Project Management Courses

Engineers are good at designing systems to meet technical specifications. Project managers are good at developing and executing project plans. But most technical teams and project leaders lack a key set of skills: working in the messy, unpredictable, conflict-ridden realm of people. These courses from Cornell University’s College of Engineering address the human aspects of both of these vital disciplines: designing products and services to be used and enjoyed by people, and leading, motivating, influencing, and communicating with project teams that consist of people from a variety of functional areas and backgrounds. These programs are practical and transformative, and they will forever change the way you approach any project.

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Ensuring the Success of Product and Service Design

Identify and eliminate risk factors in your design. Employ analytical tools to properly assess and mitigate risk in your development process.

Framing Complex Problems with Systems Thinking

Whether you need to tackle a complex project, communicate more effectively, rethink your organization or your job, solve world hunger, or figure out your teenager, systems thinking can help you. All of these are complex and challenging real-world problems, sometimes called wicked problems. We all confront problems, big and small, in our personal and professional lives, and most of us are searching for better ways to solve them. In this course, Professors Derek and Laura Cabrera will demonstrate how we can use systems thinking to solve everyday and wicked problems, to transform our organizations and to increase our personal effectiveness.

At its core, systems thinking attempts to better align the way we think with how the real world works. Our thinking is based on our mental models, but these models, created from our unique perspective with its inherent biases, are usually inadequate representations of reality. The Cabreras illustrate how we can use feedback to recognize and adapt our mental models so that they better align with reality, enhancing our problem-solving capabilities.

For systems thinking to be successful, it must be adaptive. In this course, you will explore the concept of complex adaptive systems, and while these systems seem unnecessarily complicated, the Cabreras will reveal a surprising discovery. Underlying all complex adaptive systems are simple rules, and applying these rules is the key to transforming the way we frame and solve everyday problems.

Using the Four Simple Rules of Systems Thinking

While you may not realize it, you are already making use of some of the patterns of systems thinking. For example, you may take a certain perspective on a problem—however, you might not be aware of your perspective and more importantly, may not recognize that you are likely omitting other perspectives. It is these types of omissions that contribute to both the creation of our most challenging problems and our inability to solve them. This course will walk you through the four simple rules of systems thinking, which provide a new paradigm for solving problems. These rules represent distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives, or DSRP.

Throughout this course, you will start to unlearn some of the deeply ingrained thought patterns that result in unproductive interactions, unintentional bias, and faulty binary or linear thinking. Systems thinking means intentionally reflecting on how you think, including both the information and the structure of your thoughts and ideas so that you can break old habits and think more systematically. With a variety of examples, tools, and techniques, you will practice making distinctions between ideas or things, organize ideas into systems, recognize hidden or underlying relationships, and identify the perspectives implicit in the information you analyze. As a result, you will be equipped to identify more innovative solutions, build consensus across diverse groups of people, and approach problems with more creativity, adaptability, and clarity.

Visualizing and Modeling Complex Problems

How do you make sense of all the information you are bombarded with on a daily basis? We can barely absorb the overwhelming amount of information, let alone determine its meaning. As Derek and Laura Cabrera illustrate in this course, we humans process information best with our eyes and our hands, and we can take advantage of this fact by using visual maps. Visual maps can help you corral this information, organize and structure it, and most importantly, convert it into knowledge that you can act upon.

In this course, you will use the online mapping software, Plectica, so that you can break down your complex problems using the simple rules of systems thinking, DSRP. Building maps with this easy-to-use software will help you gain insights into processes, relationships, or challenges of any kind, and enable you to quickly and easily share these insights with others. As you become more adept at creating visual maps, your systems thinking skills will increase as you deepen your understanding of complex ideas, communicate these ideas more effectively, and enhance collaboration across groups to spur innovation.

Building Analytical and Emotional Intelligence with Systems Thinking

Recent surveys show that employers are looking for individuals who have both analytical and emotional intelligence. Organizational leaders across a wide spectrum of industries and professions want people with strong problem-solving skills who can handle their emotions and work effectively with others. How can you learn to better balance your emotions with critical thinking, to balance your own needs with the needs of another? This course will provide you with the tools and guidance for using the simple rules of systems thinking (DSRP) to build both your analytical and emotional intelligence.

By asking more robust questions and challenging yourself to go beyond traditional forms of thought and logic, you can more quickly identify and bridge the gaps in your thinking and build new knowledge about any problem or situation. You will transcend either-or thinking to consider a wider range of possibilities that more closely reflect the real world. These same approaches for building your analytical capabilities also enable you to harness your emotions by helping you gain awareness of your own thinking. This awareness will build your emotional intelligence, which in turn will increase your ability to collaborate, think creatively, and solve tough problems. You will come away from this course with practical approaches you can apply in every area of your life to enhance your work, your decisions, and your relationships.

