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Brief History of Project Management

A Brief History of Project Management

I love history! You can learn about any subject by learning about its history. So, when it comes to learning about project management, learning its history can be very beneficial. The history of project management shows how it got started, its methodologies, as well as its continued growth.

The twentieth century saw a lot of changes. It is amazing to look at how society was in 1900 versus 1999 at the start of the twenty-first century. And the development of project management was not immune to the advances and developments seen during the 1900s. Projects did exist before 1900. The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Greek Parthenon, the Coliseum in Rome, and the Transcontinental Railroad. All of these structures had to be built somehow, and that more than likely involved a project. Even if it looked different from how projects are managed today. But it was the twentieth century that saw tremendous growth in project management methodologies. This growth allowed for more complex and technologically advanced projects, leading to even more growth. This growth can be looked at through four phases in its history.

Early Development (Before 1958)

1958 is very much considered the starting point for modern project management. But as mentioned earlier, projects did exist before then. Henry Gantt, considered by many the father of modern project management, created the Gantt Chart during this period in the 1910s. This tool is still used today as a visual representation of tasks, plotting its duration and links to dependent tasks. This, along with modern mass production and the war efforts of World Wars I and II, led to more ambitious projects being undertaken. This period also saw the developments of the Critical Path Method as a way to plan out and identify the longest path to completion for the project, as well as action-on-node network diagrams (AON) as a Precedence Diagramming Method to map predecessor-successor relationships throughout a project, and the Project Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) developed by the Navy for the Polaris project and the Space Program.

The Project Manager (1958-1979)

The term “project manager” was first used around 1958, giving rise to project management as a separate discipline within business. CPM and PERT continued to be developed as project management grew even more during this period. In the 1970s, it began to appear in more industries. Before then, it was primarily used in the defense, construction, and aerospace industries for projects such as Apollo and ARPANET. This period also saw the development of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which is a step-by-step plan for achieving project objectives by breaking them down into tasks and subtasks. Agile concepts, such as working iteratively, also began to be developed. Europe founded the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in 1965 and the US founded the Project Management Institute (PMI) a few years later in 1969.

Risk Management (1980-1994)

Risk management became a large focal point in the 1980s, especially after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986. Up until this point, mostly waterfall methods were used, but those only focused on resolving problems as they arose. Incorporating risk management allowed for more risk mitigation. The PMI released a new version of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) in 1987 that included risk management as a main concept. The PMI also held the first project management certification test in 1984. This period also saw the development and use of Project Management software, coinciding with advances in computer technology.

The Digital Age (1995-Present)

The internet has led to changes in many areas, and the area of project management is no different. Methods of organizing and working have changed with the access and connectivity provided by the internet. Project management is a discipline within corporate management that now influences overall business strategy, and the role of a project manager is a widely growing career field due to a growth in project-based work. Many colleges now offer project management degrees. Agile methodologies are a big part of project management, especially for software development and any project that requires collaboration and reiterative processes. Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), a refinement of CPM, allows project managers to take resource availability into account when planning and managing a project. And there is no shortage of project management software to choose from, whether for traditional waterfall projects or agile projects.

Closing Thoughts

Project Management has seen tremendous growth over the last century. It went from a skill that some people possessed to a full-blown discipline with degree programs at universities, professional organizations and certifications. And it is showing no signs of slowing down as even more industries begin to become more project-focused. Software advancement, remote work, and new methodologies will help move project management further forward in its development. While not everyone will be a project manager, knowing how project management came to be, the different ways a project can be organized, and how it influences work, can be greatly beneficial to anyone working on projects.