge and then went to the executive judges for their critical comments, which were returned to the students.

On Feb. 20, each team had to have completed its timelines, roles and responsibilities, and a budget. A committee of area project management professionals from area corporations and Spectrum Health studied the student papers and will serve as the project management operating committee receiving the March 20 deliverables: the project, its financial plan and a PowerPoint presentation. All of that material then goes to the judges.

On April 9, all the teams, sponsors, mentors, champions and judges will gather at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids for lunch. A two-hour “Reverse Career Fair” follows lunch; Kallman said the students will “sell themselves” to roving HR managers from as many as 20 corporate organizations, such as Steelcase, Spectrum Health and Gordon Foods.

“Those HR departments are going to interview the kids for potential job openings in their organization,” said Kallman.

Starting at 2:30 p.m., each of the eight teams will have a 15-minute period to present its project and answer questions. Following a social hour/dinner, the winning team will be announced, followed by that team’s final comments on its project. The keynote presentation, running from 7-7:40 p.m., will be by William Moylan, a professor at Eastern Michigan University and a board member of PMI. Fred Keller will present brief closing comments.

According to Kallman, the winning team shares a cash prize of $5,000, and each team member also receives a paid internship at one of the corporations involved in The Project. Second prize is $3,000, third prize is $2,000, and the remaining teams also receive certificates good for dinner out on the town.

The teams were not required to use an existing company as the model for their projects, but two did: GVSU selected Irwin Seating, and the University of Phoenix selected Whirlpool Corp.

Kallman said that when the GVSU students approached Irwin Seating and asked if it would work with the team as a model for the B Corp. certification process, Irwin turned it around and indicated it might actually be interested in applying — “which is an interesting twist,” he added.

“And we may. I don’t know,” said James Wilson, Irwin Seating’s facility manager and the students’ project sponsor. A second Irwin Seating manager, Scott Travis, is the project manager working with the student team.

Wilson noted that Irwin Seating CEO Win Irwin is an active supporter of corporate programs that benefit society, such as sustainable business improvements like the major updating of HVAC controls at the Irwin Seating plant last year to reduce energy consumption.

“As an individual, I have found the process very interesting, and the students have brought some interesting ideas to our attention,” said Travis. “Because of the hypothetical nature of the exercise, and the fact that we have not yet discussed it with our Environmental Steering Committee for feedback, I cannot yet comment on whether or not B Corp. would be a program that Irwin Seating Co. would adopt.”

Each of the schools involved also has named at least one “champion” from its faculty to make sure the students have all the resources they need to compete effectively. One of those from GVSU is Joshua Gerlick, an adjunct professor in the management department of the Seidman School of Business at GVSU.

“This has really been exciting for us,” said Gerlick. “Unlike many of the competitors, we don’t have a formal project management curriculum at the Seidman School, so this is the first time where our team has even been introduced to project management methodology. It’s typically something we would see at the graduate level.”

Gerlick added that formal project management is “becoming more and more important” as companies are increasingly “getting rid of the functional silos and having these teams work on deliverables. So this is really an opportunity for us in the business school to demonstrate why project management might be something we want to encourage as part of our curriculum in the future.”

Actually, not all of the four students on the GVSU team are business majors. One is in the master’s program in public administration and another is a history major with a business minor.

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