Project management can be approached as an art, a science, a methodology, a discipline, or even a philosophy. Managing a project involves, among other things, the application of knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools to the activities of the project to meet its requirements. It is a process that can be planned, executed, monitored, and controlled to attain to the results desired based on consensus.
Any project, by its own nature, requires a central figure that can bring it to fruition, manage the expectations of the stakeholders, and provide the necessary means and efforts to complete it in accordance with the plan.
Some organizations launch projects that have no owner, or that have many owners, with unclear responsibilities and roles that make it difficult to determine the people responsible for successes or failures.
The person responsible for these commitments is the Project Manager, who will be in charge of managing a series of processes and areas of knowledge that have varying degrees of complexity.
The word “technique” comes from the Greek and refers to a body of practical knowledge employed to achieve a concrete outcome in the field of art, science, technology or any other kind of activity. Mastery of a given technique requires a skill that may be manual or intellectual and that usually depends on the use of one or more tools.
A “tool”, for its part, is “something (such as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” The origin of tools is closely related to the origins of humankind. One of the earliest tools used by man was the mallet, which evolved over time to become the hammer as used today. Millennia have passed, human beings have evolved, and our tools evolve too.
Both techniques and tools have lent themselves to the great deeds of humanity, from construction of the earliest homes to man’s first landing on the Moon. Beginning over five thousand years ago, human beings began building monumental structures such as the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Wall of China, and the Roman aqueducts. These undertakings surely relied upon the coordination of some figure similar to our modern project managers.
Project management began to define the standards familiar to us today during the 20th Century: starting in the 1950’s and continuing throughout the Cold War, during which complex military projects were consistently under development. The Manhattan Project, for instance, which culminated with the manufacture of the first atom bomb, is considered as the first project that used modern techniques of project management. Due to the project’s complexity, it was necessary to coordinate and synchronize the various teams and disciplines simultaneously working on different but interrelated aspects of the same project.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Bernard Schriever, a General of the U.S. Air Force, was charged with winning the battle against the Soviet Union in the development of mid and long-range missiles and with extending the arms race to outer space. During this period, he developed the concept of concurrence, integrating all the elements of the development plan into a single program and budget, and then executing and controlling them in parallel as opposed to sequentially.
In brief, the development took place around the concept known today as integration, which encourages the PM to act as an administrator with a holistic, systemic outlook. Thus, Schriever was able to considerably reduce performance times of the military projects such as the Thor project (a weapon system devised to shoot kinetic projectiles from the earth’s orbit at ground targets).
With time, these techniques and tools have been improved and applied in accordance with the type of project being developed and with each organizational structure. Gradually, this led to the development of project management methodologies. Following in the steps of the military, the automobile industry applied project management techniques to coordinate different, functional teams, and many techniques still used today emerged including task breakdown (WBS – Work Breakdown Structure, that will be examined in detail in a future article on project scope), timelines, and history charts. Today, technology optimizes and refines project management via computing programs that manage, calculate, and simulate incredible amounts of data and documents.
Within the past 100 years, project management has emerged as an essential methodology for most organizations, especially those that specialize in planning and controlling their own activities. Virtually all items that comprise daily life, such as mobile telephones, personal computers, and cars are designed and developed under the techniques of project management.
Unfortunately, statistics show that most projects are completed over budget, over timeline, and with lower quality than initially desired. Many projects are never completed; they are simply abandoned if the cost/benefit ratio of recuperating them is not favorable. From the times of ancient Egypt to today, well executed projects require well executed project management, and thousands of years of history speak to its effectiveness.