Project Management

We Have Always Lived in a Project Economy

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Every once in a while, we get into an extensive debate about the role, presence, impact and future of the project economy. The implication—amidst much breathless commentary and ardent hype—is that this is new, significant, different and a total reset for how work and business are conducted. This is to say nothing of the reorientation of the economy.

While such earnest evangelism does wonders for pundits and consultants (for offers to guide you in successfully navigating this brave new world are sure to follow), the reality is that this is not a terribly new thing. To put not too fine a point on it: We have always lived in a project economy. It's just that—like William Gibson's take on the future—it hasn't been very evenly distributed.

It’s not, to be clear, an assertion that we have always had project management. There are numerous "histories" of project management floating around the internet (and amusingly, they all seem to copy each other) that state that project management has been around since the dawn of time. As proof, they offer that the pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Stonehenge all exist. Therefore, modern project management must have been in place to make sure they were delivered in a systematic way. In other words, if you built it, you must have used a Gantt chart.

While project management has not …


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