Project Management Emerges During America’s Darkest Economy
In the late 1800s, when Taylor and Gantt perfected their principles of labor management and workplace productivity, managers commonly assumed that the number of potential workers was infinite. Efficiency at factories and mills meant keeping up with routine demand and shaving pennies from production costs.
The Great Depression and World War II changed the realities of project scheduling and labor staffing.
Throughout the early 20th Century, Gantt’s principles of an empowered, effective work force infected industry. Navy shipbuilders used Gantt charts to visualize the process of crafting new vessels. The First World War led to the spread of new ideas around logistics and supply. However, business scholars cite the Works Progress Administration as the first major shift that allowed American employers to think about work as a series of projects instead of a regular process.
Until the Great Depression, most Americans signed on with an employer with whom they assumed they would work for the rest of their lives. With many American companies folding and throwing millions of workers onto unemployment lines, the Works Progress Administration was formed to put Americans back to work. Assuming long-term recovery and the temporary need for jobs, the WPA spent money on major projects, like the Hoover Dam and LaGuardia Airport. The WPA also developed numerous small projects, including schools, libraries, and stadiums. Each project required government oversight and a pool of temporary workers, an ideal situation for tools like Gantt Charts.