Reconstructing Project Management
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Reconstructing Project Management

Peter W. G. Morris

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📖 eBook - ePub

Reconstructing Project Management

Peter W. G. Morris

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About This Book

This hugely informative and wide-ranging analysis on the management of projects, past, present and future, is written both for practitioners and scholars. Beginning with a history of the discipline's development, Reconstructing Project Management provides an extensive commentary on its practices and theoretical underpinnings, and concludes with proposals to improve its relevancy and value. Written not without a hint of attitude, this is by no means simply another project management textbook.

The thesis of the book is that 'it all depends on how you define the subject'; that much of our present thinking about project management as traditionally defined is sometimes boring, conceptually weak, and of limited application, whereas in reality it can be exciting, challenging and enormously important. The book draws on leading scholarship and case studies to explore this thesis.

The book is divided into three major parts. Following an Introduction setting the scene, Part 1 covers the origins of modern project management – how the discipline has come to be what it is typically said to be; how it has been constructed – and the limitations of this traditional model. Part 2 presents an enlarged view of the discipline and then deconstructs this into its principal elements. Part 3 then reconstructs these elements to address the challenges facing society, and the implications for the discipline, in the years ahead. A final section reprises the sweep of the discipline's development and summarises the principal insights from the book.

This thoughtful commentary on project (and program, and portfolio) management as it has developed and has been practiced over the last 60-plus years, and as it may be over the next 20 to 40, draws on examples from many industry sectors around the world. It is a seminal work, required reading for everyone interested in projects and their management.

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Part 1
Constructing Project Management
Its History Constructed
Introduction to Part 1
Part 1 is a description of how the elements of what we call project management evolved over many years, but particularly since the early 1950s, and were slowly constructed into the thing that most project managers would recognise by the term today.
It is not an account of the management of projects through history; such a thing would be huge and probably meaningless. It does not claim – indeed it positively challenges the notion – that project and program management is now all defined and textbook clear. It shows rather that there are points of divergence and contradiction in the way we describe it and present our knowledge of it.
Some argue that such pluralism of knowledge is no bad thing since it shows vigour and reflects widespread adoption under differing conditions1. Maybe. Such a thought is at least comforting. But it doesn’t diminish the concern where one believes misperceptions or mistakes are being propagated.
It is not the intent of this first section of the book to enter into any real or detailed critical discussion of the theory of the subject. This will be more the aim of Parts 2 and 3. It is instead intended as a description of the major actions that have contributed to the development of what passes for the discipline: an account of the major insights which slowly have built up our knowledge of the domain.

Historical Method

In presenting this chronology, I have endeavoured to be scholarly, respecting original texts (though admittedly much of the source material is secondary) and reflecting the thinking of the actors of the time and the contexts in which they were operating.
All historians face the twin challenges of how to choose – how to frame – the object to be investigated, and then how to evaluate the data that are available and relevant. Scholarship requires absolute respect for the data, rigour and lucidity of analysis, and clarity of exposition. But judging relevance is not a value-independent exercise: it reflects a perspective. History today is rarely seen as an objective, disinterested enquiry but rather as socially constructed. My personal concern is how best to manage projects but critically my unit of analysis is the project, not management processes and practices. So I look for examples of how projects were, or were not, successfully managed. My history is thus different in scope and purpose from much of the more traditional project management preoccupation with planning and control.
The trouble is, the field is vast. Selecting events to illustrate the evolution of the discipline and, to a degree, in describing them, will inevitably reflect my own views, despite the desire for objectivity. But contemporary history acknowledges this: we are long past the time when we claimed that history was based on hard facts from which ‘objective’ truth was inductively drawn. Historians create historical facts, as the eminent historian E.H. Carr put it, according to their interests – feminism, gender, poverty, Marxism, colonialism, etc.2 Study the historian to understand the history.

