Project management is a very broad term, but it’s a term that is recent in human history. From million-pound IT projects to your Uncle Phil’s garden shed, anything that requires planning and implementing to achieve an end goal or finite status can be considered a project.
Project management as in industry is fairly new, but the concepts that lay within project management are not new; the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome, do you see what I’m getting at here?
Don’t discredit Uncle Phil and his shed, he’s still doing a great job.
But projects have evolved. Now, it is more likely that a project will improve a process or procedure, while maintaining an infrastructure, instead of building the infrastructure itself. However, the core concepts of project management; teamwork, communication, use of resources, and risk management are still consistent.
Here are some historic moments and achievements in project management history.
The Great Pyramids
The Great Pyramids were built between 2580-2560 BC, giving you an extent of how early project management stretches back; the only difference being they probably didn’t know it was project management, but the principles remained the same. There were designated managers for all four sides of the Pyramids – an early example of Project Managers – whose job it was to oversee that side through to its completion.
The elaborate nature of the Great Pyramids has led many to try and replicate the construction with the same tools, but everyone has failed to do it to the degree of accuracy that the Egyptians managed, even with more modern technologies.
The Great Wall
That’s two greats from the ancient world.
The original Great Wall is a series of fortifications, walls and watchtowers that stretches for 5,500 miles across China.
It’s really, really long.
It was originally used to protect the Chinese states and empires against raids and invasions by local nomadic groups including the Mongolians. The wall has been recognised as one of the greatest architectural feats in history, and records show that during the Ming dynasty, at the height of construction, over one million people were working on it. That is some serious resource and people management!
Originally, it was built to be many smaller lengths of protection, but as the years went on, those lengths were connected to make one long, impressive achievement in construction project management.
Another feat which must have seemed monumental at the time, well, it would have even in more modern times. The First Transcontinental Railroad was constructed over six years connecting existing eastern U.S rail networks with the Wild West: it ran for 1,912 miles and was opened in 1869, with most of the original route still in use today.
The railroad had a positive impact on the U.S economy as transporting goods and materials was both faster and being done in greater volume, compared to the horse and wagon techniques which were used beforehand.
Henry Gantt and his self-named chart
We’re going in chronological order here, so Mr. Gantt and the Gantt chart come before (spoiler alert) Hoover Dam, having been created at the start of the 20th century. The Gantt chart is a bar chart that illustrates a project schedule, also showing the relationships between activities and current schedule status.
The Gantt chart was vital in the successful completion of the Hoover Dam project (more on that later) and the Interstate highway system which dominates American roads. Gantt charts have a modern variation, Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), which was designed to analyse and represent tasks involved in a project. This system was developed by the United States Navy, commonly being used alongside other methods.
Hoover Dam took five years to complete, but when it was delivered to the federal government in 1936, it was more than two years ahead of schedule. I wonder how much of that was down to the Gantt chart?
Imagine if that kind of planning and implementation happened in projects today?
A total of 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete was used in building the dam and the pouring stage lasted for nearly two years, with more than 582 miles of cooling pipes placed in the concrete to help lower the heat and stop the effects of the boiling Nevada sun – a good risk management measure, which could have had disastrous consequences if it wasn’t mitigated properly.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) was founded in 1969, the same year as the moon landing. Their goal as an organisation is to develop the standards of project management as an industry through the development of standards, research, education, publications, accreditation, and other opportunities.
PMI now boasts over 480,000 members in more than 200 countries, with over 710,000 people holding their industry benchmark Project Management Professional (PMP®) qualification.
Computers and technology
The rise of technology and computers has allowed Project Managers to collaborate easily with many facets of a project, including processes, and pieces of software, which helps everyone involved to make the project easier. For the majority, it helps Project Managers to carry out a project with greater efficiency, improving project performance and making it a better experience.
As mentioned in the opening, it’s more likely that a project will look to improve factors around an infrastructure, rather than the infrastructure itself, however in the construction industry and many countries around the world that are still developing, infrastructures are still a major focal point.
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