Tag Archives: History of Project Management

Governance and the Magna Carta

On the 15th June 1215 the Magna Carta (Latin for “the Great Charter”), was sealed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor. Drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons.

Magna carta

Unfortunately, neither side stood behind their commitments, leading to civil war with the rebel barons receiving active support from France. After John’s death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, and at the end of the civil war in 1217 it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth, where the document acquired the name Magna Carta.

The 1297 version of Magna Carta

The 1297 version of Magna Carta

Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes; and his son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England’s statute law. But as important as this document is in English history, it was not ‘unique’ – the Magna Carta is based on a long Anglo-Saxon tradition of governance.

The 1215 Magna Carter was based on The Charter of Liberties, proclaimed by Henry I a century earlier. Henry I was King of England from 1100 to 1135; he was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and came to the throne on the death of his bother in a hunting accident. The Charter of Liberties issued upon his accession to the throne in 1100, and was designed to counteract many of the excesses of his bother William II and shore up support for Henry.  Among other things the Charter of Liberties restored the law of Edward the Confessor one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England.

Anglo-Saxon law itself has a long history; the Textus Roffensis currently held in the archives at Rochester, Kent, documents Anglo-Saxon laws from the 7th Century. These laws and practices suggest the rights of individuals were fairly well protected and the King was responsible for governing within the law (see: Arbitration has a long history).

The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought a more imperial style of governing that flowed from the Roman Emperors (post Julius Cesar), based on ‘the divine right of kings’ and a feudal system that placed the King at the top of a hierarchy of power based on the control of land – the King owned all of the land and granted it to Barons in return for allegiance and taxes.  The only limitation on the King’s power was the willingness of his barons to accept the King’s rule and if they did not, rebellion was their only option. This type of ‘absolute’ power was wound back a little by the Magna Carta which guaranteed the rights of Nobles and the Church but did little for ordinary people.

However, during the course of its repeated ‘re-issuing’ the Magna Carta did pave the way for Parliamentary government and stood as a powerful counter to attempts by monarchs to assert the divine right of Kings as late at the 17th Century. By the end of the 17th century, England’s constitution was seen as a social contract, based on documents such as Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights. These concepts were taken to the Americas by the early colonists and formed part of the underpinnings of the USA constitution.

The governance message from the Mana Carta is the need for the ‘governor’ to respect the rights of the people being governed. The closer a governor gets to absolute power the greater the tendency to despotism and corruption. Effective governance systems balance the needs and rights of the governor and the governed, operate within an open framework, incorporate checks and balances, and adapt to changing circumstances. ‘Absolute systems’ are almost incapable of changing progressively, the usual course is the governors apply more and more coercion to stay ‘in power’ until eventually the whole system is destroyed by revolution or catastrophe; damaging everyone.

Following Magna Carta, the English constitution evolved and adapted to change and certainly since the restoration of the Monarchy after the English Civil War and Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell has been designed to adapt and change. Corporate and organisational governance has followed a similar trend and evolved from its inception in the early 17th century into its modern form (see: The origins of governance).

However, whilst the concept of governance has been evolving and the purpose of good governance is to balance the needs and expectations of all stakeholders to the common good, governance failures remain commonplace.  Our last blog post Governance and stakeholders highlighted three recent governance failures; the discussion on FIFA in particular highlighting the danger of concentrating nearly absolute power in the hands of one person.

There are some interesting parallels, eight hundred years ago on the banks of the Thames an embattled King John met the English barons who had backed his failed war against the French and were seeking to limit his powers. The sealing of the Magna Carta, symbolically at least, established a new relationship between the king and his subjects. Eight days ago, Sepp Blatter met his advisors near the banks of Lake Genève and sealed his fate by announcing his resignation from FIFA. If FIFA survives, it is highly likely the powers of his successor will be similarly limited by a new ‘charter’.

The bigger question though, is how can these excesses be avoided in future? History tells us that transparency and good information is one of the keys to avoiding excess, as is making the ‘governors’ accountable to the governed.  Another is the affected stakeholders being willing to assert their rights before a situation gets out of hand and more desperate measures become necessary.

On two separate occasions I’ve been lucky enough to see one of the four remaining copies of the original Magna Carter, once at Lincoln in the UK, and once as part of an exhibition in Canberra. As we reflect on this document and its 800 year history its worth considering its key message, that good governance requires both limits on power and for the governors to consider the interests of their stakeholders; if these two elements are present, the likelihood of governance failure is going to be significantly reduced. This is equally true for national governments, organisational governance and the governing of projects, programs and portfolios.

