The Development of Modern Project Management

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This subject looks at the origins of modern project management and its evolution into a profession.

Topics included in the Development of Modern Project Management:

- Origins, and trends in, modern project management
- The development of project management credentials
- The evolution of construction management.
   - Transport Projects
     - Canal projects
     - Railway projects
   - Building Projects

Other related sections of the PMKI:

- The history of project controls
- Current project management practice and the PMBOK® Guide
- The evolution of calendars and other supporting concepts 

Origins, and trends in, modern project management

PM History

Projects in one form or another have been undertaken for millennia:

- The ancient Egyptians constructed pyramids some 4500 years ago
- Sun Tzu wrote about planning and strategy 2500 years ago
   (every battle is a project to be first won; then fought)
- Numerous transcontinental railways were constructed during
   the 19th century, and
- Buildings of different sizes and complexity have been erected for
   as long as mankind has occupied permanent settlements.

Click down for the origins of construction management.

However, it was only in the latter part of the 20th century people started to talk about ‘project management’. There is an important distinction to be drawn between projects: ‘a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service or result’ and ‘modern project management’ as it is embodied in the various project management associations around the world. The concept of ‘modern project management’ is a creation of these associations starting in the 1960s. During the next 50 years they developed a generally consistent view of the processes involved in ‘project management’, encoded these views into ‘Bodies of Knowledge’ (BoKs), described competent behaviors and certified knowledgeable and/or competent ‘Project Managers’ (click down for the history of PM credentials). Whilst the underlying philosophies used by modern project management are much older, the key change in this period was the melding of processes, techniques, and management philosophies into a body of knowledge (BoK), and the effective dissemination of the ideas of modern project management into the wider community.

The central theme running through the various BoKs was that project management is an integrative process that has at its core, the balancing of the ‘iron triangle’ of time, cost and quality, to produce a predefined output. All three facets must be present for a management process to be considered project management. However, as the 21st century progresses, this holistic view of the profession is starting to devolve into a series of discrete sub-disciplines using quite different methodologies and approaches; the consequences of this emerging trend remain to be seen.

During the 1960s and 70s, the catalyst for the spread of discussions on project management and the formation of associations to support these new ideas appears to have been the spread of scheduling, and more importantly professional schedulers. Arguably, the schedulers need for a forum to discuss and develop their new discipline led directly to the formation of the various project management associations. Once founded, it was (and still is) the various project management associations that led the development of a defined and documented ‘project management body of knowledge’. Only after the body of knowledge was formulated, did it become possible to:
- Define project management competencies (see: Competencies & Interpersonal Skills), and
- Formally examine project management knowledge
   (see: PM Training & Qualifications).

The major history papers on this site are:
The Origins of Modern Project Management (below)
The Origins of Modern Management (below)
-  and three papers on project controls that can be downloaded from the links:
    -  A Brief History of Scheduling.
    -  The Origins and History of Cost Engineering
    -  The Origins and History of Earned Value Management.

PP: Project Management - A Historical Timeline.

PM History

The objective of this paper is to put the development of management, and project management capabilities into a wider historical perspective. This is done by associating some of the significant events in history with the advances in management thinking documented in our papers, together with a brief selection of important engineering and other achievements.

Each of our history papers tends to be topic specific, for example focused on advances in cost engineering or the creation of bar charts. This paper juxtaposes the documented advances in each of the separate papers, and places them in the context of general history. References are provided to the more detailed topic-specific papers.

This paper is regularly updated as we find or publish new information,
(Download the original Jan. 2023 PMWJ version of the paper). 

PP: The Origins of Modern Management. This paper discusses the ways in which management theories evolved from the beginning of the 18th century through to the 21st century and how these developments influenced the creation of 'modern project management'.

PP: The Origins of Modern Project Management. This paper discusses the ways in which management and technological innovations of the 20th century interacted to encourage the establishment of project management tools (particularly scheduling), leading to the formation of PM institutes, which in turn created the profession of modern project management. Assuming the central hypothesis in this paper holds true, that: the spread of scheduling was the genesis of ‘modern project management’ ; then the 50th anniversary of the start of the process that created ‘modern project management’ was the 7th May 2007.

Art: The Evolution of Project Management This paper is an attempt to classify the various phases in the development of the practice of project management based on the way the project manager was appointed and the control tools used to manage the project. As a starting point, we have adopted Prof. Peter Morris’ distinction between the management of projects and project management. Then the major phases of development of project management is driven by fundamental changes in the way the person, or people, responsible for managing the project were appointed with these phases being subdivided when the tools used to support the management of the project changed. The original version of this paper was published in November 2022 in the PM World Journal (download the published article).

Art: Incentive Payment Schemes. A brief outline of personal incentive payments from 13th century piece-rates to profit sharing.

