What if the Concept of Project Management Didn’t Exist?

Modern-day project management is roughly seventy years old and is evolving on a continuous basis. From traditional process and methodology-driven approaches to more flexible, agile-based approaches and various in-betweens, there is no shortage of prescriptions on how project management should be done or how projects should be delivered.

It is so pervasive that project management is used for all sorts of ventures, be they commercial, governmental, or not-for-profit. All sectors of the economy and industrial segments seem to use project management in one way or the other and benefit from its philosophy. Not surprisingly, project management is adopted for complex, complicated, and simple matters, including (but not limited to) sending rocket ships to other planets, healthcare problem solutions, education, construction, or more simple things like maintaining gardens (if it ever was simple to do gardening), and so on and so forth. The list is long, broad, and varied, to say the least.

That situation raises several questions.

As modern-day project management is roughly 70 years old, what was before that? How were (uncountable) projects delivering structures such as pyramids, mega colosseums, and Eifel tower, just to name a few, completed after all?

The term “project management” was coined in the early 20th century, so how was it called, perceived, or understood before the formal establishment of project management as we know it now? Does it really matter if it is not called project management? Has anything changed since it was officially conceptualized as project management? All these questions lead to an overarching question: What if the concept of project management had not existed?

Certainly, it is not an easy question to answer, but to start the conversation, at least there are two ways to look at it: conceptual and practical.

At the conceptual level, defining and naming abstractions is an extremely important task towards solving day-to-day practical problems. It helps create a common understanding and language and facilitates building knowledge in a structured manner to solve problems and support growth activities.

So, if it had not been conceptualized as project management, perhaps it may have been conceptualized as

1) Effort management / Work management or

2) Roll-up-the-sleeves management or a little quirky

3) Don’t Ask Me, Get It Done (DAM GID) management [smartly pronounced as daem gud management].

It seems like no matter what it is called, it will encapsulate some sort of planning, control, and execution. Conceptualizing it as “project management” has provided a platform and language to build on. It is easy to remember and market. Further, by naming the abstraction, it has helped people in developing knowledge, processes, methods, techniques, and logic to give it a sort of structure or boundary. To put it simply, it provides a framework or a skeleton to do further work.

At the practical level, people working in industry require a tool kit to get the job done. The tool kits comprise hard as well as soft tools, i.e., knowledge-driven tools. So, no matter what project management is called, industry needs a tool kit. As long as the tool kit is easy to use and makes sense, industry will embrace it. What that means is that giving existence to an abstraction has far-reaching implications for the growth of industry. Hence, the concept of project management has been helpful for the industry as it provides soft tools to accomplish the work.

The above discussion shows that perhaps asking the question, “What if the concept of project management had not existed?” is helpful from two perspectives:

  • It will help understand the evolution and do some research about the strengths and areas of improvement. That means finding ways and means to improve it further.
  • But more importantly, it is a question that should be asked to set the tone for future developments.

Given the widespread use and variations that exist, it seems there are several avenues for reflection to develop a new stream of knowledge for effort management of non-routine tasks. Thinking about the future and asking, ” What if the concept of project management had not existed?” will help in coming up with new ideas about new ways of working on non-routine tasks. We discuss a few of such avenues below:

  1. Understanding how concepts are formed in other domains or sciences, such as medical science, anthropology, or social sciences, to name a few, is critical because it provides a platform for cross-fertilizing existing knowledge to create something new. The knowledge gained can be used to set the tone for the future evolution of project management
  2. Conducting longitudinal studies on all continents to gain insight into the differences and methods of completing non-routine work.
  3. It is very common for people to not use project management principles and methods to perform non-routine tasks on a day-to-day basis but still get the job done. That provides opportunities to examine behaviours and capture knowledge about why or why not project management is necessary.

Surely, one can say that when people complete non-routine tasks, the stakes may not be that high, as is often the case with business-focused projects. But that does not limit or eliminate the usefulness of understanding the behaviours of people when performing non-routine work, as that understanding can be extrapolated to build new ways of working on projects.


Evolution is a natural phenomenon. With the exponential growth of knowledge across various different domains and sciences, people will naturally be interested in the evolution of project management as a domain. One way to examine evolution is to ask the question that is the core of the discussion in this article.

Answering the question is surely not an easy task. But thinking about the question will help start the thought process on a blank sheet. With that in mind, this article looks at some aspects to answer the question, or at least consider answering it. Trying to find or think about the answer will certainly have implications for both conceptual and practical purposes. Conceptually, the effort may lead to the establishment of a new project management style. Practically, it will lead to having more tools for people to complete non-routine work. Needless to say, the discussion in this article is limited, requiring more thorough thinking yet providing food for thought.

Note: This article was previously published on:


Jiwat Ram
Jiwat Ram
Jiwat is currently working as a Professor in Project management at Excelia Business School France. He did his Ph.D. from the University of South Australia and MBA in International Business from AIT Thailand. Jiwat has over 20 years experience of working in industry across banking, construction, service, and education sectors in an international setting. For the last more than 10 years, Jiwat has worked in academia teaching at Executive Education, Master’s, and bachelor’s levels. His teaching includes courses on Artificial Intelligence, project management, management, and research methodology. Jiwat has published his research work in top-tier, high-impact factor journals including the International Journal of Production Economics, the International Journal of Project Management, Computers in Human Behaviour, the Journal of Global Information Management, and Enterprise Information Systems, among others. Combining academic and non-academic work, he has published over 100 articles in journals, conferences and industry outlets. His published work has been well received and four of his published papers have ranked in the Top 25 most downloaded papers from ScienceDirect. His two papers have been ranked in the Top 25 Most Cited articles as well. Jiwat’s research is focused on the impacts of technologies such as Social Media, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence on businesses and society. Jiwat likes to understand how we can leverage upon the use of innovative technologies for business growth and productivity. Jiwat regularly contributes towards the development of new thought and ideas in business and technology management. As such, he has a growing portfolio of publications on some of the contemporary issues in the management of projects and organizations. Jiwat also publishes his work on social media platform Linkedin to connect and reach out to other industry professionals. His work has received a good following with a significant number of posts cited as reaching top 1% engagement on Linkedin. Jiwat’s content on LinkedIn can be accessed at: #ideannovation_jiwat Please feel free to connect with Jiwat on LinkedIn by clicking on the Icon above.

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  1. Understanding the trends of the next few years for Project management, and which technologies will characterize this sector of the world of work, is not easy.
    A first element that is already changing is that linked to artificial intelligence, destined to reform the discipline of the PMgt, for its ability to computerize the ordinary administration of activities, decide and offer bits of knowledge to those who carry out the projects.
    As for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), they will be a recurring theme in the coming years, which could have a significant effect on the business. This type of technologies are the future for companies, for the design, development and implementation of everything related to the project. However, we are talking about tools that, unlike artificial intelligence, are not yet contemplated by companies.
    Although there is obviously no certainty that innovation will improve project management, and there is no such effective approach as that of human contact to transmit information, these are technologies to be taken into great consideration, the use of which will be the prerogative. of highly qualified subjects in the field.