The History of Project Management
By Timber Chinn, Northwest University
The specific discipline of project management began in the 20th Century, but project management has existed since the beginning of time. At its most basic, a project is something done once to accomplish a particular task in a specific period of time. People have always managed projects in order to build a home, launch a war, or move supplies from one place to another—all tasks done once in a set period of time. Mankind’s most awe-inspiring achievements throughout history were built using some form of the five standard project management process groups (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing).
One of the first examples of such a project is the Giza Pyramid, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Egyptians built this massive structure in about 20 years, from approximately 2580-2560 B.C. Archeologists believe that the Egyptians used highly-developed project management tools and concepts to achieve this success (Kozak-Holland, 2012, n. p.). Evidence reveals that a primarily untrained workforce of 100,000 built this pyramid on a perfectly level and square base using 40-60 ton stones that were quarried by hand and moved to the site by sled. Even today’s project managers would find it difficult to produce these results in the same amount of time.
The Giza Pyramid is just one example of the world’s many great projects built using project management techniques throughout history. Project management techniques were used to build great temples and cathedrals, launch armies, cross oceans, and build the Great Wall of China. As the world’s civilization progressed and technology became more sophisticated, so did its need for standard project management tools, concepts, and systems. As the world entered the Scientific Revolution in 1550-1700, and then the Industrial Revolution in 1750-1850, projects became increasingly more complicated to manage. Perhaps one of the United States’ biggest projects during this time was the First Transcontinental Railroad linking the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Between 1863 and 1869, this project required project management on a larger, more complicated scale than ever before.
The specific discipline of project management began taking form in the 1940’s through processes developed during World War II to move vast amounts of equipment and soldiers in short periods of time. Frederick Taylor’s research into working more efficiently (1856-1916) and Henry Gantt’s study on the order of operations in work (1861–1919) helped businesses and organizations understand the importance of working efficiently, not just harder. The field of project management sprang to life in the 1950’s when businesses and organizations worldwide began implementing sophisticated techniques to improve the world of work. This period spawned innovative concepts and techniques such as quality control, CPM (Critical Path Method), PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique), and scheduling by CPA (Critical Path Analysis). The field of project management was validated by the formation of the Project Management Institute in 1969 and the International Project Management Association in 1965. Both organizations now offer formal project management certifications. The understanding of project management and its value in the world of work will continue to grow as the world’s project become increasingly complex.
Northwest University opened to students on October 1, 1934. It is a regionally accredited institution awarding associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degrees.
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