Our story starts with a post-mortem on a major ATM project for a financial institution. The solution had been successfully implemented but had failed significantly in operation. The post-mortem concluded that poor decisions earlier in the project design had caused the failure. To help the project sponsors realize their culpability in the project many project case studies were examined where the only one that had close parallels was the sinking of Titanic. The historical case study successfully deflected the finger pointing in a politicized environment reeling from a project failure. It provided a safe way of discussing highly contentious issues. It also introduced the concept of finding lessons from history to explain a contemporary business situation.
After several years of search for a publisher, IBM press, agrees to accept the proposal and the manuscript becomes a publication. During the 18 month publishing cycle another historical case study is identified for a new publication. It readily parallels the concept of an Adaptive Enterprise which is part of a growing trend of transforming organizations to become more agile and responsive to changing market conditions. The most significant discovery is that a contemporary concept had existed 60 years earlier and is an example of “ahead-of-its-time thinking”. The LFH approach used is slightly different to the first publication, so it is documented and recorded. This type of discovery is a very common in business/ management history where the “first-use” of a concept or practice is pushed back with historical research and investigation.
A partnership with MultiMedia Pubs is formulated and is initiated with the publication of a new historical case study based on the UK and how Winston Churchill transformed his organization to an Adaptive Enterprise so it could adapt to an unexpected situation in 1940. Several article streams are created with prominent project management magazines. These develop into an extensive series of articles over several years including Gantthead (25 parts), PM World Journal (20 parts), and Project Manager Today UK (10 parts), Supply and Demand Chain Executives (4 parts) and Data Management Review (10 parts), and several for Canadian national newspapers. The publication is also incorporated into HP Canada’s “Adapt to Change” theme in its overall roll out plan, and presented in a tour to HP clients across Canadian cities.
The second LFH publication wins the Eric Hoffer Book Award– for Business. Several new authors join the team to pursue their publications using the LFH approach, and include case studies in the Polaris Project, the Roman Empire, and the leadership of Winston Churchill linked closely to agile project management. The latter wins an award through the Project Management Association of Canada (PMAC, affiliated to IPMA) in the categories: The Canadian Project Management Book of the Year and Project Management Contextual Competence Award for 2010. LFH case studies are now being presented at numerous conferences as white papers. The concept of using historical case studies with more recent ones in business situations to draw parallels to today’s business challenges is evolving in a unique way. This leads to the development of LFH services which are designed to help organizations learn from the past and move them from the present into the future. One approach is to assess a company's innovation strategy and research, to ensure it is in the right direction.
LFH participation at IRNOP and a working relationship with Salford University, UK, leads to an invitation to complete doctoral studies at Salford Business School within the disciplines of project management, general business management, and history. The working title of A Study of Projects and Project Management from the Past is accepted for the thesis. The principal question of the thesis relates to the relevance of historical projects lessons to contemporary business practice and contemporary project management. A secondary question relates to the development of an approach to studying this. In addressing these questions the thesis examines some of the challenges with contemporary project management literature, and literature that discusses the relevance of historical project lessons including that from other disciplines such as management. The thesis research leads to the publication of an academic white paper in the International Journal of Project Management targeted at project management academics, leaders, and professionals. A new LFH publication Project Impossible incorporates multiple historical case studies that are thematically linked which provides another path for the LFH series.
The initiation of two eLearning courses aimed at project management practitioners is as a result of the success of the series of LFH workshops (8). The first, Managing Large Project Teams: Modern Lessons from the Giza Pyramid Project allows participants to take on the role of the project manager for the construction of the Giza Pyramid. Using the latest available archaeological evidence, the course puts learners into project simulations where they must make a complex series of decisions that could mean the difference between life and death for the workers and that illustrate key techniques in managing large workforces on complex projects that can be applied in modern projects. The second, Innovation in Projects, follows the approach set in Project Impossible of incorporating multiple historical case studies thematically linked (innovation and the First Industrial Revolution). Both courses spawn the development of academic white papers in the subjects.
