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LFH Overview

Academic Research into The History of Project Management

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Current Research into Project History and the History of Project Management


Project management research has paid limited interest in the research of the past. Only as recently as 2010 have a few researchers started to look at organizing more comprehensive research.

What Does the Research Entail

In June 2011 IRNOP (The International Research Network on Organizing by Projects) ran its 10th conference in Montreal. Founded in 1993 IRNOP has developed into a vibrant worldwide research network. The University of Quebec at Montreal Project Management Research Chair hosted the conference.One track created was based on the history of projects, and project management. The key objective of the workshop was to:

“provide a face-to-face forum for discussion and recollection of our common past and how that helps us construct the future of projects management in academia and in practice."

A few classic project management cases and readings were presented that were thought-provoking and invoked discussions on:

  • What are considered to be the key readings in Project Management, and what are the ‘big ideas’?
  • What can we learn from historical and monumental projects?
  • Looking at the past current developments, what could become the fruitful roots for the future?

A gathering of 30-40 prominent researchers from the project management world attended the workshop.

IRNOP call for papers


"A better understanding of history can improve our understanding of the difficulties and approaches used in creating, shaping and managing projects. ‘Project History’ also serves to create a common ground among academics within this domain of knowledge, both in terms of readings as of cases. Project management research has paid limited interest in the research of the past. The project management discipline has now so deeply committed itself to a control oriented phased approach that the thought of using trial-and-error puts professional managers ill at ease.”

(Söderlund and Lenfle, 2010)


IRNOP call for papers

Lessons-from-History Papers

There were two submissions to IRNOP from the LFH series:

  • The Polaris Project and Managing Risk and Complexity, John Byrne
  • The United States Navy’s Polaris project was one of the most significant projects in human history. Its affects are still felt today in world politics. The purpose of this paper is to explore this project by examining the complex technical issues it faced and the part risk management played in the overall success of the project. This project was replete with complex technical and political issues that many wondered if these issues would cripple the project. Some wondered if the project was at all possible. In the end, though the development and use of various risks management techniques, the project was ultimately successful. The product of this project, the Polaris missile and submarine, has successfully influenced numerous geopolitical world events in the last 40 years. Though the exploration of this project, one can gain a better grasp of the use of risk management and insight into the management of complex projects.
  • Building the Case for Historical Project Management, Mark Kozak-Holland
  • This paper addresses common misperceptions about historical project management such as these projects had an unlimited budget, predominant slave workforce, and unlimited time lines. These misperceptions leave an impression that what was practiced in the past is not relevant to today’s projects. It sets the notion that these projects are so different, from a project management standpoint, they cannot be taken seriously for comparative purposes. It also infers that modern project management is unique, unconnected to the past, and started recently (twentieth century). This paper will show that historical projects dealt with comparable issues and had similar characteristics of modern projects: the multiple competing constraints of scope, schedule, budget, quality, resources, and risk. Some of these landmark historical projects delivered in timescales, and levels of quality that we would struggle with today. Hence, these projects should not be dismissed but embraced.

Future Research Conference

In June 2011 IJPM (International Journal of Project Management) called for papers:

"There is a growing concern in the project management community about the lack of historical understanding of the emergence of project management and the importance of landmark projects."

"To fill this void of historical research in project management, this special issue invites project management researchers interested in history, and historians interested in projects and project management."


(Söderlund and Lenfle, 2010)


IJPM call for papers

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