Designing Organizations for Systems Thinking

Why do we start organizations in the first place? We have a vision for the future, and we need to work with others to bring that vision to life. The whole purpose of any organization is collective action. When organizations fail, it is often the result of the failure to harness the collective power of individuals to drive toward that singular vision. However, much like you would design an iPhone, you can also design organizations that are adaptive and can focus everyone on achieving the organization's vision.

In this course, Cornell University faculty members Derek and Laura Cabrera present you with the design principles of intelligent, adaptive organizations built for systems thinking. With expert guidance and hands-on activities, you will create your organization’s vision and mission, and build capacity and learning systems that support your organization’s ability to achieve these core principles. This approach is a systems leadership and organizational design model that will help you better design, guide, manage, and change your organization. It provides you with a blueprint to build the culture you need to attain your ultimate goal: to have your entire organization, at every level, working toward realizing your company’s vision.

Becoming a Systems Leader

For organizations to succeed, they need to develop individuals who are constantly learning and adapting according to information on the ground. Sharing key mental models—at the organizational, team, and individual levels—is critical to creating a culture of learning that enables the organization to survive and thrive through chaos and complexity.

In this course, Professors Derek and Laura Cabrera demonstrate how to become a systems leader; that is, someone who can use systems thinking at the organizational level, at the team level, and at the individual level. You will create a culture for your organization that is built on shared mental models and develop techniques to incentivize thought leaders to support the culture based on your vision, mission, capacity, and learning. At the team level, where the real work of the organization gets done, you will explore the process of building, sharing and evolving mental models through collaborative mapping and feedback processes. And finally, you will turn your own thinking into doing, to ensure that your actions are aligned with key organizational mental models. With tools, techniques, and expert guidance, you can begin to implement systems thinking at all levels of the organization, creating teams and individuals upon which organizational culture, values, and success is built.

Defining Scope

In order to optimize your system, you first need to define it. In this course, you will learn how to use a tool called the Context Diagram to map the responsibilities and elements of your system and how those elements interact with each other. Then you will define the functionality of your system. By using case analysis, you will study the different scenarios that your system may need to accomplish in order to meet your project goals. You will learn not only how to define and analyze your system, but also how to visualize and communicate this information with stakeholders.

Developing System Requirements

This course guides you through the process of deciding how your system should interact with all the elements in the context you identified. You will articulate what your system needs to do to successfully complete its use case using a tool called the Use Case Behavioral Diagram (UCBD). With the UCBD you will derive professional, functional requirements that describe what any valid solution must do throughout its use cases. Then you will develop the UCBD in a way that will meet your customers’ needs, but not so prescriptive that it prevents your team from using all of your talent in service of making your project a success.

Exploring Your System’s Architecture

In this course, you will bring together disparate system functions that have been described in isolation to show how they all might operate together. You will explore what different kinds of interactions might occur in a way that brings your whole team together to create a cohesive solution that truly meets the challenge's needs. Then you will interpret a flexible tool called the Functional Flow Block Diagram that will add value throughout your design-build-test process.

Assessing Your System’s Performance and Value

Decision matrices are one of the most commonly used engineering tools. They are used to help rationalize why one option should be chosen over another, and you can find some form of them in just about every business, industry, and government. Decision matrices may not always be identified as such but can be used as part of a trade study, competitive analysis, or options review. As prevalent as these matrices are, they are also one of the most misused tools out there.

In this course, you begin by developing performance metrics. These performance metrics will allow you to objectively determine the value of any potential solution to a challenge. You will then develop a decision matrix around these metrics by applying justifiable weights and tuning the metrics to account for the needs and priorities of specific customers. By learning how to create a superior decision matrix with these well-defined performance metrics, you can achieve tremendous influence on a project even if you do not have official authority.

Implementing the Quality Function Deployment Method

The quality function deployment (QFD) is one of the most effective methods for relating performance metrics that a customer cares about to technical criteria and engineering parameters and ultimately, the design targets a team needs to build their solution. You will learn that the QFD expresses this relationship in a way that allows you to compare your concepts to your competitors’ and to understand the trade-offs between engineering parameters and their influence on performance criteria. This equips you to argue effectively that your design targets will lead your team to a winning solution.

In this course, you will go through a detailed, step-by-step process to build a QFD for your own project. You will examine the interrelationship between different engineering characteristics. You will use all this information, along with factors such as cost and technical difficulty, to establish strong design targets and get an estimate of your final system’s performance.

Defining Interfaces

Interfaces are one of the most important parts of design and design implementation. However, they are often one of the most challenging aspects to identify and manage, and one of the most common points of failure of any system. As a result, there has been a multitude of software developed to aid in managing this process. However, without a strong understanding of the interfaces and how the subsystem teams work together, the use of the software packages is futile. They are only as good as the information put into them.

In this course, you will explore a number of different tools including sequence diagrams and interface matrices to help tease out and formalize your interfaces and interface specifications. This formalization step will help your team to discuss the impact and the dependencies of these interfaces. You will then produce the details and record them as interface specifications so that your team can design and create a well-integrated credible system.

