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The fairytale of the traditional approach

Table of Contents

Here is the story

Once upon a time, between the years 1952 and 1953, the term project management was born.
Legend says it was out of necessity; the United States was facing an immense technical challenge at the time – to develop a brand new set of technologies, so the project manager role and the matrix organization were invented to organize this work.

It was like that that the first project management position was created around 1953-1954 by the Martin (Marietta) and McDonell Aircraft companies. Back then, the prime responsibility of the project manager was organizing and staffing. The system used to work as “a number of miniature companies, each concerned with but a single project. The project manager exercises overall product control”.

Years passed by, and the project management practice started to get more and more attention. In 1959, the Harvard Business Review first introduced the role of “Project Manager”; we are starting to get serious attention now. Interestingly, according to Morris, the article published in the Harvard Business Review focused more on people management rather than planning or control tools.

Some years passed by, and a real challenge came directly from the president of the United States of America. In April 1961, Kennedy promised the American people and the world the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before the decade was out.

After the famous speech of the president, George E. Mueller was assigned as the head of the Office of Manned Space Flight and brought with him Samuel Phillips, with the title and position of the “Apollo Program Director”. Mueller then learned that the chances of achieving a lunar landing by 1970 were less than 1 in 10!

Mueller was indeed shocked but took the challenge. And after a lot of evaluation, they found out that the only possible solution to achieve their goal would be to cut the number of proving flights. To do this, they needed to make sure that each piece, at each stage, was thoroughly tested, in effect, testing all the rocket stages simultaneously rather than each piece via different launches (which was the initial plan for individual stages).

This strategy was crucial to the emerging discipline because, apart from developing a nested boxed matrix structure across the organization. Mueller, as the program director, brought together strategy, technology, schedule, risk, cost, organization, and personnel, to deliver one of the biggest projects the world has ever seen.

This strategy also meant that NASA had to restructure its organization, and it took Mueller and Phillips much effort, will and determination to bring this project to life. It was a 13 billion-dollar project that promised to bring the first man to the moon.

But their efforts paid off when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. The program was successful, and it was a triumph for project management! This project was quite important because it set an example for future projects and new concepts in project management worldwide.

Many projects and years later, the discipline started to get more attention, especially in Europe and the United States. And between 1989s and 1990s, the first project management associations began to form.

The discussion of project management involved theory and concepts, and BoKs (bodies of knowledge) started to appear.

The first one was the PMI, in the earliest to the mid-80s, publishing the first pilot of the Project Management Body of Knowledge in 1983. In this version, the BoK identified six knowledge areas that were considered “unique” to the project management field – scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, and communications. And, over time (until now), the PMI also added integration, risk, procurement/contract management, and stakeholder management to the BoK.

At that time, the PMI also stated five project processes: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitor and Control, and Closure.

Initiation: Defines a new project or a new phase within an existing project.

Planning: Defines a project’s scope, objectives and course of action.

Execution: Phase is where all the deliverables are developed and completed to achieve the project’s objectives.

Monitor and Control – Tracks, reviews and regulates the progress and performance of the project. Identifies any changes to the plan and initiates the corresponding changes.

Closure: Phase that includes all the necessary activities to close a project or a phase formally.

The project managers and organisations understood these processes as linear (one process after the other), which is how the traditional waterfall framework was born. 

Please notice that the PMI never said these processes were linear, but this is how people understood them at that time.


The project was set from start to finish from one phase to another. Therefore, I like to explain this framework as the process of making a cake:

Initiation – Let’s make a cake! First, let’s decide on the flavour!

Planning – Ok, what do we need to buy to make this cake? We are making it today, right?

Execution – We are making the cake (yay!)

Closure – the cake is ready. Let’s enjoy!

Monitor & Control – Throughout the project. On initiation (is it worth making the cake?), on planning (are we sure we got everything we need?) Execution (let’s check on the time or temperature) closure (is everyone happy with the cake?)


Morris, P. (2013). Reconstructing Project Management. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Sliger, M. (2008). Agile project management and the PMBOK® guide. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2008—North America, Denver, CO. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2004). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide). Newtown Square, Pa: Project Management Institute. APA (6th ed.)

Would you image managing projects without any knowledge of project management? Here how everything started.

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