Project Management Strategy: Lessons From History

The First Jeep by Paul Bruno
The First Jeep (Project Management in History Series) by Paul Bruno

Does your organization emphasize the importance of lessons learned? What about best practices? Many organizations pay lip service to learning from the past. Aside from occasional references to past project failures, few project management organizations give much thought to learning about the past.

Today’s featured guest, Paul Bruno, shows that project managers can learn lessons from the past. Paul is a kindred spirit who understands the importance of history to understanding the world and becoming better at our work. In this interview, we cover Paul’s experience, learn about his new book “The First Jeep” and find project management lessons from history.

Click to read the interview below.

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The Sir John A. MacDonald Guide To Project Vision

Let me propose something shocking. That the political world has project vision insights to learn and apply. Even more unusual, I’m going back to the nineteenth century once more.

You’re not going to read about the telegraph or the Great Exhibition today. Instead, you’re going to learn directly from a single person. We’re going to study the life and accomplishments of Sir John A MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister.

John A MacDonald Had Project VisionWhy am I interested in MacDonald? I’m Canadian and a history buff, so that’s half of my interest. Beyond that, I read Richard Gwyn’s outstanding biography, John A: The Man Who Made Us, in 2012. I was deeply impressed by Gwyn’s assessment. Unlike America where George Washington’s contribution has been celebrated for eternity, Canadians have struggled to give MacDonald his due.

This article has plenty to teach you about project vision. Even if you’re not Canadian. Even if you’ve never heard of Sir John A. MacDonald before reading this article. Let’s consider just a few of his accomplishments from his long career in public life.

  • Transformed a series of colonies into Canada
  • Led the effort to build a railway across Canada in a time when the land was uncharted and dangerous
  • Founded the world’s first sustainable and democratic society that accepted different languages and nationalities
  • Served as Prime Minister for 19 years

Here’s what you’re going to get from reading this article. You’re going to learn some history, that much is a given. You’re also going to learn some important leadership ideas. Even more important, you’re going to learn leadership stories and examples from the man who established Canada.

Read on to learn:

  1. How To Write A Project Vision: Confederation
  2. How To Choose A Project To Execute The Project Vision: The Pacific Railway

This is going to be good. It’s like the history class you never had in school.

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The Great Exhibition Guide To Memorable Projects

The World Cup. The Olympics. Elections. What’s the common thread? They are all memorable events.

The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace How To Project Manage An Event
The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, 1851

The Great Exhibition of 1851 stands in their company as one of the world’s great events. Held in London, the Great Exhibition attracted visitors from around the world. Measured by attendance and revenue, the event was a great success. Six million people visited the Exhibition, many of them traveling by train. In a way, the Great Exhibition created the modern tourism industry of packaged tours and transportation.

Unlike other events, the Great Exhibition created a lasting impact. The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum were established based on the proceeds of the event. Its great success is worthy of further study. Consider this article when you organize your next event.

I will discuss four aspects of the Great Exhibition that relate to project management. These ideas have the greatest application for a public event. With some creativity, you can apply these concepts to a private corporate event too.

In short, here is what you learn in reading about the Great Exhibition of 1851. The nineteenth century is full of lessons for the determined person.

  1. Assembling The Dream Team For Your Project
  2. Planning The Great Exhibition – A Project Planning Case Study
  3. The Grand Opening of the Great Exhibition: A Project Lesson In Showmanship

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Project Management Ideas From The First World War

The First World War changed the world forever. Historians have published thousands of books on the war. For Britain and Canada, the toll of the war has never been matched. The First World War has profound project management ideas for us to consider.

Learning Project Management Lessons From The First World WarIn this article, I will draw on several sources for background about the conflict. In university, I studied and wrote about the conflict several times. Some of my recent biography reading has also featured the war prominently. A few years ago, I read “Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World“ by Margaret MacMillan about the peace conference that followed the war. Last year, I read “Churchill” by Martin Gilbert which reminded me of the important role Churchill played in the First World War. Earlier this month, I read “Lord Beaverbrook,” by David Adams Richards. My perspective will focus on the British and Canadian experience of the war.