PP: Trends In Modern Project Management - Past Present & Future. The profession of ‘project management’ is largely a creation of the ‘project management associations’ starting in the 1960. During the first 40+ years, they developed a generally consistent view of the processes involved in ‘modern project management’, encoded these views into ‘Bodies of Knowledge’ (BoKs), describe competent behaviours and certified knowledgeable and/or competent ‘Project Managers’. This paper reviews the roots of project management, briefly looks at the evolution of the discipline into a profession and then attempt to predict where success for project management practitioners will lay in the future as the practice of managing projects devolves into a series of very different approaches.View the PowerPoint presentation.

Click through to out page focused on modern corporate management.

Click through to out page focused on modern project management


The development of project management credentials

The PMI Credential Framework & the PMBOK® Guide

PMBOK History

The original Project Management Body of Knowledge (1987) is now available as a PDF file. Converted to PDF by Max Wideman, it's free on request. To see more click through to: This document:

  • Provided a basis for discussing and teaching the subject of project management,
  • Provided the foundation for the first Project Management Professional (PMP) examination,
  • Put the Project Management Institute firmly on the public map for the years to come,
  • Contains the basic principles for planning and running a project in all walks of life.

The 6th edition of the PMBOK® Guide was the last version based on the original concept. The 7th edition,published in 2021 shifted the focus from processes to business outcomes.

Blg: The PMP® Examination is 30 years old. A brief history of the linked development of PMI's PMP examination and the PMBOK® Guide.

Blg: The PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition and its consequences. The evolution of the PMBOK and the PMP exam through to the publication of the 6th Edition in Q3 2017.

Click through for our page focused on current project management credentials.



The evolution of construction management

The evolution of construction and engineering management in the 18th and 19th centuries, was a major influence on the evolution or project controls, including scheduling and cost engineering. For more on the history of these disciplines see: The History of Project Controls.This section looks at the history of Transport Projects and general Building and Engineering Projects.

Transport projects

One of the world's fastest construction booms was the building of some 6000 miles (10,000 Km) of railways in the UK at the start of the Victorian era:
-  The first viable steam locomotive was built in 1812
-  The first public railway opened in 1821
-  The first intercity railway opened in 1830, and
-  Some 6000 miles of railway had been built by the 1850s.

These papers offer an insight into the two factors needed for such a major undertaking resources and knowledge. The workforce needed to build the railways came from the canals (discussed below). The abrupt halt in the canal building boom in the 1840s was caused by the opening of the first railways (see Railways below). The skilled workforce that had been working on the navigations simply transferred across to building railways (but kept their designation as navies). The excavation of cuttings, building or embankments and the masonry needed to build bridges is similar in both canal construction and railway construction.

Navies at work

The engineering know-how to build railways grew out of the construction of increasingly sophisticated wagonways (the first railways). The construction of horse drawn wagonways in the UK started in the 16th century (Elizabeth I) and continued through to the 18th century. The first steam locomotives were used to replace horses pulling coal wagons, and the first steam powered railways were designed primarily for the transport of coal. The people who engineered these railways then went on to build the first intercity rail lines, and the rest is 'history'.

The Canals

Flash Lock

Art: The First Canals This article expands on the paper above to look at the early development of canals in Europe and Asia from 4000 BCE through to the European medieval canal revival between the 12th and 16th centuries.

Art: Early Canals, The Evolution of the Technology Canals have been excavated for drainage and irrigation for thousands of years and once built, the larger of the canals were undoubtedly used for trade. However, for several thousand years canals were restricted to areas where the land was relatively flat. This article looks at the development of the technologies that allowed canals to traverse hills and valleys.

PP: Early Canal Projects in the UK Until the introduction of efficient steam-powered railways, canals were the driving force behind the industrial revolution in Britain.  This paper looks at the development of canals in the UK from Roman times through to the start of the 'canal mania' in the 1790s, and seek to identify where possible the contractual and management processes used in their construction.

DP: Navigable waterways and the economy of England and Wales: 1600-1835. An academic paper by Max Satchell, Cambridge University, detailing the development of river navigations and canals from the perspective of social history.

PP: Cost Overruns on Early Canal & Railway Projects. The difficulties in determining a realistic cost for a new class of project are understandable. But, transport projects in the United Kingdom (UK) predate the industrial revolution by several centuries. This suggests that in addition to the lack of empirical cost information, the problem with the cost estimates identified in The Origins and History of Cost Engineering may have been caused by various combinations of poor governance, questionable ethics, and optimism bias. The same set of issues that continue to plague many modern mega-projects.

The Railways

Wagonway PP: The First Railway Projects. Transport projects in the United Kingdom predate the industrial revolution by several centuries. This paper looks at the building of some of the earliest railway projects (horse drawn wagonways) to identify where possible the contractual and management processes used in their construction and their influence on the industrial revolution.

DP: The Discovery and Excavation of the Willington Waggonway. An academic paper detailing the archeological excavation of the Willington Waggonway, as well as providing more detail on the construction of the early wagonway network.

Art: Myths and Legends: The Origins of Standard Gauge Railways Standard gauge is used by approximately 55% of the railways world-wide. This article looks into the origin of the standard gauge dimension and the series of coincidences that made 1435mm the 'standard' for railway construction.

