The Evolution of Project Management

Friday, August 6, 2021 - 16:55
AIM Blog The Evolution of Project Management

If you have ever had the pleasure to visit the Colosseum, the Sphinx of Giza, the Great Wall of China, or another wonder of the ancient world, you likely thought to yourself, “How did they build that?” It doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s undeniable that these great feats of humanity were made possible through an effective organisation and utilisation of people, physical resources, and ideas.

In other words: project management.

For as long as there have been projects, there has been management of those projects. It is an intrinsic element, like collaboration requiring communication, rather than something that humans deliberately invented. However, that is not to say we haven’t got better at managing our projects.

Through psychological research deepening our knowledge of the ways that people operate in professional contexts and of course the integration of new technology, more efficient and effective methodologies for project management have arose. Thus, to understand how project management has evolved as a business function is to follow the development and impact of other disciplines on this field.

In the modern era, we can credit Henry Gannt as one of the key contributors to advancing project management for his creation of the self-named Gannt Chart in the 1910s. Famously used on such projects as the Hoover Dam, the Gannt Chart is a scheduling diagram that may seem quite simple and obvious to contemporary eyes, but that speaks to how ubiquitous it has become. At the time it was introduced, however, it was considered a radical idea, and you can see the influence Gantt Charts have had on digital project management software tools today.

The Project Management Institute, the first organisation to really champion project management as a profession, was founded in 1969. While organisations were certainly engaging in project management methodologies at this point, it was considered wholly the responsibility of regular managers, rather than being its own more specialised field. The Project Management Institute tried to change this, holding symposiums, connecting interested managers with one another, and establishing a united set of practices, theories, and concepts.

This culminated in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK), which was first published in 1987. This attempt to document and standardise accepted project management information and practices began as a whitepaper with new editions published in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2013, and the current edition in 2017. The PMBoK guide is an essential tool for project management professionals and has become the global standard for the industry.

A variety of methodologies grew and spread in their use (e.g. Waterfall, Scrum), but the most major shift in ideology came when the Agile Manifesto was signed in 2001. Originating as a process for software development that favoured the needs and wants of the consumer over excessive, rigid planning, Agile was quickly adopted by other industries and business functions. Agile can be summarised as a collection of four values:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

The core tenets laid out in the Agile Manifesto were a product of their time and the particulars of the software development industry, but their universality has become abundantly clear in the years since. They speak to a more customer-centric focus, which is inherently valuable for creating better products or services, and it is easy to see the benefits of flexibility in today’s highly disruptive world.

From the continual pressures of globalisation to the overt challenges that the last two years have brought, the world of business and the projects that need to be completed within business to be successful have grown simultaneously more complex and more urgent. With teams largely working in remote contexts — interstate, international, or from dozens of home offices in a single city — new techniques for management and communication are needed.

The world is changing and it is essential that project management practices develop alongside these changes. This will involve new technology, new methodologies, new conceptions around project management; what these developments will be and where they will come from is anybody’s guess, but they will undoubtedly happen.

AIM is celebrating our 80-year history of empowering Australians with the most relevant skills to achieve their career goals and seize the future. So that you can celebrate with us, we are offering 20% off all our Short Courses from the Faculty of Project Management. To learn more about AIM’s history or take advantage of this offer, please visit