The concept of a "sequence of phases", or sequential periods of time for an undertaking is not a new one. More than 2,500 years ago, the famous Chinese philosopher, Confucius, expressed this sentiment. "In all things, success depends upon previous preparation -- and without such preparation there is sure to be failure." In modern parlance, this elementary observation translates into a simple two-step sequence: "Plan before doing", or the more popular exhortation "Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan!" So, here we have the genesis of the project life span.
One of the earliest references to a planned sequence that we can find is from
the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Post War National Development Report
published in 1944. In this report,
the ICE recognized the need for a systematic approach to planning public works
projects by pointing out that:
"In order to carry out work efficiently, it is essential that a scheme of operations be first decided by those directly responsible for the execution … With such planning the work can be broken down into a series of operations and an orderly sequence or programme of execution evolved … Without a Programme the execution can only be haphazard and disorderly … The drawing up of a Programme at the beginning of the work does not mean, of course, that it is drawn up once and for all and cannot be changed. The exact reverse is the case …"
It is true that this might be interpreted as a reference to scheduling, known as programming in the UK. However, the reference to "scheme of operations" also permits a strategic intent, especially as scheduling, per se, did not come into its own until some years later.
In fact, according to Wilemon:
"In the late 1950s, for example, considerable attention was focused on the Navy's use of project management in the development of the Polaris program. A few years later, NASA received the attention of practitioners and academicians for the advances it made in project management in administering the large, complex Apollo program."
Actually, the "attention of practitioners and academicians" was focused mainly on the critical path method (CPM) for scheduling a complex set of project activities, especially with the emergence of mainframe computer capabilities.
5. Post War National Development Report approved for publication by the Institution of Civil Engineers, Great Britain, 1944
6. Wilemon, D. L., in Foreword to Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects, R. D. Archibald, Wiley, NY, 1976, piii.