Project Management

The Evolution of Project Management

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By Lynda Bourne.

Over the last few months, I have been part of a group working on a series of papers looking at the history of project management and project controls. This required the classification of the various stages in the development of the practice of project management. However, almost every author of project management history has a different view of the major change points.

Our take on the major phases of development of project management is driven by changes in the project control tools and processes being used. Better control processes provide new insights, allowing improved or changed management approaches. Based on this framework, the major phases in the development of project management seem to be:

  1. From early times through to the 1960s – the traditional management of projects
  2. From the 1960s through to the present – modern project management
  3. Future interactive and intelligent systems – to be determined

Prior to the 1950s, the primary control tools showed static representations of cost and other deterministic data. The sophistication of both the management data and its representation in reports improved over the centuries, but the controls processes focused on reactive management actions to correct observed deviations from the plan. The people managing projects were priests, builders, engineers or other authority figures.

The current phase of development of project controls uses largely deterministic information to predict future outcomes. This phase of development started in the late 1950s with the creation of PERT and CPM schedules, and has progressed through to the point where there is general acceptance that earned value and earned schedule are among the best of the predictive control tools.

This phase saw the creation of “modern project management” as the pioneers of computer-assisted project controls worked together to form the various project management institutes (including PMI in October 1969), and the institutes in turn defined and codified the practice of “modern project management.”

As a result, the people managing projects were increasingly identified as project managers. Various styles of project management are emerging (this was discussed in my post on The Entropy at the Heart of Project Management), but regardless of the approach, the concept of a project—run by a project manager, to create value for a client—is consistent. Project management is now expected to be proactive, working to minimize the negative effect of future problems identified using predictive tools, as well as dealing with any current negative variances.

The next generation of project controls is starting to emerge. These tools are predicted to be integrated, adaptive and intelligent, with a focus on maximizing the efficient use of the project’s resources. They will use machine learning, and be integrated into the systems used to design and develop the project’s outputs rather than operating as standalone processes.

One example is the emergence of 5D BIM (five-dimensional building information modeling) in the construction/engineering industries. A three-dimensional design is integrated with the schedule (4D) and cost information (5D) to provide a single system accessed and used by everyone involved in the design, construction and future maintenance of a building or facility. Project control tools with embedded intelligence are also emerging.

These developments are too new to have much impact on the nature of project management today, but by the end of the 2020s we are likely to see as much change in the way projects are managed as occurred in the 1960s.

Do you think these phases in the development of project management are reasonable, or are there other major inflexion points?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 25, 2022 02:46 AM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Dear Lynda
The topic that you brought to our reflection and debate was very interesting.

Thanks for sharing and for your opinions.

I am convinced that there is an important phase to be mentioned:
Associated with short-term planning (despite the vision), delegation of powers, teamwork and the introduction of some rituals, with particular reference to continuous improvement

Thanks for your thoughts Louis, short term planning (involving the workers) seems to have been a part of most projects for the last 800 years. The artisans planned the work they were doing. This did not change until the 19th century with scientific management and the assumption managers knew everything and should 'direct the work'. But this 'command and control' style of managing was known to be ineffective by the 1950s (but some people still hang onto it):

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