Utilizing Project Management in Institutional Research


While many Institutional Research tasks are operational aspects of ongoing initiatives, many activities may produce outputs that are more temporary or ad hoc in nature. Much of the work in my current Institutional Research Special Projects role would fit this description. I have had the pleasure of working with reporting initiatives for Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability, Special Education Annual Performance Report (APR) visualizations, Financial Transparency metrics, and development of a reporting and analytics platform for K-12 school leaders. Each of these projects contained development phases. Even with the ESSA and APR federal reporting, no two reporting cycles are the same. Each cycle brings its own unique characteristics presenting challenges and opportunities.

In July 2023, I was asked to obtain a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification for further assisting the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) in managing projects. I completed this certification in December 2023. The following paragraphs will describe the benefits of this process and the role project management skills can play in institutional research.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) 7th edition (2021) published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a “temporary endeavor to produce a unique product or service with a beginning and end” (p. 4). As a discipline, Project Management is “application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet project requirements, guiding the project work to deliver the intended outcomes” (p. 4).

What does the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification entail? To apply for the exam, one must either have a high school diploma with 50 months of experience leading projects or a baccalaureate degree with 36 months of project leadership experience, all within the past eight years. Completion of a 35 hour training course is also required before submitting the application. I completed the course in October 2023 under the skilled instruction and guidance of Stephen Mercer, PMP, LSSBB, CPMP, DASM. Upon approval of the application, one may schedule the certification exam. I received the PMP Certification in December 2023 upon completing the exam. Completion of 60 PDU’s within every three year period and a renewal application are required for renewal every three years.

What benefits can the PMP certification bring? This industry certification is widely recognized for leading projects in a wide variety of organizations. It showcases a blend of strategic, interpersonal, and technical skills important to help ensure projects achieve their intended outcomes. Many organizations, including North Dakota Information Technology (NDIT), require obtaining the PMP certification to manage large projects.

What are the guiding characteristics of project management? The Project Management discipline is guided by the Project Management Institute’s 12 Principles of Project Management, summarized below:

  • Stewardship: Conducting activities in fidelity with internal and external organizational factors and constraints.
  • Team: Facilitating a healthy, collaborative team working and learning environment to deliver successful outcomes.
  • Stakeholders: Appropriately engage with diverse internal and external stakeholders to ensure successful outcomes.
  • Value: Consistently focusing on desired outcomes, evaluating progress, and adapting to maximize value.
  • Systems Thinking: Understanding and consistently responding to interactions with internal and external conditions.
  • Leadership: Demonstrate motivational servant leadership with honesty, integrity, and ethical conduct.
  • Tailoring: Consistently adapting to unique organizational and project characteristics to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Quality: Ensuring appropriate processes for stakeholder satisfaction and acceptance in fulfillment of project requirements.
  • Complexity: Maintaining vigilance in identifying and reducing the impact of project complexity.
  • Risk: Managing positive and negative risks in accordance with stakeholder expectations and organizational constraints.
  • Adaptability and Resiliency: Recovering quickly from changing conditions and impacts for successful project outcomes.
  • Change: Helping organizations and stakeholders develop behaviors and processes necessary for successful outcomes.


What other similarities exist between the Institutional Research and Project Management professions? Both professions have organizations sponsoring professional development activities. My membership in the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) and Association for Institutional Research in the Upper Midwest (AIRUM) organizations since 2008 has provided important professional development and networking opportunities. I have joined the Project Management Institute (PMI) and Project Management Institute – Minnesota Chapter (PMI-MN) to leverage similar opportunities, including ones that will be important in maintaining the PMP certification. Both professions have professional conduct standards. The AIR Statement of Ethical Principles has similarities with the PMI Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct.  I have attended several Institutional Research conferences throughout my career. I look forward to adding Project Management learning opportunities to my professional development options.

How can Project Management be blended into Institutional Research activities? There are natural parallels between these two fields. The Project Management life cycle is typically comprised of Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring, and Closure phases. The 12 Principles identified above are very relevant within Institutional Research work. When beginning an IR task, it is important to understand the full scope of what various stakeholders are desiring, the resources available, and steps to achieving the task. Project management seeks a similar high-level view of the entire project landscape. Both fields require differentiated communication to diverse stakeholder groups depending upon their role and needs. We often, for instance, produce different reports for internal administrators than we would for public audiences. Further complexity is added when refining metrics for use by individual offices or departments. A project management mindset can help incorporate these diverse factors into our work and focus on the value provided to our stakeholders.

I recommend that others consider exploring professional development opportunities in Project Management. As a strong believer in lifelong learning, I  continuously seek opportunities for enhancing my skills. The PMP certification is the latest addition to my professional toolbox. Thank you to those who have supported and encouraged me in this journey. I look forward to exploring future professional learning opportunities!


Project Management Institute. (2021). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (7th ed.). Project Management Institute, Inc.

Project Management Institute. (2021). 12 principles of project management. Project Management Institute, Inc. https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/pmbok-standards/12-project-management-principles.pdf?rev=03749f118ff84aca97a64af1d49bb1ac

Banner image created by Bing Chat, Microsoft Corporation.



Dr. Gregory Carlson is an Institutional Researcher with the North Dakota University System. Working closely with the Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) as an Accountability Team member through the NDDPI Office of Management Information Systems, primary responsibilities include project management, data framing, and helping manage accountability reporting through the Insights interactive public dashboards and private dashboards for school leaders. He assists in addressing accountability data questions from education stakeholders and facilitating use of educational data to facilitate continuous improvement of student learning within North Dakota’s public K-12 schools.