Certainly, as far as the governing of projects, programs and portfolios is concerned, both the EVA18 Project Controls Conference in England and our local Project Governance and Controls Symposium are organised by people who believe one of the keys to good governance is having open, effective and robust reporting system in place that deliver accurate information to all relevant stakeholders. The challenge we face is persuading more organisations to invest in this key underpinning of good governance – hopefully we won’t have to wait another 800 years…

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History of PM in Australia

Lessons-from-HistoryI’m pleased to announce the publication of the AIPM web portal outlining the history of project management in Australia and the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM). Hopefully the site, as launched today, will be the foundation for developing a comprehensive ‘living source’ of information on our history and the on-going development of AIPM and the project management profession.

I was able to contribute to this initiative in two ways, firstly Mosaic was one of the commercial sponsors who helped fund this important work, secondly after the passing of my friend, and inveterate hoarder, Brian Doyle, several years ago I inhered a large box of old paperwork stored by Brian over the decades (on the basis I have an abiding interest in the history of project management).

Once I was aware of the AIPM history project, a careful sorting of the papers uncovered many original documents from Brian’s time as the Founding Secretary of the then PMF (now AIPM).  I’m pleased to say these papers are now part of the AIPM archive.

Why does this matter??  My belief is no practice can evolve into a well rounded profession without a good understanding of its origins and development. Project Management is starting to emerge as a distinct profession and being aware of our history and the development of ‘modern project management’ is a key underpinning of that journey towards becoming a fully recognised profession, supported by a distinct academic discipline.

My hope is the other major institutions world-wide such as the APM (UK) and PMI (USA) follow suite and not only record their history and make it easily available, but also establish proper archives so these documents and interviews are retained for use by future researchers.

History is always an interpretation of information – current interpretations (including mine) are always subject to review and challenge and having access to first hand accounts and original documents will enable this process to continue into the future.

The AIPM’s newly minted web portal is at https://www.aipm.com.au/resources/history-of-pm-in-australia

My contributions towards documenting the broader sweep of project, and project controls, history is at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html

Technology and management

As many readers of this blog know, I am interested in history focused on understanding how the professional discipline of project management has evolved over the years. But digging into the history of project management inevitable involves the history of management and the evolution of technology.  And one immutable fact is that every new technology and every new idea creates winners and losers. The new ‘thing’ is implemented using project management processes and overall society benefits. The current collection of ‘history papers’ are freely available for downloading at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html

One of the key papers is The Origins of modern PM, this paper takes a brief look (page 8 on) at the evolution of management theories .compared to the waves of innovation that drove the ‘industrial revolution’ and advancements in society through to the modern times.

Innovation2

Fighting advances in technology is pointless, as the Luddites discovered.  The origin of the name Luddite is uncertain, a popular theory is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers. What is certain is the Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-replacing machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. What actually happened was the rise of the UK Midlands into an industrial powerhouse. There were winners, losers, and exploitation but overall the changes in society were to the general good.

What is not realised in the current debate around global warming and coal is that electricity produced in coal fires powers stations is a straightforward extension of steam power that came to dominance in the 1840s and is as inefficient as any other steam powered engines. What the electrical distribution system does is allow the energy derived from burning the coal to be transferred to remote locations ‘away from the fire’ for use as needed. It is convenient and electricity fuelled the next wave of innovation, but is also inefficient.

The typical thermal efficiency for utility-scale electrical generators is around 33% for coal fired plants, 66% of the energy in the coal is wasted Then an additional 30% to 40% of the power is then lost in the transmission from the power station to the consumers (mostly in local distribution, the main grid only loses between 5% and 8% of the power).  The net result only about 25% of the thermal value of the coal is available in your home or business!

This gross inefficiency is only affordable because the industry does not have to pay to clean up its pollution; most of the waste is simply discharged to the atmosphere. The raw material is not particularly safe either; around 5000 people per year are killed mining coal.

Much of the innovation driving the sustainability curve focuses on a changed paradigm. Generating energy close to where its needed using renewable energy sources. Solar hot water units generate hot water on your roof – no transmission losses. Solar voltaic cells do the same for electricity – managed properly its cost effective, for 6 months of the year we hardly need any power from the grid, winter is a different story……

Other innovations include various wind, and other generation processes that create power close to where its needed as well as renewable base load capabilities; all that is needed is the critical mass to make the technology cost effective (ie, cheap) and leadership for government to manage the changes and help the industries and people on the ‘losing’ side of the equation and plot a path into an exciting future, particularly for skilled project professionals.  As the Luddites discovered, fighting to defend a losing technology is a guaranteed way to ensure you lose.

