History of project management in Australia

Adeline Teoh
April 23, 2015

“Any profession of any standing knows where it came from and why,” says Pat Weaver, managing director of Mosaic Projects and sponsor of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) History of PM in Australia website.

The website is literally history in the making, tracing the beginnings of modern project management in Australia in the 1950s to the present through video anecdotes and insights from some of project management’s key players, past and present, as well as artefacts such as important documents and photographs scanned into a digital archive.

Solving a problem

AIPM Fellow Chivonne Algeo initiated the history project several years ago when, as then-chair of the AIPM’s Council of Fellows, she struck a problem. “I was trying to find some documentation in regard to the original date of incorporation and there were some conflicting sources of information. I thought ‘we need to capture this and put it into some sort of portal’.”

Initially conceived as a hardcopy book, the project had little traction with the Institute as it was not considered a priority so Algeo, also a senior lecturer in the School of the Built Environment at the University of Technology Sydney, set the project plan as an exercise for her students. One student suggested developing an ebook instead of a hardcopy book.

After further investigation that found the ebook to be too unwieldy and expensive, the team settled on a microsite on the AIPM website, which would enable the AIPM to host a central repository for artefacts and upload relevant material as it came in. “It couldn’t be a hard copy book because it was a living history. It was going to be continually created,” explains Algeo.

At this stage, the AIPM provided in-kind support in the form of its Western Australia chapter coordinator Martine Peasley, who it allowed to work on the project for 20 hours a month in addition to the voluntary time provided by core team members Algeo and AIPM Fellow Dr Bill Young. When the project evolved from an archive of artefacts to capturing oral history, Peasley coordinated the recording and editing of interviews.

Algeo started with some documentation she had received from Bruce Hovey, one of the founders of AIPM predecessor, the Project Managers’ Forum but was delighted when others came forward with more material, including a briefcase that once belonged to AIPM Life Fellow Brian Kooyman, donated by his widow Jenny, and documents from the late Brian Doyle sent in by his daughter, plus a box from Weaver.

“Several years ago I’d inherited from Brian Doyle a large box that I hadn’t particularly wanted to go through for emotional reasons, but I knew it had a lot of stuff in there around AIPM,” says Weaver.

In addition to a longstanding interest in project management history, he says he sponsored the project to prevent history from slipping away. “Project management being ‘young’ hasn’t understood a lot of its history and a lot of the really key players are either dead or very close to it. We’re fundamentally losing what first created project management from the 1950s forward.”

Past, present, future

Larger project management organisations such as the Association of Project Management in the UK and the Project Management Institute, which began in the USA, have well-documented histories and the site aims to provide the same resource for Australian project managers, regardless of whether they are AIPM members.

“It’s a wonderful resource for people in the industry. They might be practitioners, students or they might researchers, academics, who might want to find out what actually happened in Australia in the 1960s, for example,” says Algeo.

But it’s not just about what has happened. History should also be part of knowledge management, lessons learnt project managers can use today. “It’s not about dusty old books on a shelf, it’s about being able to keep that story going forward,” she says. “What frustrates me incredibly is when we see people who come up with ‘new’ initiatives when a decade earlier it was something that existed but collective memory is lost. People in the future can build their knowledge on what already exists and not have to recreate that knowledge.”

It is also what Weaver hopes the repository will achieve. “Trying to understand how things became the way they are is the fundamental underpinning of working out where you want to go in the future,” he says.

On another note, he hopes it will also dispel some of the myths around the origins of project management, particularly his pet bugbear about Henry Gantt being the father of project management. “Myths are very hard to kill off once they are established,” he says.

Algeo believes author Edward Carr put it best: “History begins with the handing down of tradition; and tradition means the carrying of the habits and lessons of the past into the future,” wrote Carr in What is History?. “Records of the past begin to be kept for the benefit of future generations.”

Access the History of PM in Australia site

Author avatar
Adeline Teoh
Adeline Teoh is the editor and publisher of ProjectManager.com.au. She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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