DP: The development of the railway network in Britain 1825-1911. An academic paper by Leigh Shaw-Taylor and Xuesheng You, Cambridge University, detailing the development of the British railway network during the nineteenth century.

Blg: Where were the first passenger railways built? Most of the early railways were built for the transport of freight, usually coal. Some of these lines did carry passengers as a sideline, but were not built for a combined passenger / freight operation. This post looks at some of the early railways and/or tramways that included passenger operations from a very early stage in their development.

Art: The First Steam Powered Railway in Australia Following the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1849, and the gold rush of 1852/53, the need for an efficient transport link between the port at Sandridge and the city of Melbourne was paramount. The problem was overcome by constructing a privately funded railway that opened in 1854. Other railways soon followed: See the detailed 1864 map of Melbourne by H.L. Cox R.N.

Blg: The Diolkos – The first truly commercial project? Diolkos on the Isthmus of Corinth in Greece, is probably the first purpose-built railway in the world (if you define a railway as a set of tracks that guide wheeled vehicles). This blog takes a close look at this fascinating project constructed in the early part of the 6th century BCE to transport ship across the isthmus from the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf and the port of Athens. 

PP: Cost Overruns on Early Canal & Railway Projects. The difficulties in determining a realistic cost for a new class of project are understandable. But, transport projects in the United Kingdom (UK) predate the industrial revolution by several centuries. This suggests that in addition to the lack of empirical cost information, the problem with the cost estimates identified in The Origins and History of Cost Engineering may have been caused by various combinations of poor governance, questionable ethics, and optimism bias. The same set of issues that continue to plague many modern mega-projects.

100 Years Later.......  The early documentary, in the modern 'story-telling' style, Night Mail shows the development of the rail network after a century of progress between 1830 and 1930:  

Building projects

Blg: Shining the light towards low-carbon construction. Two of the world’s longest serving lighthouses are closely related. The original lighthouse was the Pharos of Alexandria. This lighthouse was constructed in the third century BCE and operated for 17 centuries. The second is the ‘Tower of Hercules’, the oldest known working lighthouse, built in the 1st century CE. The longevity of both of these structures are a testament to the durability of a well-constructed stone structure. In an age where minimizing the embedded carbon in buildings is becoming increasingly important, should we be shifting back to durable stone in preference to concrete? 

Blg: The Diolkos: Innovation, Evolution, or a Parallel Development?. This post looks at a likely precursor to the Dilkos, the Mirgissa slipway constructed in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom period some 1000 years earlier. The Egyptian Forts and the slipway bypassing the Second Cataract were impressive structures.

Blg: Built to last. This post looks at the durability of Roman road and marine construction techniques. 

Art: The First Dry Docks Dry docks are another class of engineering, similar to canals, that have a remarkably long history. The first modern dry dock (with a gate) was built in 1495 during the reign of Henry VII to dismantle a warship, and use the parts to build another. But, the use of enclosures and other devices to access the bottom of ships goes back to the Egyptians and Phoneticians.

Blg: Incentive contracts are not new. The contract to glaze the Great East Window of York Minster between 1405 and 1408 was a fixed price, incentive contract, with the contractor responsible for the design and installation of the largest medieval stained-glass window in UK. The contract was completed successfully and is still a remarkable work of art. 

Blg: Project Management in the 15th Century. The construction of the dome to complete Florence’s new cathedral, by Filippo Brunelleschi, between 1420 and 1436 faced a unique set of challenges both technical and political.

Blg: Construction project management is a very old profession. The construction of Hwaseong Fortress in Korea that was built between 1794 and 1796.

Blg: The evolution of design processes This post briefly looks at the development of orthographic projection and the foundation of the the École Polytechnique in Paris in the late 18th century, which together transitioned engineering design from an art to a mathematical science underpinning the engineering and construction booms of the 19th century.

CIOB Construction LeadersDP: CIOB Construction Leaders. The Builders Society was formed in February 1834 (now the CIOB). It was primarily concerned with lobbying and contractual matters. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) was founded in the same year and met with the builders to develop standard forms of contract. For more on the work of the CIOB in the current times see: Chartered Institute of Building.

PP: Project Governance & Control, The Building of the Crystal Palace. This article discusses the governance processes used to oversight the construction of the Crystal Palace in 1851 and is subsequent sale and relocation.

Blg: The Origins of Military Engineers. Military engineers have been a part of an Army for millennia. But until relatively recent times, the engineer was an individual who directed the work of troops, or civilian contractors. The shift to army’s employing skilled people in military units dedicated to engineering functions seems to be a development of the 18th century. This post traces the creation of the Engineering Artificers during the Great Siege of Gibraltar.

PlanningDP: A Manual for Planning and Progress for Construction Operations (1920). The contents of this manual were abstracted from the official completion report of the Army Supply Base at Philadelphia, 1918 - 1919. The manual describes the administrative charts and procedures used to plan and control the construction works for this massive project.

Click through to our page focused on modern construction management.  


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