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By: Jeff Collins

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October 12th, 2015

A Brief History of Project Management

shutterstock_222984979In today's fast-paced business world, the need for successful project management has become a necessity rather than a luxury. Many tend to think of project management as a new venture for growth and development.

However, project management has been around for thousands of years and was involved in the planning, coordination, and construction of the Ancient Wonders of the World.

Today's project management has grown to include industries such as energy production sectors and construction efforts. Many project management organizations have also taken to adopting the six key drivers of success mentioned in this eBook. Take a look at the history of project management and how it's grown and changed over the centuries.


Does your organization have these six key factors for success?

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Ancient to 18th Century: Elements of Project Management Transcend Time.

Throughout the history of project management, the basic principles of project management have always remained the same. This includes managing resources, maintaining schedules, and coordinating different activities and tasks. 

However, one key difference between the ancient marvels of project management and modern day projects is the ancient marvels did not routinely involve schedule optimization.

Many of today's most affluent companies have been able to master these age old principles of project management by adopting these six crucial elements of successful project managment.

Project Management Grows in the 19th Century.

In the late 19th century, the need for more structure in construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors gave rise to the modern project management tactics we use today.

For example, the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad, corduroy roads, and the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War were all major feats in the history of project management.

The Transcontinental Railroad is considered to be the first, large-scale project management undertaking. The Transcontinental Railroad was a key factor in the industrial development of the United States but people often forget the true scope of this project. It included traversing treacherous terrain and braving dangerous weather conditions to construct a railway and telegraph line. 

1900 to 1950: The Birth of Modern Project Management and Henry Gantt.

As the 19th century progressed, business leaders began to face the challenges of labor laws and regulations from the federal government.

Henry Gantt, who played a crucial role in the history of project management, is considered the founding father of modern project management.  He developed planning and control techniques to help business leaders succeed and comply with these new regulations.

One example is the creation of the famous Gantt Chart to ensure monitoring and control of the project schedule. This basic bar chart shows the phases of a project from inception to completion.

1911: Frederic Taylor

In 1911 Frederic Taylor published a book, “The Principles of Scientific Management,” which was based on his experience in the steel industry. The goal of the book was to give unskilled workers the opportunity to work on new, complex projects by learning skills rapidly through simplicity.

In addition, he identified how many workers would routinely work below capacity through soldiering to ensure future job security. He also identified the need to create incentive-based wage systems and take advantage of time-saving techniques. Many of the principles in Taylor's book align with the success drivers mentioned in this eBook and are still used by companies today.

1950 to 1980s: PERT and CPM

After WWII, project managers began to follow two mathematical ways of conducting and managing projects.

Program Evaluation Review Technique, or PERT, analyzes individual tasks by asserting a minimum amount of time for completion.

The Critical Path Method, or CPM, factors in a project's activities, how long the activities will take to complete, and the relationship between the activities and their end points. However, CPM quickly became riddled with confusion.

1980 to 2000: Computers and Project Management

The rise of the computer played a major role in the history of project management. Computers brought connectivity and communication to the forefront of project management in the 1980s.

As technology grew into the 1990s, the Internet became widely available through dial-up means. Some project management entities created systems for project management purposes, but it was not until the late 19th century when the newfound era of computers and project management truly began.

2000 to Present: Rise of Automation and Maturity of Efficiency

As computer-controlled options and complex algorithms were developed, project managers began to complete more work in less time with fewer errors than ever before.

The growth of the Internet led to web-based project management applications being developed. Today, web-based project management applications can be seen on mobile devices, individual computers, and wide-scale ERP systems.

Although the efficient processes of project management have only been tapped for 150 years, project management has been around since the dawn of mankind. From amazing feats of engineering and construction in ancient times to the complex projects we see today, the history of project management is vast, extensive, and ever-growing.

There are many factors that must work cohesively to achieve successful results in project management. You can read more about some of the key elements of project managmeent success in this eBook.

Timeline Facts to Remember

  • Project management has been around since ancient times.
  • The Transcontinental Railroad was the first true project management undertaking in modern times.
  • The Industrial Revolution and associated labor changes drove the need for better project management tactics.
  • Henry Gantt used charts to monitor and manage projects.
  • Frederic Taylor authored a publication on better project management tactics to improve the efficiency of skilled laborers. Many successful organizations still use these tactics today.
  • PERT and CPM were two of the first mathematical formulas for discerning project risk.
  • Computers gave project managers new ways to compute risks and manage projects.
  • The Internet gave birth to mass communication and efficiency across all projects and in greater detail to the devices of today.

Which historical events do you think helped shape the project management industry we work in today? Join the conversation below and download our ebook "Six Key Drivers of Successful Project Management" to learn about the essential elements of project management.

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About Jeff Collins

Hi there, thanks for reading! As the President of IMS, I’ve just about seen it all in the project management industry. I’m happy to share my experiences to help managers and organizations improve their project performance. Please reach out to our team if you’re struggling to achieve your goals. We’d love to work with you to discover the PM solutions you need for success.

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