Project management, in its modern form, began to take root only a
few decades ago. Starting in the early 1960s, businesses and other
organizations began to see the benefit of organizing work around projects
and to understand the critical need to communicate and integrate work across
multiple departments and professions.
Years: Late 19th Century
We can travel back further, though, to the latter half of the 19th
century and to the rising complexities of the business world to see how
project management evolved from management principles. Large-scale
government projects were the impetus for making important decisions that
became management decisions. In this country, the first large organization
was the transcontinental railroad, which began construction in the early
1870s. Suddenly, business leaders found themselves faced with the daunting
task of organizing the manual labor of thousands of workers and the
manufacturing and assembly of unprecedented quantities of raw material.
Near the turn of the century, Frederick Taylor (1856–1915) began
his detailed studies of work. He applied scientific reasoning to work by
showing that labor can be analyzed and improved by focusing on its
elementary parts. He applied his thinking to tasks found in steel mills,
such as shoveling sand and lifting and moving parts. Before then, the only
way to improve productivity was to demand harder and longer hours from
workers. The inscription on Taylor's tomb in Philadelphia attests to his
place in the history of management: "the father of scientific management."
Taylor's associate, Henry Gantt (1861–1919), studied in great detail the
order of operations in work. His studies of management focused on Navy ship
construction during WWI. His Gantt charts, complete with task bars and
milestone markers, outline the sequence and duration of all tasks in a
process. Gantt chart diagrams proved to be such a powerful analytical tool
for managers that they remained virtually unchanged for nearly a hundred
years. It wasn't until the early 1990s that link lines were added to these
task bars depicting more precise dependencies between tasks. Taylor, Gantt,
and others helped evolve management into a distinct business function that
requires study and discipline. In the decades leading up to WWII, marketing
approaches, industrial psychology, and human relations began to take hold as
integral parts of business management.
After WWII, the complexities of projects and a shrinking war-time
labor supply demanded new organizational structures. Complex network
diagrams called PERT charts and the critical path method were introduced,
giving managers greater control over massively engineered and extremely
complex projects (such as military weapon systems with their huge variety of
tasks and numerous interactions at many points in time). Soon these
techniques spread to all types of industries as business leaders sought new
management strategies and tools to handle their growth in a quickly changing
and competitive world. In the early 1960s, general system theories of
science began to be applied to business interactions. Richard Johnson,
Fremont Kast, and James Rosenzweig described in their book The Theory and
Management of Systems how a modern business is like a human organism,
with a skeletal system, a muscular system, circulatory system, nervous
system, and so on.
This view of business as a human organism implies that in order for
a business to survive and prosper, all of its functional parts must work in
concert toward specific goals, or projects. In the following decades, this
approach toward project management began to take root in its modern forms.
While various business models evolved during this period, they all shared a
common underlying structure (especially for larger businesses): that the
project is managed by a project manager, who puts together a team and
ensures the integration and communication of the workflow horizontally
across different departments.