Bespeaking Relevant Knowledge

The examples I have chosen reflect major learning cases: one extraterrestrial (the Apollo Moon program); some international (Concorde); some national but private sector (the Andrew North Sea oil project); and others public (the US Department of Defense programs or the UK ‘New Accommodation Program’ (NAP) – the relocation of the UK’s intelligence services). Were I say German, Japanese, Brazilian or Ghanaian, to pick a few nationalities at random, my examples would doubtless be different. Apollo would figure, though I am not so sure about the others. But I am not. I am an English academic with a strong practitioner bias who has spent a lot of time working in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and who believes passionately that there are things one can say about good practice in managing projects and programs.
And I also recognise the importance of context. Management, as we noted in the Introduction and as we shall see reiterated often, as a subject is inherently contextual3. One of the very strong aims of Part 1 is to illustrate this, showing how different contexts create the need for different management responses.
Aristotle said the mark of an educated man is to recognize in every field as much certainty as the nature of the matter allows. Context and personal perspectives shield us from ever attaining pure truth, be this historical or operational. Pure, whole truth is, in the social sciences, epistemologically impossible given the types of knowledge potentially in play and the effect of context, topics we shall discuss in Part 3.
Practising project and program managers must therefore shape their own version of ‘what we need to know to manage projects effectively’. Part 1 is presented in the belief that reading a chronological account of how the project and program body of knowledge came into being will provide a foundation to help do this.
So, read and reflect; evaluate and adjust; modify and apply! Conjure your own account of what has made project management what it is. Most importantly, ask yourself, what in fact it – this knowledge – is.
References and Endnotes
1 Söderlund, J. (2011), Theoretical foundations of project management, in: Morris, P. W. G., Pinto, J. K. and Söderlund, J. (eds.) The Oxford handbook of project management, Oxford University Press: Oxford, pp. 37–42.
2 Carr, E. H. (1961), What is history? Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
3 Griseri, P. (2002), Management knowledge: A critical view, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.
Project Management before it was Invented
Projects have been around since man first walked on Earth, ranging from the informal, such as cooking or hunting, to the large formal construction or military ones. Often – maybe generally – they were accomplished very well. But there was no formal discipline of ‘project management’. Indeed, there was no formal discipline of management at all until the 20th century – there was no ‘village Project Manager’ in the way there was a village butcher or baker, parish priest or possibly doctor. Not until the early 1950s did anyone even suggest that there might be a formal discipline called ‘project management’.
This chapter, after acknowledging the enormous organisational abilities of man even at the dawn of civilisation, identifies some of the early formal techniques for managing projects – Plutarch, Vauban and Perronet on contracting; Wren and Hooke on construction organisation; the tools of Scientific Management (Gantt, Adamiecki, DuPont); and the rise of formal integration (the Bureau of Land Reclamation, aircraft manufacturing in the 1920s). The Manhattan Project – the program to build the USA’s atomic bomb – often quoted as the originator of the discipline – is, however, no more an early example of project management than the pyramids four and a half thousand years earlier.

Pre-History: Projects and Society

Projects are undertakings to realise an idea. ‘Project’ (noun) means something thrown forth or out; an idea or conception1. People have, of course, been doing this since time began. The cave paintings of the Upper Palaeolithic era (35,000 BC) both reflect projects (hunting) and are themselves the result of complicated shamanistic belief systems and practices2.
Projects are organisational entities. They differ from non-project organisations in that they all follow the same generic development sequence. Something like: (1) idea; (2) outline concept and strategy; (3) detailed planning; (4) execution; and (5) completion/close-out. All projects, no matter how complex or trivial, large or small, follow this development sequence. Non-projects (for example, running a production line in a bottling plant or a business) do not. Cooking my dinner is a project: it follows the same sequence: idea (menu), preparation, execution (eat), and wash-up*. Hunting is a project in that it follows this sequence, though its conception and execution may, in large part, be instinctive. Animals hunt. Homo erectus, 1.8 million years ago, hunted. Managing projects is partly instinctive.
As groups grew and society formed, projects became more complex. Many were unremarkable, as many are today. Others were spectacularly large and complex, designed to reflect temporal power, acknowledge deity, and witness life through death. The Giza pyramids of 2600–2700 BC probably involved the labour of some 70,000 people3 – essentially the whole community – quarrying, hauling, dressing and laying the 25 million tons of giant limestone pieces that make up the three major pyramids; in effect, nation building. Clearly this huge effort required managing. Imhotep, Giza’s architect, the builder before Giza of the pyramid at Saqqara, the first two-storey pyramid ever, was the organising genius. (He later died of cancer and was deified.)
Stonehenge, approximately 3000–1600 BC, was no less spectacular a feat of organisation, more so perhaps in both its size, relative to the population, duration, and given the less benign weather (frequently foul and quite un-Egyptian in its variability) and the long haulage over rough ground – 200 miles for each of the 82 four-ton bluestones that were probably dragged from south Wales to Wiltshire used for Stonehenge II/3.1 (2400 BC), and later, in Stonehenge III/3.2 (2400–2200 BC), and some 20 miles for the 77 huge twenty-ton sarsens brought from their quarry on the Marlborough Downs4. (Not only were the stones placed incredibly accurately in plan with regard to the Solstice, in elevation they were level despite being placed on an inclining site.) This enormous project – actually many projects, reflecting at least two belief systems5 – must have involved the entire population of Wessex, some 50,000 people, working and supporting a thousand labourers, for many generations6. It’s been estimated that hauling the stones and building Stonehenge required about 30 million man-hours of labour7.
Projects (and programs of projects†) clearly existed then from the times of pre-history – since man has been on Earth – and were managed as such, often very effectively. But no-one thought of their management as a formal activity called project management. Indeed, no-one thought abstractly of management as a subject at all. For although the management terms ‘supervisor’...

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APA 6 Citation
Morris, P. (2013). Reconstructing Project Management (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2013)
Chicago Citation
Morris, Peter. (2013) 2013. Reconstructing Project Management. 1st ed. Wiley.
Harvard Citation
Morris, P. (2013) Reconstructing Project Management. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Morris, Peter. Reconstructing Project Management. 1st ed. Wiley, 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.