A few days ago somebody asked me whom I consider project management “rock stars”.

I immediately thought that every single project manager, saving some projects someplace in the world, genuinely deserves some kudos. Project managers are barely considered active project members, what are the odds of any of them hitting a Newsweek cover?

However, I wanted to answer the question professionally, so I started evaluating a potential “top list” of people that across the centuries contributed to the development of the profession. Initially, I had to resist the temptation to look too far back in time. Although I always considered the anonymous project manager(s) that coordinated the effort to build the pyramid of Khufu extremely talented, I could not help but think that managing a team of thousands of slaves with a whip made the task much easier. How tickling as a fantasy for any project manager.

All kidding aside, if we limit the research roughly to the post-industrial revolution era, we can identify a few people that did leave some valuable lessons to the future project managers.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The twice-elected President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), is undoubtedly one of those people. He was an extremely rational and organised decision maker, with an eye for strategy. Thanks to some documents that he left behind, we know of one technique that he used in his daily routine, the so-called Eisenhower Matrix.

The Matrix is a powerful tool for managing activities based on their criticality that I usually recommend to my team, to manage their own task list.

Henry Gantt

Henry Gantt (1861-1919) was the American mechanical engineer that designed the chart bringing his name. The Gantt Chart is a bar graph derived by the harmonogram of Karol Adamiecki, where the X axis is time and a series of horizontal bars represent tasks and their duration.

His chart gradually became a standard and with a few updates, such as the representation of dependencies between tasks and the progress in percentage, it is possibly the primary artefact of any Waterfall projects.

Henri Fayol

The French management theorist Henri Fayol (1841-1925) is known to project managers for his theory of the five elements of management:

  1. Plan
  2. Organise
  3. Command
  4. Coordinate
  5. Control

I usually mention him also because he envisioned the adverse effect of writing – as opposed to talking – over the relationship between employees. A problem that sometimes is taken to the extreme today with emails.

Frederick Winslow Taylor

Gantt and Fayol shared not only a peculiar interest for management and efficiency, but also their mentor, the eminent Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), one of the leaders of the Efficiency Movement.

His scientific management aimed at formalising a scientific approach to work, with detailed training for the employees and explicit instructions for the supervisors. Within his massive production, we can find a rudimental application of the Work Breakdown Structure, later adopted by the U.S. Navy in its PERT.

Afterwards

Most of the innovations produced during this golden age are the idea of a single illuminated individual, while in more modern ages, every new theory or techniques are instead the result of a group effort.

However, there is a “rock band” that is worth a special mention, for it changed the way the delivery of a product or service is carried out within a project.

The Agile Manifesto Team

In February 2001, a small group of developers drafted the Agile Manifesto for Agile Software Development,  a document meant to unify many lightweight development methods that they themselves had formalised across the previous decade.

Among those people were the founding fathers of the primary Agile tools and frameworks used today:

Conclusion

The list is of course not even remotely done. Every now and again we read of some new approach or recommendation that stimulates the ones willing to experiment. That is the case, for instance, of David Anderson and Mike Burrows, who described Kanban for software development, or Mike Cohn, one of the founders of Scrum Alliance and today evangelist of the Agile movement and Scrum in particular.

More importantly, there is a countless list of remarkable individuals, that perhaps will not get themselves into the spotlights, but that are on the frontline of project management and drive the change.

Did I forget anyone? Why don’t you add a comment below? I would love to hear from you!

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