Project management, in some form or another, has been around for as long as people have wanted to finish something. The discipline of modern project management is often traced to the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the United States during the late 19 century. The building of the transcontinental railroad was perhaps the first major initiative to use a management framework that is similar to present-day project management models. Considering the scope and complexity of that early project, the success of the transcontinental railroad is proof that the modern project management approach works.
While modern project management techniques began in the late 19th century, even the ancient Egyptian pyramids and Roman infrastructure systems have used the tools and techniques of project management.
Modern Project Management: Constructing the Transcontinental Railroad
There is a popular cartoon that illustrates the joining of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads in Promontory, Utah. In the cartoon, only the two outside rails join, producing, in effect, three rails that could not support passage of a train. An expletive is uttered by one whom we can assume was the project manager. This cartoon is amusing to project management professionals, because construction of the transcontinental railroad was perhaps the first major project to use modern “project management” tools and techniques. Consider the challenge of coordinating activities to build a new passage over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and linking with another rail line in an unpopulated, rural area. Technology would certainly play a large role in planning, coordinating, and communicating all of the necessary activities.
Of course, project managers for the transcontinental railroad had to use 1860s technology – no computers or cell phones! These pioneer project managers initiated a disciplined approach toward managing projects that is still in use by organizations in all facets of...