The origins of project management can be seen in the work that was involved in large construction projects such as the building of pyramids or cathedrals. The building designers, architects, and builders needed to coordinate their efforts and monitor the construction to ensure successful completion. Another example of a large project that required coordination of resources, materials, and workers was the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. There were no official project managers to oversee this work but the business process was similar to that of project management today: the construction project was chartered, there was a justification for the project, and the project had a sponsor. The core steps taken to complete these historic structures are also taken in project management today: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
Two important 19th century figures who are considered the founding fathers of project management are Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Gantt. Frederick Taylor left his law studies at Harvard to pursue a career in the industrial sector. He applied his research skills in studying the production process of steel mills. He used a stop watch to time steel, mill, and industrial laborers, to gain knowledge of patterns of behavior and work productivity. Taylor’s discoveries helped companies create schedules for such things as deliveries of raw materials and more accurately estimate production times. His book, Principles of Scientific Management, was the first to introduce core principles of project management, such as benchmarking and process redesign.
In the late 1800s, Henry Gantt worked with Taylor at Midvale Steel and Bethlehem Steel, where they applied scientific management techniques to the work processes. Gantt later became a management consultant and created a chart that measured tasks and activities of projects against dates. These project schedules, called Gantt Charts, are still popular and useful in project management today.
The idea that work could be a series of projects as opposed to permanent, long-term processes with full-time employees took hold after the Great Depression. The government needed to boost the economy and get people back to work, even if it meant short-term work. One of the solutions was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a program that came about under President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. The WPA was created to help in the recovery from the Great Depression by providing employment to millions of Americans. The WPA created a wide variety of major projects—from construction to public art installations—that required temporary workers. The Hoover Dam and LaGuardia Airport were WPA projects.
The field of project management emerged during this time and further solidified after World War II, when the focus was on rebuilding and strengthening the economy. In the 1950s, government agencies and companies realized the important role project management played in keeping workers motivated and productive. In fact, a project management system created in 1956 for a military project is still relevant and used today. Lockheed had been tasked by the U.S. Navy to mount tactical missiles onto submarines, and Lockheed hired the management consultant group Booz Allen Hamilton to help accomplish this project. The project management system used to build the missiles was called the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), a graphical chart that displays project scheduling.
Industry associations were formed in the 1960s to establish standards for best practices in project management. The International Project Management Association (IPMA) was founded in 1965 in Europe, representing several national project management associations. Today it consists of more than 50 national project management associations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. The Project Management Institute was founded in 1969 to provide structure, establish standards, and oversee certification programs for the project management industry. The organization has since grown to more than 1 million members internationally.
From the 1970s to current day, the evolution of the computer and Internet have changed how project managers work, enabling even more efficient management and scheduling through digital programs for project management and online applications. As software developing companies and Internet businesses have grown, so too has the demand for project management professionals in information technology. Regardless of their specialty, project managers must stay up to speed with technology and communications advances to provide the best services for clients. Project managers are now able to post project updates and communicate in real time with team members through mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets, and laptops.