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The History of Project Management: Late 20th Century Process and Improvements

written by: Joe Taylor Jr. • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 7/6/2011

As American workers return from World War II, businesses prepare for an unprecedented era of prosperity. Driven by the need to remain competitive during boom times, project management professionals are tasked with finding ways to keep employees engaged, efficient, and motivated.

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    Gantt Charts Get Reinforcements

    In 1950, Gantt Charts had been the sole accepted tool of the project management professional. And, for the first time, many American companies recognized the benefits of having project management professionals on their teams. However, demand for American goods and services was skyrocketing, both here and abroad. Meanwhile, government agencies found themselves coping with the needs of an expanding, and demanding, population.

    For the first time since Gantt’s death in 1919, American business invested time, energy, and money into the development of the project management profession. Government contractors were among the first to help evolve project management tools and techniques. Spurred on by the challenges of meeting strict deadlines and enabling agency oversight, contractors investigated ways to take Gantt Charts deeper into the 20th Century.

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    Polaris Gets PERT

    When Navy strategists hired Lockheed in 1956 to mount tactical missiles on submarines, Lockheed turned to consultants at Booz-Allen & Hamilton to help. Although the Polaris missiles were retired by the time Ronald Reagan took office, the project management system devised to build them has become incredibly popular. The Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) used a weighted average of task durations to overcome the evaluations that caused Taylor’s methodology to fall out of favor.

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    Private Sector Takes a Critical Path

    Meanwhile, the DuPont Corporation and the Remington Rand Corporation collaborated on a similar branch of the project management discipline. Known today as Critical Path, this technique emphasizes the completion of key tasks in the shortest time possible. For manufacturing processes, Critical Path method recalls many of Taylor’s philosophies regarding efficiency and continuous improvement.

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    International Bodies Assure Project Management Compliance

    As corporations experienced the impact of globalization throughout the 1950s and 1960s, international standards bodies formed to help companies maintain compliance across competing methodologies. Established in 1969, the Project Management Institute now boasts over one million members and stakeholders throughout the world. The PMI oversees certification for project management professionals while championing the need for experienced project managers in all facets of business. Its European counterpart, the International Project Management Association, represents a coalition of project management standards bodies to global governments and policy-making bodies.

    The legitimacy of international standards boosted the profile of the project management profession through the second half of the 20th Century. However, changes yet to come would open project management to the widest possible audience…