Unfortunately, I’m still wondering when the Luddites in Canberra are going to realise the burning of coal to create pressurised steam is an invention of the 18th century, which largely replaced water power as the energy source of choice. And, that after 300 years the world is moving forward but Tony Abbot and a range of other backward looking ‘conservatives’ want to keep dragging us back into the past.

Australia needs leaders in Canberra and our State capitals, not Luddites – fighting to preserve 18th century power source in the 21st century is guaranteed to fail eventually. And what is going to be lost focusing on the past is the opportunities to gain from the emerging technologies, a lose-lose outcome.

A well planned and executed change paradigm exploits the strengths of existing capabilities, encourages the development of new innovations and manages the transition to the future whilst minimising the losses. This transition is good for project management but cannot happen without effective leadership.

Predicting Completion

At one level, completing on schedule has been a requirement, enforced to a greater or lesser extent for millennia. In the 1905 English court case Clydebank Engineering and Shipbuilding Co Ltd v Don Jose Ramos Yzquierdo y Castaneda [1905] AC 6; the court was prepared to uphold a ‘liquidated damages’ clause for delivery at the rate of ₤500 per week for each vessel not delivered by the contractors in the contract time. And rather more sever penalties could be imposed by Roman Emperors for late delivery.

As governments do today, the Romans outsourced most of their major works to contractors, with both public accountability and a legal framework as key governance constraints. What was significantly different was the consequences of failure! If a project went badly wrong in Roman times, the responsible public official would suffer a major career limiting event that could affect the prospects of his descendants for generations to come. Whilst the retribution applied to the contractor could be even more serious including death as well as retribution for generations to come.  Applying the Roman approach could give a whole new meaning to the ‘pain share’ part of a modern Alliance contracts…… as well as removing by execution many of the worst performing contractors. Rome was not built in a day but their empire did last for close to 1000 years [Frontinus – A Project Manager from the Roman Empire Era by Walker & Dart (Project Management Journal Vol.42, No.5, 4-16].

However, whilst there was undoubtedly an imperative for timely completion of contracts (projects in today’s terminology), there seems to be little in the way of predictive processes used by managers to assess the current expected completion date prior to the 1950s.

Having said that, I’m as sure that ‘smart people’ would have been assessing the expected completion of any significant ‘body of work’; both during the planning processes and during the course of the work. You simply cannot run a factory profitably if you cannot tell a customer when to expect his order – but predictive assessments and predictive processes are quite different.

Cost management and accounting has documented roots more than 6000 years old (provided you can read clay tablets), with modern book keeping emerging in the 15th century. I have found plenty of evidence of proficient governance and effective cost control on projects in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries but so far nothing ‘predictive’ (cost or time) until the 20th century. Prior to the 20th century, ‘cost control’ focused on comparing actual costs against the planned cost (a process still common in many organisations).

Similarly, the idea of probability and making calculations about future outcomes from a risk management perspective can be traced back to the 17th century and the work of Newton, Leibniz, Bernoulli and Pascal.  These mathematicians advanced probability to the point where life insurance and annuities could be bought and sold, but again there seems to be little cross over into the realm of predicting project outcomes until the 20th century.

From a time management perspective, William Playfare ‘invented’ graphical statistics (including bar charts) and published a series of different charts in his Commercial and Political Atlas of 1786.

Playfair_TimeSeries-2

However, whilst Playfair’s charts are detailed and accurate, they only report history; trends and forecasts were not considered (or at least not published).

There is a continuum from these early charts through to the work of Henry Gantt (who is falsely accredited with developing ‘project management’ and ‘bar charts’) some 200 years later (for more on this see: The Origins of Bar Charting).

The most sophisticated of Gantt’s charts described in ‘The Gantt chart a working tool of management’ (Wallace Clark, 1923) shows slippage or acceleration on the overall target production for one batch of parts on one machine, but again this work does not extend to predicting the completion date for the work, or a related set of activities.

From a measurement perspective, the concept of ‘piece rates’ can be traced back to the 16th century (the phrase ‘piece work’ first appears in writing around the year 1549). Piece work requires measurement of performance to calculate a workers pay and record keeping. However, whilst there is ample evidence of people being measured and paid this way for more then 400 years, there is little indication of this information being used to predict outcomes.

Measuring performance was integral to Taylor’s scientific management and the work of Henry Gantt, Chapter 3 of Gantt’s ‘Work Wages & Profits’ focuses on incentives and bonus payments for production work in machine shops. Foremen and worker are to be paid a bonus if they achieve the target production time for a ‘piece’ of work. The bonuses are calculated after the event and nothing in work wages and profits refers to any form or predictive scheduling beyond the usual planning needed for machine loadings. Gantt’s work is the most advanced of any of the options discussed to date, but all of his charts are focused on highlighting problems so that management action could be directed to resolving the problem.

