The History of Project Controls

PMKI Index
the PMKI
Location:  PMKI > Project Management History > The History of Project Controls. 
 The PMKI Library
This subject provides a general overview of the development of project control techniques from bar charts through to modern optimization and integration (BIM). The origins of specific techniques are discussed as separate subjects below..

Topics included in The History of Project Controls:

- The History of Scheduling
- The origins of WBS
- The History of Earned Value and Cost Controls
- Developments in the Creation and Use of Controls Information

Other related sections of the PMKI:

- Project controls and scheduling; current practice
- The origins of CPM, PDM and PERT schedules
- Henry L Gantt (and why bar charts are not 'Gantt Charts')

The History of Scheduling

PP: The Origins of Schedule Management. The concepts used for project schedule management have very deep roots. This paper traces the development of the concepts most project managers take for granted including bar charts and critical path schedules from their origins (which are far earlier than most people think) through to the modern day.

PP: A Brief History of Scheduling. This paper tracks the development of scheduling from the emergence of 'bar charts' at the end of the 18th Century through to present times and looks at the way the evolving technology has changed the way projects are scheduled and managed.
Art: A Brief History of Scheduling (short summary).

The 1910 Schürch barchart referenced in the 'History of Scheduling' paper: These are fully developed, sophisticated project control tools in use many years before the work of Henry Gantt was published.

PP: The Origins of Bar Charting. This paper looks at the ancient Greek and Egyptian origins of the concepts used by both Priestly and Playfair as a starting point to develop their charts which in turn led to the development of the modern bar chart by the late 1800s.

Art: The origins of PERT and CPM. This paper looks at ‘what came before the computers’, including the origins of the mathematics and drawing styles used in PERT and critical path schedules. See also The Origins of CPM, PDM and PERT Schedules.

Art: The Origins of Hammocks and Ladders. Hammock and Ladders are activity types that were developed in the period 1961 to 1965. This paper outlines the development of these useful scheduling assets an differentiates Hammocks from LOE and Summary activities.
See also extracts from the ICL 1900 PERT manual Circa. 1968.

The story of Micro Planner - one of the first scheduling tools developed for personal (micro) computers: see the timeline

What scheduling looked like in 1979 - The development of Micronet for the Apple PC. An analysis only required 6 hours..... See:



The Origin of Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)

Strangely, for a relatively simple concept supported by an equally simple diagram, it is generally accepted the concept of the work breakdown structure (WBS) was not developed until 1957. I find this strange given the similarity between a WBS diagram, an Organization Chart and a Flow Chart.

  WBS Sample


Organization Charts

The Scottish-American engineer Daniel McCallum (1815–1878) is credited for creating the first organizational charts of American business around 1854. While McCallum’s diagram is rather artistic, more WBS like charts were developed early in the 20th century (although not widely used).

Org Chart 1Org Chart 2


Click on either chart to download a larger version.
Source Wikipedia.

Footnote: The Tabulating Machine Co. (above) was one of the companies that merged to become IBM.
Click to open a brief timeline provided by Dr. Mihail Sadeanu.

Flow Charts & Process Charts

One of the earliest diagrams of a breakdown structure I've been able to find is from a 1909 book Construction Cost Keeping and Management. The book is discussed in the section on The History of Earned Value and Cost Controls below.

1909 Cost Chart

A few years later, Process Charts were developed and publicized by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth in their 1921 presentation to The American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Process Charts morphed into Flow Charts relatively quickly and were considered normal business diagrams well before the concept of a ‘flow chart’ was used to underpin the PDM network notation developed by Dr. John W Fondahl in 1962.


Development of the WBS

While the roots of a WBS chart may well be found in the various forms of chart outlined above, the development of the WBS concept appears to have occurred as part of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). While the term "work breakdown structure" was not used in by the PERT team, the first implementation of PERT did organize its tasks into product-oriented categories (see more on the development of PERT).

In June 1962, DoD and NASA published a document describing the PERT/COST system which defined the structure and use of the WBS, nothing much has changed since:


For more on PERT/COST see the History of Earned Value below.

The next significant development in WBS was the publication of MIL-STD-881 on 1 November 1968 by the USA Dept. of Defense. This was followed by  MIL-STD-881A on 25 April 1975; this standard has been progressively updated since. Download a copy of MIL-STD-881A.

Numerous other standards for the creation and use of WBS followed; including DEF(AUST)5664 in 1995, PMI's Practice Standard for WBS in 2001 (WBS was a core component of the PMBOK for many years prior), and ISO 21511 Work breakdown structures for project and programme management in 2018.

Click through to see more on project breakdown structures in the contemporary section of the PMKI.



The History of Earned Value and Cost Controls

Pert-CostPrs: Earned Value Management – Past, Present & Future. An overview of the development of EVM, the current state of development, and some thoughts about using EVM in a future integrated design and controls system.

For a USA timeline see:

The 1964 Evaluation of PERT/Cost. This original paper looks at the challenges of assessing the business value of using the PERT/Cost system following its introduction in 1963/64.  The report findings are still relevant! 

Visit our EVM resources and training page.



Developments in the Creation and Use of Controls Information

Prs: Seeing the Road Ahead - the challenge of communicating schedule data. This presentation looks at the challenges faced by project controls professionals, both in the past and present times, to communicate sophisticated information to other members of the project team and their stakeholders and some of the tools and processes they used.

Blg: Predicting Completion. When did managers start using data to calculate project completion times and costs? It would appear to be a development of the 1950s.

Blg: The three phases of project controls. The reactive, empirical and predictive phases of project controls (see also Predicting Completion).



Self-paced PMI-SP Training

Stakeholder management tools

Self-paced EVM Training

Risk management template

Self-paced EVM Training

Communication management template