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Evolving the Teaching and Practice of Project Management: Lessons Learned on the Path to Living Order

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Career Development for Engineering Professionals

Tagged Division

Continuing Professional Development

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Paper Authors


Wayne P. Pferdehirt University of Wisconsin, Madison Orcid 16x16

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Wayne P. Pferdehirt is the director of the Master of Engineering Management program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Wayne also co-teaches the program's Technical Project Management and Foundations of Engineering Leadership courses. Prior to joining UW-Madison, Pferdehirt directed the Midwest solid waste consulting services of an international environmental consulting firm and led energy conservation research projects for Argonne National Laboratory. He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and a master’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in regional planning from Northwestern University. Wayne is a frequent speaker and author on continuing education for engineers, and is a member of the College of Engineering’s Education Innovation Committee.

For more information about UW-Madison’s Master of Engineering Management degree see

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Jeffrey S. Russell University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Dr. Jeffrey S. Russell is the Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning and Dean of the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his role as Vice Provost, he is striving to make UW-Madison a global leader in the service to lifelong learners. He has held these dual responsibilities since 2011.

Jeff is currently leading a campus-wide strategic planning process focused on creating more transformative educational experiences for lifelong learners.

Jeff first joined UW-Madison’s faculty in 1989 as an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, where he co-founded the Construction Engineering and Management Program and developed the construction curriculum. In addition, he has authored and co-authored papers on the subject of educating civil engineers. His body of work demonstrates his commitment to using emerging technology in the classroom to prepare the next generation of engineers and other students for the challenges of the future.

Jeff was honored in 2014 with an Outstanding Projects and Leaders Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Civil Engineers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from University of Cincinnati, master’s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University, and is a registered professional engineer in Wisconsin.

Jeff grew up in a construction family where his father ran the field operations for a small regional contractor in northeast Ohio. He spent his youth working in construction, learning the value of hard work, integrity, organization, and leadership. He has always respected the important role of labor in achieving project success.

Strongly influenced by his sister, who has Down syndrome, Jeff values the importance of family, the joys of life, and the appreciation of differences and diversity.

(608) 890-2318

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John S. Nelson P.E. University of Wisconsin, Madison

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John S. Nelson, PE current duties include:

• Adjunct Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UW–Madison, in the Construction Engineering Management program
• Chief Technical Officer for Global Infrastructure Asset Management LLC, an asset management firm specializing in sustainable infrastructure investments.
• Chairman, MEP Associates LLC, a US Consulting Engineering Firm

Previously, Nelson was CEO of Affiliated Engineers as the firm became nationally recognized for designing dynamic building systems and infrastructure for large and complicated projects.
Nelson received an MS in Mechanical Engineering from UW–Madison, and currently serves on the UW Foundation, Nelson Institute, and Center for Advanced Studies of Business boards.

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The proposed paper and presentation address how the authors’ approach to teaching project management has foundationally evolved over ten years of teaching an intense, online project-based graduate level course to experienced, practicing engineers. The evolution focuses on adaptations that recognize and address the realities of challenging projects that occur in the churn of “living order” geometric order.” The discipline of project management, as traditionally taught, seeks to precisely plan, budget, and schedule projects, then execute according to those predetermined plans, budgets, and schedules. Engineers seek to fully understand and avoid possible risks to project success. In this view, success depends on accurately predicting the future, developing a path to success, and ensuring all elements of the project remain fixed on that path. The true success of any project depends on whether the project delivers its intended value to stakeholders. Whether the project follows the planned path to success is immaterial. The scope, schedule, and/or budget may evolve to the benefit of all, provided the target value is delivered. To achieve project and career success, engineering project managers need to supplement traditional project management skills with the ability to navigate the rapids of living order in which their projects seek to survive. In the world of living order, agility, adaptability, and resilience are of paramount importance. The authors have evolved what they teach and how they teach to help practicing engineers to build lean, value-focused teams and project plans that can quickly learn from changing project conditions, and agilely adapt to ensure successful project completion. The paper will address how course goals, topics, and formats have evolved to better meet the related needs and interests of practicing professionals. The presentation will also address how engineers enrolled in the course have applied living order concepts to real-world projects they complete as part of the course.

Pferdehirt, W. P., & Russell, J. S., & Nelson, J. S. (2018, June), Evolving the Teaching and Practice of Project Management: Lessons Learned on the Path to Living Order Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30461

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