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History of Project Management

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Project Management Institute

The Project Management Institute is a non-profit organization based in the US which has defined the Body of Knowledge for Project Management, and has developed certification testing for PM professionals.  For more information on Project Management, on getting certified as a Project Management Professional, books, white papers, and discussion forums on PM topics, see Project Management Institute (web site of the non-profit organization that sets PM standards and certified PM Professionals)

What is a Project?

It may seem like a stupid question, as everybody thinks they can recognize a project when they see one.  When we talk specifics however, there is a broad interpretation of the word, leaving many fringe areas in the definition.  The most generic definition can be derived from Project Management Institute's Body of Knowledge as: 

A project is a series of tasks, arranged in a defined sequence or relationship, that produce a pre-defined output or effect.  A project always has a start, middle, and an end.

Typical Projects

installation of new equipment or a modified process preparing & delivering a report, presentation or speech
developing a new product design a new marketing or advertising campaign
building a new house moving to a new building
processing a new customer or a new customer's order preparing a meal for your family
getting dressed in the morning birth of a baby

Projects are not sacred events, reserved for engineers or general contractors.  We all co-ordinate many tasks, as well as many simultaneous projects (ie. weekend car schedule with 3 children, all on different sports teams at opposite ends of the city).  To be successful in our lives, we need to bring together the right people for the right reason, with the right resources, at the right place.  A great orchestra cannot lead itself to international recognition, it needs a great conductor.  So too with projects.  Projects need Project Management.

Many "projects" keep coming back, again & again.  We get to practice until it becomes a routine and life-long habit (ie. brushing our teeth).  We all develop some skills at informal Project Management, some better than others. 

But other "projects" are big, important, and costly.  We have limited time & resources with which to accomplish our goals.  Sometimes the projects are risky, or we only get one shot at getting it right (ie. planning & implementation of a wedding, or first impressions with a new customer).

This is where formal Project Management comes in.  Project Management can help guide our efforts and the happy outcomes. 

Without Project Management tools & techniques, our society would be unable to function at the speed, affordability, and complexity that it currently does.  While some may feel this is an excellent argument to do away with Project Management, I will leave that for the philosophers to debate. 

History of Projects & Project Management

Project Management started long before King Cheops planned the construction of his pyramid.  For thousands of years, when this year's crops weren't ready for harvest in the "right" month, the Hebrews re-synchronized their calendar (based on the phases of the moon) with the annual seasons by the adding of an extra month, thereby ensuring that everybody started planting next season at the right time (project start). 

Gantt (Henry L. Gantt, 1861 - 1919) added an important visualization tool around 1917 with the Gantt Chart dramatically advancing the science of project management.. 

Thousands of people invested their lives in the application and theory of Project Management.  However the same problems, solutions, and methods continued for another 40 years.  The typical problems encountered then are still occurring today, as shown in the following table: 

Typical Challenges & Symptom with Projects National Average (1998)*
Late Only 44% of all projects finish on schedule or before.  The rest tend to be very late. 
On average, projects are 222% longer than planned.
Over budget By 189%
Fall short of planned technical content 70% of projects
Canceled before finished 30% of projects
Day-to-day chaos & frustrations Epidemic
No reliable way to measure project status Until it's too late

* As reported in a national survey conducted by The Standish Group

Project Management was now essential to our changing and growing economy, and produced many excellent results over the years (ie. the Empire State Building was constructed in less than a year with brand new technology, steel girder skeleton).  However, as shown above, there was much room for improvement. 

In the late 1950's, Admiral Raborn of the U.S. Navy needed the Polaris missile program up and flying as quickly as possible due to the perceived threat of a "missile gap" between the U.S. and Russia.  Traditional project management wasn't enough to ensure the safety of the nation.  The problem was solved with the help of Willard Fazar's PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique).  PERT became the mandatory requirement of all US Navy projects. 

Theory of Constraints'
 Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)

After PERT, nothing much happened in Project Management for the next 45 years.

Yes, there was some work done on Earned Value, and fancy calculations, and much tweaking, but none of it resulted in significant change, nor consensus.  Most of it further complicated the situation, until 1997.

Dr. Eli Goldratt (famous for `The Goal', a world-wide best seller on the Theory of Constraints, TOC) finally took time out from his busy schedule of helping organizations improve their profitability and productivity, to write a book about what he had accomplished and a new way of looking at Project Management through TOC: Critical Chain.

Dr. Goldratt's book outlines the application of Theory of Constraints to a project management environment. 

Saturn Car Company needed no further prompting.  They had hundreds of new dealerships to construct, and needed them as quickly as possible, and as cheaply as possible.  However, the end results (ie. the dealerships) had to reflect the proper image for the company (ie. quality & reliability).  Saturn applied Critical Chain project management techniques to the dealership building program with phenomenal success.  Fortunately, each dealership construction project needed more or less the same steps and outcomes.  Unlike most projects which have a lot of "We'll see when we get there", re-scheduling, fine tuning, and shifting priorities, the dealerships were built in a "cookie cutter" fashion, with minimal differences; virtually all the same using the same schedule.  This cookie cutter, repetitive project could be manually scheduled with Critical Chain Theory. 

CCPM Software for Project Management

While the case of Saturn dealership construction described above was difficult enough, most of us have more complicated, dynamic situations than building one dealership at one construction site.  We have project teams, experts, management, and facilities spread across continents instead of just a 1 acre construction site.  Fortunately (I keep trying to convince myself), we have computers, software, and e-mail with instantaneous, world-wide communications through the internet. 

Most project management software available today is a fancy Windows interface on the same algorithms that were used in the Polaris Missle program in the 1950's.  However, there are some exceptions.  There is now excellent software available to help schedule projects using the CCPM methodology.  Some of these are software modules that run together with your existing software, such as Microsoft Project.

PQA has conducted a test drive of the major project management software on the market today.  For a brief review of our results, see Project Management Software Review

Many of today's project management software are "Internet Savvy".  They will automatically upload the data so that anyone in the world with a standard browser can: 

  • Input the most recent status of their assigned tasks,

  • Find out how the overall project is doing, and

  • Be informed of any delays or advances in the schedule.

  • Stay "in the loop" for their project role, while working independently at a remote site.


What's Next in Project Management after CCPM ?

  Just as the fax machine started a fundamental shift in how we all do business, this was further accelerated by e-mail and "info surfing". The "do" side that projects are concerned with has been lingering at the same, snail pace as in the 1950's.  For construction work, we now see night floodlights and winter construction to try and achieve faster cycle time.  I believe the pace of business must accelerate even more.  There is huge pressure to do so.  But the fragile people, and our unaided capabilities are already stretched to the breaking point, and beyond. 

Consider CCPM for project managers to be the same as the telescope for the astronomer, the microscope for the pathologist, and the hearing aid for the deaf.  CCPM allows us to achieve even greater speed, cost, and effectiveness than we are otherwise able to achieve by ourselves.  Remember,

1980's were about    Quality
1990's were all about   Globalization
2000's are only about  Velocity

Fasten your seatbelts and use CCPM to: 

  • Lower your frustrations & have fun
  • with projects
  • Keep up with the Competition

  • Make a reasonable profit for your exceptional efforts.

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