In short, nothing in the documented practice of accounting, ‘bar charting’, or piece rates, or Gantt’s motivational bonuses, were designed to predict the completion date of the work or it finals cost based on performance to date. All of these processes, including Gantt’s, were focused on solid planning and then working to achieve the plan by eliminating problems that caused slippage to make sure the work was accomplished in accordance with the plan (reactive management).

Whilst there would have been very little effort required to take the actual, planned or estimated production rates (minutes per unit) and divide that into the lot (scope of work) to predict when the production lot is going to be finished, no one seems to have taken this step. The start of predictive calculations does not seem to have emerged until operational research people started playing around with the concepts during WW2 (1940s).

Predictive time focused planning emerged at some time in the late 1940s or early 1950s with the development of linear programming in association with OR, which in turn morphed in CPM , PERT, MPM and a number of similar techniques all around the same time in the UK, Europe and the USA. Prior to the 1950s the focus was on ‘how far behind’ is any element of the work; the advent of network based scheduling allowed a process for predicting completion to be developed. Kelley and Walker’s 1959 paper is very clear on this (see Annex in A Brief History of Scheduling). From these time management foundations, PERT Cost emerged, then C/SCSC which in turn grew into EVM and more recently Earned Schedule (see: Predicting Completion).

Today, project controls are expected to predict cost and time outcomes for each project and in both business and government the expectation of forward predictions of profits, incomes and expenditures are normal.

The question posed by this blog is that given the fact astronomers were predicting celestial events from 1000 BC or earlier; and some of the charts and risk assessments we use today were available from at least the 17th century if not earlier, were these concepts used by managers to predict work outcomes?  Or did all of this emerge in the last 60 years??

More precisely, is there documented evidence of someone using current performance to update a plan and predict cost, time or other outcomes before the 1950s?

The evidence I have found to date that suggests predictions are very much a development of the last 60 years is freely available at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html. I would be delighted to be proved wrong!

A History of Scheduling – 2nd Edition

BC#06One of my major papers, ‘A Brief History of Scheduling’ has been updated and republished  in the August edition of PM World Journal, the free online publication devoted to knowledge creation and sharing, and continuous learning in the field of modern program and project management.  To see the published article and sign-up for you free monthly journal see:  http://pmworldjournal.net/article/a-brief-history-of-scheduling-back-to-the-future/

This paper is one of a series looking at the origins of project management. the full set of papers can be accessed at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html

The numbers in your calendar

PMWJ-CoverHave you ever consider the odd collection of numbers that make up the standard western calendar, 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day and varying numbers of days in the months and years. The origins of some of these numbers and the basis of the modern calendar go back over 6000 years.

The origins of the different numbers and how they became the modern calendar is told in my featured paper published in the July edition of PM World Journal.  To read the paper and sign up for the free monthly e-Journal go to: http://pmworldjournal.net/article/the-origins-of-the-coordinated-universal-time-utc-calendar/

For more papers on the history of project management see:  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html

The Roman Approach to Contract Risk Management

An interesting paper in the September edition of the Project Management Journal co-authored by a colleague, Derek Walker contrasts the delivery of public projects in the Roman era with modern project management. The primary conclusion is that nothing much has changed; the Romans outsourced most of their major works to contractors, with both public accountability and a legal framework as key governance constraints.

What’s significantly different, is the consequences of failure! If a project went badly wrong in Roman times, the responsible public official would suffer a major career limiting event that could affect the prospects of his descendants for generations to come. Whilst the retribution applied to the contractor could be even more serious including death as well as retribution for generations to come.

Applying the Roman approach could give a whole new meaning to the ‘pain share’ bit of an Alliance contract…… as well as removing by execution many of the worst performing contractors. Rome was not built in a day but their empire did last for close to 1000 years.

This history contrasts with several recent studies that clearly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of penalty clauses as a mechanism for managing client risk two relevant papers are:
CIOB; Managing the Risk of Delayed Completion in the 21st Century
Blake Dawson; Scope of Improvement

It would seem the sanctions offered under today’s laws are insufficient to make penalties really effective (and in modern contracts they only work one way rather than the two-way effect of the Roman sanctions). Therefore the only option is proactive management.

The unacceptable alternative is to hope the problem goes away…… but burying your head in the sand leaves a very tempting target for someone’s boot.

If you are interested in the history of project management, my papers offer a good starting point, starting with The Origins of Modern Project Management at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Resources_Papers_050.html

For more in-depth coverage see: http://www.lessons-from-history.com and of course: Frontinus – A Project Manager from the Roman Empire Era by Walker & Dart (Project Management Journal Vol.42, No.5, 4-16)