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The History of Project Management

The history of project management


Many of us manage projects on a daily basis (or claim to), and we refer to this as project management. Yet, in terms of humans being on this earth, project management is relatively new and frequently misunderstood. Though we have been undertaking projects for millennia, we did not formalize project management arguably until the 1960s. Today, there are over a million people currently holding the project management professional designation, which is surprising given the short amount of time the profession has been formalized. This blog aims to show how it began, how it evolved and where it is today.


The fundamentals of managing projects have been around much longer than you may think. Fundamentals pertaining to the ten knowledge areas, five process groups, and any other form of project management that we know today. Prior to modern rigorous definitions, projects were undertaken using connections, culture and trust. Important factors that remain critical in project delivery still, and interestingly can encompass the bulk of modern methods.

When you think of the origins of project management, the likes of Machu Pichu, the Parthenon and the Pyramids of Giza may come to mind. These are large scale and highly complex, showing at a minimum skilled technical people and advanced leadership roles (project managers?) have been around since at least 2500 BC.

But let’s consider smaller structures and the numerous other feats our race has achieved, such as:

  • agriculture (~11,000 years ago)

  • viticulture (~9,000 years ago)

  • wheeled vehicles (~5,500 years ago)

  • war (~5,000 years ago)

It becomes obvious that early forms of project management fundamentals have been around for much longer. Perhaps since we first came about and started making tools (~300k years ago), it can be said that we have been managing forms of projects.

However, managing projects is not project management, at least in the context of modern professionals. Anyone can manage projects to varying levels of success; this often gets confused with project management, which is a certified profession requiring a specific skillset, a comprehensive understanding of inputs/outputs, utilization of tools and techniques, all of which are tailored to project requirements and subject to progressive elaboration. Recent examples of projects managed without the above include, Novopay and the BC Fast Ferries.

Anecdotally, I could ‘have a crack’ at reconciling your company’s financials, but your chances of a successful outcome are much higher with a chartered professional accountant (CPA). Simply put, without the required skillsets, and with such a need, the way in which we managed projects needed to evolve.


While we cannot deny the managing of projects, since long ago, project management as a defined discipline is a much newer practice. I see the history of project management being defined across five periods, as per the below:

Phases of project management

1. Fundamental Period (Prior to 1964)

During this time project management was predominantly reactive. With high failure rates, excessive costs and untold numbers of deaths. Fortunately, we recognized the way projects were managed needed to be more refined. We can see examples of enhancements starting from around the 1900’s, through to the late 1950’s. Where some of the key fundamentals that we still utilize today were established.

Some of the earliest tools that are still utilized were de

veloped around 1903-1910 by mechanical engineer and fellow management consultant Henry Gantt. You may recognize the last name, as he developed what we know as Gantt charts. Redefining how we undertake project time management, allowing workflow to be visualized and providing a tool that can provide more accurate forecasts on workforce costs. As part of the development, Henry also added dependencies and developed productions cards for employee assignment/performance. Meaning he not only developed some of the earliest project management tools, he also defined some of the earliest personnel performance management tools.

In 1916, mining engineer Henri Fayol presented his theory of management, which is known as Fayolism. Henri defined organizational activities into six groups; technical, commercial, financial, security, accounting and managerial. His theories also broke management down into 5 key functions; planning, organizing, commanding, co-ordinating and controlling. His key functions are not too different from the current modern process groups. As part of his theory he also added the 14 principals of management. Although his theory was based overall organizations rather than their projects, it is widely believed that they played an important role in the formalization of project management.

Then, in 1957 the United States Department of Defence developed two more of the key fundamentals. They defined the work breakdown structure (WBS) method, while developing the program evaluation and review technique (PERT) to support the development of their Polaris Missile Program. Providing the foundations for what we know as critical path, scope management, and providing the concept of decomposition for time/cost analysis.

2. Formalization Period (1964 – 1969)

While the world was grasping the fundamental period and enhancing things further, two professional project management entities were established. It all began when a European aircraft project manager, Pierre Koch of France, invited Dick Vullinghs from the Netherlands and Roland Gutsch from Germany to discuss the benefits of the Critical Path Method (CPM) as a management approach.

This led to the formation of the INTERNET (INTERnational NETwork), established in Europe in 1964. Interestingly this INTERNET was created before what we know as the internet.

While the actual internet was being invented in California, completely unrelated to that, in Philadelphia, Jim Snyder, of Smith, Kline & French Laboratories, and Gordon Davis, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, were having dinner and decided there was a need for an organization that offered project managers a forum to share information and discuss their industry establishment of the Project Management Institute (PMI) which was formed in 1969 in North America.

