by Jurie Smith

Birth of project management

PM psychology

The birth of project management.
The Birth of Project Management

Modern project management developed from the 1950s when organisations realised the importance of integrating work in the various echelons, departments and professions within the firm in a systematic and functional manner.

However, project management has roots as far back as 2570 BC when the great pyramids of Giza were completed.

Records, albeit sketchy, indicate that there were managers for each of the four faces of the pyramid.

All through the centuries examples of project management can be cited in a time when the phrase “project management” was not yet popularised.

In the twentieth century the whole idea of project management started to come together with Henry Lawrence Gantt developing the Gantt Chart, which is commonly used in project Management, since in the early 1900s.

In the late 1950s, Morgan Walker of DuPont and James Kelley Jr of Remington Rand developed the Critical Path Method (CPM) which is a project modelling technique.

The term “critical path” was accredited to the developers of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) which was developed at around the same time by Booz Allen Hamilton and the US Navy.

In the 1950s, when the government of the United States was not exactly on friendly terms with the then Soviet Union, they looked to construct something that would be a preventative measure against potential Soviet hostility.

Nuclear weapons were designed along with the aircraft by which they would be delivered to their enemy.

Three American armed services savagely battled to create and promote their own weapons system.

The Navy recommended their Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM), which were Polaris missiles aboard nuclear powered submarines, the US Air Force put forward their long-range bombers and ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) that lead to the System Safety Programme and the American army suggested its own ICBM.

Of the three USAS proposals, the Navy programme was a major success in spite of the multiple challenges and risks that had to be conquered.

Today the Polaris project is used as a case study based on the remarkable achievement of the Navy considering the multiple challenges and risks it had to overcome.

NASA, for Project Apollo made use of many of the Navy techniques in putting a man on the moon during the “space race” with the Soviet Union as it had already sent a man into space (cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, on 12 April 1961).

The Americans went on to win the race by successfully landing Neil Armstrong on the moon on 20 July 1969.

After these historical events a number of methodologies and bodies specialising in Project Management arose to contribute to what Project Management is today.

Notably, among them are the PRINCE2® Methodology developed by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), presently known as the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), UK Government standard for information systems Project Management; the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) initially published as a white paper by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in America which was founded in 1969.

Project Management has gone through many developments and from the looks of things it is set to carry on evolving further especially within the technological era in which we currently find ourselves.

Jurie Smith (MBA, PMP®, PRINCE2®and MSP® Practitioner) is the CEO at the PM Academy. He is an experienced business executive with over 24 years’ experience in project management consulting and training. He is a Project Management Assessor registered with the Services SETA, an Executive on the Steering Committee of the Project Management Standards Generating Body and has held various executive positions at Project Management South Africa (PMSA). For further details, or visit

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