A Brief History of Project Management Methodologies

March 14, 2024 · 5 min read

Today, let’s delve into the brief history of project management and see how various methodologies and standards have shaped the field.

The Foundations of Project Management in Ancient Egypt

Long before the PMI or PRINCE2, the ancient Egyptians mastered the art of project management. Around 2580–2560 BCE, the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, showcased their proficiency. 

This was a real project, as there was uncertainty, since no one had built such huge pyramids before, and there was a time limit, as it was necessary to finish before the death of the pharaoh. 

The pyramid's construction necessitated the coordination of thousands of workers, the sourcing of massive limestone blocks, and the innovative use of early project management tools. These included the alignment of the pyramid to the cardinal points using the stars, the establishment of a complex logistics network for the transportation of materials, and a structured workforce divided into teams with specific roles. 

The pharaohs and their architects acted as the project sponsors and managers, setting forth the vision and overseeing its execution.

The Emergence of Modern Project Management Methodologies

Fast forward to 1975 in the USA, and we witness the birth of the PMI, a significant milestone in the formalization of project management. This organization later introduced the PMP certification, setting a global benchmark for project management excellence. 

Despite its rigorous requirements, the PMP certification gained worldwide recognition, underlining the value employers place on standardized project management competencies.

The Cold War era brought further developments, with PMI's growth paralleling significant technological and organizational advancements. In 1989, the United Kingdom introduced PRINCE2, a structured project management method that quickly became essential in government contracts, emphasizing the importance of process-based approaches in project management.

project management history

By the mid-1990s, corporate giants like Microsoft and IBM were developing their methodologies, such as the Rational Unified Process (RUP) and the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF). These methodologies reflected the industry's need for flexible and adaptive project management approaches, catering to the complex demands of software development and IT projects.

The Agile Revolution

In 2001, a counter-movement began with the creation of the Agile Manifesto as a reaction from engineers who tried to say the following: “Managers, stop telling us how to manage projects. You don't understand how engineering works. Maybe we can tell you how to let us do our job?”

This manifesto was a response from engineers to management practices they found restrictive, advocating for a more flexible, collaborative approach to project work. Emphasizing principles over rigid processes, Agile introduced methodologies like Scrum, which tend to implement these principles in practical ways. 

This had a very positive impact. Initially strict standards, like the very serious and bureaucratic PMBOK, were brought into sense. Starting with the third edition of PMBOK, it changed quite significantly, particularly focusing more on the customer. 

It was Agile that emphasized that we work for the user, who should be the center of attention. By the sixth (latest) edition of PMBOK, there is even an Agile Practice Guide at the end of the book, spanning 100 pages.

The Importance of Project Management Methodologies

Besides, it's important to understand the benefit of a standard. When you have a standard, you understand each other well even if you, your team members, and the client are geographically far away from each other. The client is in the US, part of the team in India, the other is in Poland. And we all work according to one standard, which means we think alike, pay attention to the same things, and use the same terms to refer to the same thing.

The Quest for a Universal Standard

Of course, there was a thought to create a global standard for project management, which did not happen. In our view, this is good because it prevents standards from stagnating and helps them to develop. 

However, PMI's standards have achieved notable recognition, endorsed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 2007, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2011, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 2012, signifying their wide acceptance and applicability. So, now, saying that you are using PMI standards means you are using ISO standards too.


While there are many project management standards, all of them are very similar to each other. If you know the PMI standard 100%, you know about 80% of PRINCE2, and about 90% of IPMA, because they share many similarities. 

Our main conclusion is that you can learn any approach. They are neither bad nor good. They are all roughly about the same thing. Knowing one approach, you practically know them all.

🔎 Read our next article in this series: “The “Egg Principle” in Project Management”

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