How Did These Remarkable Achievements Come About?
These remarkable creations were designed and created by engineers, architects and craftspeople. Yet, to be successful, they applied project management principles and concepts similar to the ones used today. Their overseers had to manage and motivate thousands of workers for many years, ensure that there was enough funding to purchase the materials and pay the workers. And communicate regularly with the chief, leader or commander to ensure their expectations were met.
They didn't have unlimited budgets, they didn't have a predominantly slave workforce and they didn't have unlimited time. They were also extremely focused on quality, to ensure that the construction was of sufficient quality to resist wars and natural disasters. Without a good understanding of all of these principles, these projects would never have succeeded.
Mark Kozak-Holland, in his book The History of Project Management, corroborates that project management is not just a 20th- and 21st‑century discipline. However, despite the enormous number of historical projects, the documentation and historical records are scarce. This can be attributed to a combination of factors.
First, the initiators of the projects were generally more interested in their outcome than in their methodology in terms of planning and implementation. Second, the people responsible for creating these buildings were craftsmen, who were not necessarily educated or interested in making their methods known to others. On the contrary, the details of their execution were kept a secret among a certain tribe or family who specialized in a certain branch of craftsmanship and transmitted their knowledge from one generation to another.
The next generation of projects reflected large civil engineering projects, such as dams, bridges, tunnels and highways. Next came large emblematic projects such as concert houses (e.g. Sydney Opera House), sport stadiums (e.g. the stadiums and other facilities built for the Sochi Winter and Beijing Summer Olympics), museums (e.g. the Guggenheim) and skyscrapers. From the Empire State Building in New York to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, projects have always been used to stretch the limits of nature and human achievements.
The greatest governments and political leaders have been big promoters of projects. Some of them have embraced projects to develop their regions and countries with the aim of crafting and implementing a long-term vision (e.g. in Singapore, Shenzhen, Taiwan and Dubai). Others have used projects to bring their countries out of a recession or even out of war (e.g. in Iceland, Rwanda and Argentina).
Nowadays, we talk about "megaprojects" projects with a budget of more than $1 billion dollars that attract significant public attention due to their substantial impact on communities, environment and budgets. Examples of megaprojects include railways, airports, seaports, power plants, oil and natural gas extraction projects, public buildings, aerospace projects and smart cities. Their numbers have become ever larger, but the fundamental truths of projects and how best to manage them remain the same.
In Part 2 of this paper, I'll describe some differences between projects and on-going operations; What is project management? and My simple definition.
9. This is to say nothing of the need to master the natural force of gravity.
10. Mark Kozak-Holland, The History of Project Management (Ontario: Multi-Media Publications, 2011).
11. Megaprojects: The Good, the Bad, and the Better (McKinsey & Company Capital Projects & Infrastructure), last modified July 2015, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/capital-projects-and-infrastructure/our-insights/megaprojects-the-good-the-bad-and-the-better.
12. The Art of Project Leadership: Delivering the World's Largest Projects (McKinsey & Company Capital Projects & Infrastructure), https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/capital-projects-and-infrastructure/our-insights/the-art-of-project-leadership-delivering-the-worlds-largest-projects.