The establishment of these institutes and the resulting memberships, formalized the need, desire and purpose of project management. This leading to significant advancements in the skillsets of project managers, and expectations from them in the years to come.

3. Development Period (1970 – 2015)

International Project Management Association Framework

  • In 1996, the 13th World Congress Conference was held in Paris. Executive Board renamed it to the International Project Management Association, (IPMA).

  • In 1998, starts with certification of individuals and introduces the first version of the Individual Competence Model (ICB).

  • In 2002, IPMA launches the IPMA International Project Excellence Award.

  • In 2012, IPMA started offering organisational assessment and certification through ‘IPMA Delta’.

  • In 2015, IPMA launched new versions of all standards, IPMA ICB4, IPMA OCB 1.1, IPMA PEB

Project Management Institute Framework

  • 1975, Outlined their goals “Foster recognition of the need for professionalism in project management; provide a forum for the free exchange of project management problems, solutions and applications; coordinate industrial and academic research efforts; develop common terminology and techniques to improve communications; provide interface between users and suppliers of hardware and software systems; and to provide guidelines for instruction and career development in the field of project management.”

  • 1980, Standardization of project management procedures and approaches

  • 1984, Introduces the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Program

  • 1996, Publishes the first edition of the project management book of knowledge (PMBOK)

  • 2007, Project Management Professional (PMP®) earned the ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 accreditation from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).


  • 1975, The PROMPT (Project Resource Organisation Management Planning Techniques) project management methodology, was developed for the development and support of IT systems in response to UK government requirements.

  • 1977, First emergence of computer-based project management systems

  • 1986, First evidence of Scrum

  • 1989, PROMPT II is adopted by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), as a methodology to support all IT projects for UK government, initially given the name “PROMPT II IN the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency Environment (PRINCE). Was changed by civil service to “PRojects IN Controlled Environments”. Extremely aspirational, if not hilarious, given the nature of projects.

  • 1996, PRINCE2 was released and although retaining the IT focused structure, became increasingly popular, and is now a de facto standard for project management in many UK government departments.

  • 2001, Agile Project Management, the result of a small group of people who met because they were frustrated with the heavy software methodologies. Their purpose was to find a better way to develop software. The introduction of ‘sprints’ which is based on continual enhancements, allows some agencies to leverage operational funds, when capital funds are longer available.

4. Evolution Period (2000 – Ongoing)

Today, we have multiple methodologies, two robust frameworks and an ISO standard for project management. On top of that, most tertiary institutes offer courses, or qualifications at beginner to advanced levels, some even offer a PhD in Project Management; seemingly money bait. There is however the continued confusion between a project manager and a project management professional.

As initially mentioned, many manage projects, yet few utilize project management principles. As we continue to develop more methodologies and frameworks, the best project managers are adapting and utilizing them based on project requirements. There has been hostility between methodologies, but we are starting to realize that each has their own benefits.

As an example of an integrated approach, on a recent project, we utilized the DMAIC cycle for the initiation phase (lean six sigma), Sprints for the planning phase (agile) and managed the entirety of the project implementation and closure under classic waterfall, all of which was in alignment with PMBoK and ISO standards. Because this method best served the project needs.

While project failure and key aspects such as deaths, budget blowouts and late completions are reducing, there is always a better way. Customizing your project management methodology for each project, based on the multiple disciplines available, may be a step forward for your organization.

In short, while each methodology may preach their own superiority, we are starting to blend our approach based on the client/stakeholder/project requirements, inline with the project managers abilities. As project managers and professionals we are responsible for the continued evolution of the profession.

5 . The Future of Project Management

Project managers hold a valuable position moving forward. In my next blog, here are some anticipated changes to be ready for:

The Likely

  • Different Qualifications

  • The internet of things

  • Blended approaches

  • Remote Project Management

  • Machine Learning

  • Robot Process Automation

The Unlikely

  • Artificial Intelligence

  • Effective stakeholder engagement

  • QA Checkpoint tools

  • Automated decision making


If we look deep into our history, we can derive the need for the professional project management methodologies we have to date. No matter the methodology used, good project management fundamentals are required. One source says only 2.5 percent of companies successfully complete 100 percent of their projects, and that 70% of projects are still failing.

Now that we are easily able to capture analytics on projects, and project failures, we can learn from our mistakes much better and there is no excuse not to do so.

While we dive deeper into a technological realm with automated communications and trigger points, perhaps we should consider the direction in which we hone our skillsets; as project management becomes more of a decision making/approval role.

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