The evolution of project management



By Pat Weaver

Melbourne, Australia

As part of a project to develop a new paper Project Management – A Historical Timeline (planned for publication in December) there is a need to classify the various phases in the development of the practice of project management. However, almost every author of project management history has a different view of the major change points. The objective of this brief paper is to elicit feedback on the tentative classifications outlined below.

As a starting point, we have adopted Prof. Peter Morris’ distinction between the management of projects and project management[1].  People have been managing projects for millennia, whereas project management only started to emerge as a discipline in the 1940s, evolving into modern project management in the 1960s.

The difficulty dealing with the earlier phase of managing projects is that the degree of sophistication applied to the management occurred in two major waves, the period from the earliest times through to the collapse of the Roman Empire and then the post Roman period. Both the Greeks and the Romans had skilled engineers and architects and a contracting industry capable of delivering sophisticated projects. The construction of the Long Walls in Athens between 461 and 457 BCE was managed by the architect Callicrates, who let the works to ten separate contractors.  Similarly, the Colosseum was built in the first century CE by four contractors. This level of sophistication disappeared for more than 1000 years after the end of the Roman Empire only reappearing in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

My take on the major phases of development of project management is driven by fundamental changes in the way the person, or people, responsible for managing the project was appointed. Based on this approach the major phases in the development of project management seem to be:

  1. BCE[2] Collective. This phase saw the building of the first significant structures such as Göbekli Tepe (founded around 9500 BCE) and Stonehenge (founded around 3000 BCE) as well as the building of the earliest permanent settlements. The work to build the monuments extended over hundreds of years and would seem to have been undertaken voluntarily by groups of people working together, probably as a religious activity.During this phase, the first permanent settlements were also constructed and specialist building contractors emerged. The Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian legal text composed c. 1755–1750 BC sets out six laws relating to building works including “If a builder constructs a house for a man but does not make it conform to specifications so that a wall then buckles, that builder shall make that wall sound using his own silver.” Which suggests there were an established group of people who were identified as builders and earned their living building structures for others.
  2. BCE Anointed. The increasing power of emperors, kings, pharaohs, and priests (collectively rulers) over populations, beginning in the early Bronze Age, shifted the way larger projects were commissioned and managed. The ruler would decide on the need for a new structure (palace, fort, temple, etc.), arrange the works and fund the project. The ruler typically took a direct interest in how their money was being spent but typically employed skilled overseers, scribes and artists to undertake the work. Some of these artisans were clearly highly skilled and capable managers…


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How to cite this paper: Weaver, P. (2022). The evolution of project management; PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/pmwj123-Nov2022-Weaver-the-evolution-of-project-management.pdf

About the Author

Patrick Weaver              

Melbourne, Australia


Patrick Weaver, PMP, PMI-SP, FAICD, FCIOB, is the Managing Director of Mosaic Project Services Pty Ltd, an Australian project management consultancy specialising in project control systems.  He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, Australasia (FCIOB) and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (FAICD). He is a member of the the PMI Melbourne Chapter (Australia), as well a full member of AIPM, and the Project Management College of Scheduling (PMCOS).

Patrick has over 50 years’ experience in Project Management. His career was initially focused on the planning and managing of construction, engineering and infrastructure projects in the UK and Australia. The last 35 years has seen his businesses and experience expand to include the successful delivery of project scheduling services and PMOs in a range of government, ICT and business environments; with a strong focus on project management training.

His consultancy work encompasses: developing and advising on project schedules, developing and presenting PM training courses, managing the development of internal project control systems for client organisations, and assisting with dispute resolution and claims management.

In the last few years, Patrick has sought to ‘give back’ to the industry he has participated in since leaving college through contributions to the development of the project management profession. In addition to his committee roles he has presented papers at a wide range of project management conferences in the USA, Europe, Asia and Australia, has an on-going role with the PGCS conference in Australia and is part of the Australian delegation to ISO TC258.

Patrick can be contacted at patw@mosaicprojects.com.au or at www.mosaicprojects.com.au.

To view other works by Pat Weaver that have been published in the PMWJ, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/patrick-weaver/

[1]     Morris, P. W. G. The Management of Projects. Thomas Telford, London 1994.

[2]     BCE = Before the Current Era (extended in this paper to include the Roman period through to approximately 400 CE).