Exciting possibilities exist with links to the field of business history, to like-minded groups and on-going research. The expansion of eLearning courses will continue but beyond just project management topics into other business and management disciplines. Further courses will likely spawn the development of academic white papers in the subjects. A number of new publications are planned by various LFH authors following established themes and broadening the series.
The concept of identifying lessons within a historical case study for contemporary business purposes had proved very successful. This leads to further extensive research into Titanic's case study but across the whole project (5 years, 1907-12) from initiation to implementation, and this uncovers many further parallels to contemporary projects and the operations interface. Over time this is documented into a white paper, which is then turned into a full manuscript. Importantly, a process for identifying and examining historical lessons is defined and documented into an approach. The Lessons-from-History (LFH) approach is then used to examine historical case studies for contemporary business lessons and this is done with considerable success. The search for a publisher begins but this is not going to be easy as the publication doesn’t fall into one genre but several covering business, management, project management, and history and not in-line with what publishers are searching for.
The publication leads to the first speaking events with chapters of non-profits organizations like the Project management Institute, Professional Engineers, and corporations like IBM and Xerox through forums and conferences, namely at IBM’s Advanced Business Institute conference of 500 attendees. The events prove highly successful and provide feedback on the LFH approach. One major discovery is that many project managers instantly recognize the parallels in the Titanic case study to contemporary project failure simply because they view the case study through a project management lens and have had some exposure to failing projects themselves. The concept of the lens is central to the LFH approach and helps explain it.
Two of the LFH publications are developed into training workshops that will become part of a series of historically based training workshops. Work starts on the flagship publication “History of Project Management” that will take many years of research and writing. In the short term, a new publication is completed related to the Great Escape from a World War II Prisoner-of-War camp. It is serialized in Project Manager Today UK (9 parts). It is also adopted by several universities for teaching project management namely, Master of Science and MBA classes for Project Management. The LFH publications are resonating with primarily an audience of business, IT, and project professionals who are searching for ideas and solutions to common business problems, and looking for some inspiration for their projects, and for how to be successful. The Titanic publication is presented at the PMI North American Global Conference which results in invitations to run training workshops with five different corporate organizations, and numerous PMI chapters.
After 6 years in development the flagship publication The History of Project Management is published, which leads to an invitation for LFH to participate in one of the streams in IRNOP (International Research Network on Organizing by Projects) in Montreal, the leading global academic project management research conference. The theme for the stream is “Project history: expanding the domain of project management by revisiting its past.” A call for more research into historical projects and project management. The two LFH white papers presented in this stream are on the Polaris project, and Building the Case for Historical Project Management. The latter presents evidence from five landmark construction projects to show their relevance to the contemporary practice of project management. This spawns a webinar which receives the “Webinar of the Year Award Winner” from PMAC. Further authors are added to the LFH series and several publications are initiated that include a mini series on the business practices of ancient Rome. The centenary of the 1912 Titanic disaster is a catalyst to move forward with several new publications based on the LFH research completed to date.
The doctoral studies at Salford Business School are completed, and the findings of the thesis are three fold. First, they determine that the best approach for researching historical project management, is qualitative with an interpretivist epistemology. Second, they highlight the most appropriate research methodologies for historical projects and how these evolved through the LFH publications, for example the use of interdisciplinary research. Third, they highlight the various possible qualitative research methods for historical lessons and examine the LFH approach and techniques within LFH publications, the challenges involved, and how learnings were taken from historical projects and then transformed for use in contemporary projects. This provides the impetus to start research and the development of a series of LFH eLearning courses.
The initiation of a new eLearning course, Entrepreneurial Thinking and Customer Management, which examines the benefits of comprehensive customer management through the use of five case studies involving ancient Roman entrepreneurs. This was followed by the development of a number of new presentations namely, The Future of Project Management, The Future of the Business World, Managing Complexity in Projects, Managing Conflict in Projects, Introducing Innovation into Projects, Knowledge Transfer & Share between Projects, and Organizational Design in Project Management. Work started on corresponding workshops, and elearning courses.