Get ready for a long read today.

I suggest you get a cup of coffee right now.

Got your beverage of choice ready? Read on!.

In this article, you will learn four important project management ideas from the First World War.

  1. Managing Project Management Stakeholders Like The Great Powers
  2. Coping With Project Stress: Fighting Through Trench Warfare
  3. Managing the Home Front For Project Success
  4. Develop Your Peace Conference Strategy: Preparing For The Project Conclusion

How To Manage Project Management Stakeholders Like The Great Powers

Every history course I ever took discussed the alliance system leading up to the First World War. There’s a good reason for that continuing emphasis. All of the Great Powers sought allies. Even the isolationist United Kingdom found allies. No large project is done alone. Everybody needs allies. In that light, consider two case studies of war alliances.

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The Victorian Internet Guide To Project Management Techniques

What project management techniques can we learn from the telegraph? I mean the nineteenth century communications technology, not the British newspaper. In an era before the Project Management Institute, vast telegraph networks were constructed. Over one hundred years ago, there were global networks that delivered messages in a matter of minutes. Let’s explore the obstacles and achievements of telegraphy for inspiration and instruction that we can apply in our projects.

The Telegraph Can Teach Us Project Management TechniquesMy fascination with telegraphy dates back to 2006.  I read Tom Standage’s book, “The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-Line Pioneers,” and was pulled into the sweeping story. I have long been interested in the history of the 19th century and communications, so this book was a great fit for me.

As a staff writer for the Economist, Standage tells the story well. That book will be my key resource for this article. Standage makes the interesting argument that a Victorian visitor to our time would not be shocked by the Internet. He surmises that Queen Victoria would regard the Internet as little more than a more powerful telegraph. What a humbling observation!

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

– Cicero, Roman politician and author

What project management techniques can we learn from the history of the telegraph? There are three lessons for us to consider. The cultural impact of technological change is the first point. How to respond to project management failures is the second insight. Third, the inspiration to search far and wide for ideas during project brainstorming. I’ve learned a great deal about culture and change from the telegraph – let’s get started.

1) Two Sides To Project Management Change: Technology and People

Implementing new technology is an important part of the project management techniques toolbox. Broadly speaking, there are two dimensions to new technology success – technical and cultural. Project success requires integrating both dimensions. Let’s start by looking at the technical aspect of project management change first.

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The Bastille Day Guide to Project Planning

Project Planning The Bastille Day WayBastille Day commemorates a key point in the French Revolution: we can also learn project planning lessons from this event. Why write about Bastille Day? It’s the national holiday of France (and one that I’ve observed the Bastille Day Military Parade in Paris). Anything that attracts that much attention from so many people has lessons for me to learn. Over through this article, I’ll imagine what might have been like to be an idealistic revolutionary storming the Bastille. My approach here is best thought of as “inspired by true events” rather than attempting to write a book length treatment.

Let’s set part of the historical context for the event before we get into exploring Before we go further, I will set the stage for key events leading up to the Storming of the Bastille. The Bastille itself was a fortified structure in Paris that was known as a prison. At the time of the Revolution, less than twenty prisoners were in custody. So why bother embarking on such a dangerous personal project at all? There are few reasons for embarking on such a challenging project.

From my reading, there was a symbolic and practical reason to attack the Bastille. The popular appeal of attacking a symbol of oppression is difficult to overstate – consider the popular dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 for a modern parallel. On a practical level, the Bastille had a cache of weapons and ammunition.  In light of the Revolutionary France’s great success with mass conscription, this assumption appears almost reasonable in hindsight.

For history buffs like me, it’s interesting to note that commemoration of Bastille Day has a complex history of its own. The event was marked for the first time in 1790 – an event known as the Celebration of the Federation. As the French government put it: “[the event] celebrated the short-lived success of the constitutional monarchy.” Since the nineteenth century, the official meaning of 14 July has changed. The official website of France puts it in these terms: “For the French, it symbolises the end of absolute monarchy and the beginning of the Republic.” Without further ado, let’s explore the lessons from this event.

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