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Project Management Roots

Some point to marvelous and ancient examples such as Solomon’s Temple, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, Petra, the Taj Mahal, or Machu Picchu as the birthplaces of project management (and rightfully so), but the generally accepted beginning of the modern day discipline and practice of project management is the Manhattan Project. This ambitious and uncertain project—which produced the first atomic bomb in the 1940s—violated some of today’s project management tenets, but the principles of organization, planning, control, and direction were certainly present and have strongly influenced standard practices for managing projects since then.

To bring some perspective to the first modern project manager Lieutenant General Leslie Groves’ challenges, in addition to producing the world’s first atomic bomb, he also created (in approximately two years) an industrial base that exceeded America’s entire automobile production capability. It was no small project.

Scientists and engineers at the time were dealing with theory only in many cases—even down to the amount of fissionable material needed to produce a bomb. Due to a lack of practical or proven knowledge, General Groves compared his position to that of a caterer “...who is told he must be prepared to serve anywhere between ten and a thousand guests.”

The discipline of project management enjoyed a long infancy. It was only in the 1970s when the phased approach became standard practice. The Project Management Institute was created in 1969 and contributed immeasurably to the maturing of project management, as did the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA procurement approaches on large programs.

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