Sunday, July 06, 2008

AgileScotland: Aberdeen University offers Master's course in Software PM, with Agile

The University of Aberdeen has recently announced their new Master of Science Degree Software Project Management.  It's a part-time and distance programme "devised by software professionals and industry-oriented academics to support the needs of software professionals in the wider industry sector worldwide".

* this is an international, online course, so please pass this note on to any one you think might be interested *

I'm THRILLED to say that the course contains considerable Agile content as well as the more traditional (and often just as important) approaches.  I'm delighted that Aberdeen University has the foresight to do this because (as far as I know) this is one of the few master's level course to include Agile PM.  [I'm even more delighted because they're using some of my material - from my book and training - in the course.]

I asked Dr Bruce Scharlau a few questions about the course:

q: Who'll get the most out of this course?  Is it only available to people in Scotland or the UK?

The course is part-time, so is aimed at those who want to do it alongside their 'day job'. The course is also entirely on-line, which means you can be anywhere with an internet connection, and do the courses on the programme. We hope to have students from around the world taking part. This will enable all of the students to gain from insights of each other and to exchange software project experiences with each other.

The students who will get the most out of the course will be those who have some work experience, which they can bring to their studies; people, who have been on software projects in the past, and can bring what they experienced and learned in those situations to the coursework. However, this does not mean that you have to have been employed directly on a project, but that you have experience as a contracted developer, or maybe as a consultant on projects. We also expect to have a few students who have just graduated and have so far only seen the technical side of software development, and want to do this alongside their first job, or while they keep hunting for their first job.

Q: Why a new course?  Aren't there enough out there already?  What's different about this one?

We wanted to develop a new MSc programme because we felt that this was an overlooked area in project management in general. The College of Physical Sciences has been running a successful general part-time project management programme that leads to an MSc for a number of years now, and we felt that this would be a good time to build on that experience and develop a specialist software development version, because software development does have its unique qualities. We also discovered that there do not appear to be many other programmes offering this type of material to this depth.

Our programme will be different for a number of reasons. First, we offer it as distance learning on a part-time basis. It is assumed that students will do one course per term, and do two courses in a year. This means it will take three years to get an MSc, but students could stop at any time, and receive appropriate credit towards a post-graduate certificate, or post-graduate diploma depending upon how many courses they have successfully completed.
Second, we will be covering and discussing traditional software project management approaches such as are associated with the waterfall methodology and its associated methods for estimating project size, scope and duration, as well as the agile approaches to the mangement of the project that revolve around its different methods for estimating size, scope and how many iterations there will be before the project ends. The agile approaches are still infrequently mentioned in the software development books students see, yet are being successfully deployed by companies large and small to successfully develop software for companies.

Q. What would I learn if I did this course that I couldn't get from doing, say, an MBA?

An MBA provides you with management skills, and good financial skills, however, an MBA is not generally tailored to a specific industry. It is this particular aspect: the tailoring of the programme to the software industry that we will provide, that you will not find in an MBA programme.

Q: How's it work if I don't live in Aberdeen?

The programme works the same where ever you are. Once you register with the programme, then you are given a username and password to get you into the programme website. There you will find the course materials and facilities for you to discuss coursework and chat with other students, as well as with the different course leaders. Each section and block of material for a course will have some parts that are done individually, and then the solutions discussed in online forums with other students, so this site provides the tools for that. Given that we can't all meet at once, we'll end up with a good variety of discussion forums to cope with people in different timezones and with different work routines.

It is this discussion aspect of the programme that I think will really bring out the diverse experience of the students, and let them see different ways of working, and help them to be better project managers. Most people work with a few companies during their working career, so only have that much breadth of experience. A programme like this, however, lets the students do two things. First, it provides them a wider breadth of experience based on what other companies are doing in the same way that people gain experience through stories with colleagues around the water-cooler, so that they know how different situations can be handled. Second, it will provide them with new friends, who they can use as sounding boards for ideas and possible solutions during the programme, and afterwards. I know for experience on our advanced computer science MSc that some of those students went on to found their own companies, and that others have all stayed in close touch for many years following their time together. It wouldn't surprise me if we didn't end up with similar sorts of stories for this one too, even though it is 'distance learning'.