Alan Harpham, Chairman of the APM Group, UK

An update of a paper originally presented at The 16th International Project Management Association's World Congress in Berlin, 2002.

Copyright Alan Harpham.
Published here February 2003.

Abstract | Early Background of PM | Roles, Responsibilities | Why have PM?
Benefits | Program of Projects | Types of Programs | Impact of Differences | Part 2

Early Background of Project Management

Before describing program management, it is worth looking at the history of the development of project management that has led to the need for effective program management. Project management as an idea has been around a long time – after all, they were building pyramids a few millennia before Christ – but it is a recent management science. First used by the military as a management discipline during the Second World War, it progressed into the civil sector during the late 50's and early 60's of the last century. At that time, its focus was on various approaches to the Critical Path method, including PERT, Precedence, and activity-on-arrow diagrams, as well as various others. Indeed, I understand that the UKs Electricity Operator had a team developing the "line of irreducible time for projects" method at about the same era. Perhaps its lack of a catchy title was its downfall!

If project management as a management science discipline can be tracked to a start in the 50's and 60's, then the 70's was the period when the focus moved from the time span of the project and its reduction, to project control. This was achieved by developing integrated, computer-based, management systems capable of integrating time, cost and quality, or at least in theory. Many were sold, but few truly integrated the project, and worse still, few integrated all projects in the owner/client's organization. By the early 1980's the market place was full of companies who had bought their integrated management system, but were still failing to deliver successful projects to time, cost and quality.

So, by the early 1980's companies were again seeking help with their projects, mainly from owner/clients rather than contractors and suppliers. They recognized that their project managers were trying to lead and control projects when they had little "given" authority over those they were managing, often managing in a "matrix" organization. As we now know, matrix management is the hardest form of project organization for the project manager to lead and manage in, and requires real discipline in the roles and responsibilities of the PM and the line manager.

The PM should focus on "what", "when", and "how much"; whilst the line manager should focus on "how", "how well" and "who". Clearly the PM has some say over the "who", because s/he is responsible for leading and building the project team and needs a group who can be "formed" into a team. What the owner/clients were now looking for were PMs who had lots of personal authority and could manage in the matrix with the minimum of "given" authority. This led to them seeking training courses to improve the "interpersonal" or "softer" skills of the PM, including characteristics such as leadership, conflict management, motivation, perseverance, team-building, and more.

At that time, I was teaching project management at Cranfield, and this was the most common request from the market place. We developed courses that integrated the hard and soft skills of project management, as well as providing an overview of projects and where they fitted into the business. These were taught both in the classroom and using the outdoors, where the dramatic backcloth and realism of the short project exercises enhanced the participants' development of their softer management skills.

By the end of the 1980's and into the 1990's the key word in the discipline, along with other disciplines, was "competencies". The UK Association for Project Management developed its Body of Knowledge, which listed around 40 competencies required by a good project manager. It is this and other similar initiatives in Europe and the US that has informed most of those who run training programs in project management.

At about the same time, two things also became clear. Firstly, the project manager alone was not enough to deliver successful projects. What you also need is a good project sponsor, to be accountable for the investment in the project and to engage the PM to undertake the delivery of the project and its deliverables or assets. Secondly, you need a user/operator to put the asset or deliverables to work and make the agreed return for the business or organization.

Abstract  Abstract

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