Identifying and Evaluating Risk

Everyone worries about risk. How do we identify risks? Is this issue more risky than another? Or even worse, "Sorry, but this project sounds too risky. We can't approve it." Wouldn't it be better if you could show an objective understanding of risks, how to plan to address them, and be able to justify the decisions behind those plans?

In this course, you will learn how to assess risk with failure modes and effect analysis. You will evaluate different losses of functionality that your system could experience, and determine the possible effects and related causes. You will then develop objective ways of measuring the severity and likelihood of each of these causes, ultimately to develop a quantifiable measure of system risk. You will produce this analysis in a way that not only allows you to make decisions on how to handle these risks, but also justify your actions to others. This course equips you to recognize risk and reduce it.

Executing and Improving System Design

Create a design architecture and implement control measures to increase quality and efficiency as you execute your project plan.

Exploring the Design Space and Optimizing the Design

Create a high-value product or service by optimizing the design space and improving your design processes.

Getting Started on Product and Service Design

Learn how to create sustainable competitive advantage by fine-tuning your design process. Adopt a systems approach to product and service evaluation and development.

Assessing, Managing, and Mitigating Project Risk

Leverage Emotional Intelligence for Project Results

Even experienced project leaders will ask themselves “Why won’t people listen to me?” or “What went wrong with my plan?” Of all the skills critical to project leadership, emotional intelligence may be the most important—and least understood. 

In this course, you will learn to identify, analyze, and manage emotions, both yours and your team members’.

It is a common mistake among project leaders to focus too heavily on the mechanics of project management while neglecting the critical people skills that keep everyone engaged and working harmoniously. In this course, from Robert Newman of Cornell’s College of Civil and Environmental Engineering, project leaders will explore concepts of emotional intelligence and practice skills relevant to managing emotions so that they can enjoy better project outcomes. You will focus on five critical aptitudes: communication, relationship management, decision making, conflict management, and motivation.

Communicate Well to Drive Project Outcomes

Even experienced project leaders often find that regular meetings and status updates don't lead to meaningful communication. When the team doesn't fully understand project goals or how the work is going to get done, that lack of clarity will have a direct impact on whether the project is on time, within budget, and will lead to quality output. At the same time, team members may mislead you about their progress. Stakeholders may not always explain their expectations. Customers may be unclear about what they want and need. What's going wrong? And how can a project leader do better?

In this course, authored by Cornell Instructor Robert Newman, you will examine typical project-related communication problems and explore practical strategies for overcoming them. You’ll learn to host kick-offs and lead meetings that actually guide the team toward successful outcomes. You will practice communicating with a fresh, even sometimes unfamiliar, perspective in order to bring about productive and high-functioning working relationships.

Turning Groups Into Teams

Getting skilled people to behave and perform as high-functioning teams can be a challenge. In this course, you’ll take a look at how teams tend to progress, what might impact motivation and engagement, and how culture can influence behaviors and results.

This course, authored by Cornell Instructor Robert Newman, will show you how the fundamentals as taught by top researchers like Frederick Herzberg, Bruce Tuckman, and Meredith Belbin can help turn a group of workers into a high-performing team.

Leading Project Teams

Seasoned project leaders sometimes apply the same leadership approach to every situation. In this course, authored by Cornell Instructor Robert Newman, you’ll explore a number of leadership styles to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses. You’ll learn how to manage safety concerns, when to be directly coercive, and see how creative collaboration and a shot of inspiration can turn things around for a team.

After taking this course, you’ll be ready to employ a particular style or model of leadership just as a carpenter would a tool. Does the occasion call for a hammer or a saw? Every style of leadership has its merits and its place. Find out what style works best for the situation. 

Managing Conflict on Project Teams

As a project leader you need to be able to distinguish between when conflict is healthy and when it’s damaging to relationships and productivity. In this course, authored by Cornell Instructor Robert Newman, you’ll learn to identify various causes and sources of conflict and learn to foster healthy disagreement within a project team.

Monitoring and Controlling Projects

When errors, misses, over-runs and problems occur during projects, a balanced, measured response from the project leader is critical. If you underreact, stakeholders will begin to doubt your effectiveness. If you overreact, your teams will be in fear, crushing any creative effort and stifling information sharing. In this course, authored by Cornell Instructor Robert Newman, you will examine the human elements of project monitoring and control and review common errors that occur on projects. You’ll learn how to ask the right questions and improve team connectedness. 

Organizing the Project and Its Components

Agile Project Management Approaches

Planning and Managing Resources

Using Earned Value Management for Project Managers

Targeting Product and Service Designs to Customers’ Needs

Learn how to identify and quantify customer demand. Create a design process and that maximizes your product or service's potential for commercial success.

Thinking Through the Structure of System Design

Clear communication and well-prepared systems architectures enable design and development professionals to work together seamlessly and productively.