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Why Projects Will Be The Drivers Of Change (& Always Have Been)

Why Projects Will Be The Drivers Of Change (& Always Have Been)

Before we get to the projects, let me tell you a story about work.

Work has always been considered an essential part of being human: a means of providing for food, clothes, and shelter. In the wake of the social turmoil and rising unemployment which led to the February Revolution of 1848 in France, the French socialist leader Louis Blanc argued that human beings have “the right to work”, or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so.

But since the industrial revolution, workers have been progressively reduced to numbers, headcount, assets, fixed costs; organizations have been driven primarily by targets and control systems.

Significant innovations in management have mostly focused on doing the work faster and more cheaply.

Most management theories revolved around the organization’s purpose to increase shareholder value. Productivity, efficiency gains, and short-termism would take place of pride for decades, mostly at the expense of employees—the human and social side of organizations.

Many organizations lost sight of this:

“The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary human beings to do extraordinary things”
-Peter Drucker

The impact of globalization and technological advancements, with thousands of companies collapsing and millions of jobs vanishing in western economies, has caused an enormous loss of confidence in capitalism and western leaders. And according to Silicon Valley futurists, over the next 10 years, societies will experience more change than in the past two and a half centuries.

More change, at a greater speed than ever!

Despite this daunting outlook, let me put forward one idea that can inspire us to remain positive and prompt us to action.

There is one model of productive collaboration, a method of work to generate value, that has remained constant over centuries, irrespective of organizational fashions.

This universal method of working and organizing work is the project.

Project-based work has been the engine that turned ideas into reality and generated the major accomplishments in our civilization.

I’ll show you how.

7 Projects That Shaped World Civilization

Symbolically, there are two major projects considered as the first megaprojects in history. I’ll start with those, followed by other ancient projects that have survived the age of time and have become landmarks of civilization.

Project 1: The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China was built between 250 BC and AD 1450 as protection against invading Mongolian forces and other nomadic groups. The stone walls span over 6,000 kilometers and it remains the longest structure ever built.

Project 2: The Great Pyramid of Giza

The second is the Great Pyramid of Giza (finished around 2560 BC), constructed in only 20 years with the goal of serving as the tomb of the Pharaoh. It was made from 2.3 million limestone blocks, which were sourced and lifted by human hands from over 800 kilometers away. The pyramid remained the tallest human-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years, unsurpassed until the 160-meter-tall spire of Lincoln Cathedral was completed in around 1300.

Project 3: The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in India, built in the mid-1600s by the Fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, as a tribute to his third wife. It took 22 years to be built and required a workforce of 20,000.

Project 4: The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was completed in the 6th century under the instruction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.

Project 5 The Colosseum

The Colosseum in Rome was built between AD 70 and 80 during the period of the Roman Empire. 

Project 6: The City of Teotihuacan

The city of Teotihuacan in Mexico is thought to have been established in 100 BC and may have had a population of 200,000 at its peak in AD 450.

Project 7: Macchu Picchu

Machu Picchu in Peru, also known as the Lost City of the Incas, was an entire city located 2,340 meters above sea level.

In addition to these, we can also count the many cathedrals that have survived to modern times are also historic projects, St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican being one of the most famous.

Why These “Megaprojects” Matter For Project Managers Today

These remarkable creations were designed and created by engineers, architects, and craftspeople. Yet, to be successful, they applied project management principles and concepts.

For example:

  • Their overseers had to manage and motivate thousands of workers for many years and communicate regularly with the chief, leader or commander to ensure their expectations were met.
  • They didn’t have unlimited budgets, they didn’t have a predominantly slave workforce and they didn’t have unlimited time.
  • They were also extremely focused on quality, to ensure that the construction was of sufficient quality to resist wars and natural disasters.

Without a good understanding of all of these principles, these projects would never have succeeded.

Today, we talk about “megaprojects”—projects with a budget of more than $1 billion dollars that attract significant public attention due to their substantial impact on communities, environment, and budgets.

Examples of megaprojects include railways, airports, seaports, power plants, oil and natural gas extraction projects, public buildings, aerospace projects, and smart cities.

Their numbers have become ever larger that the megaprojects that came before, but the fundamental truths of projects and how best to manage them remain the same.