Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ancient project management

Any one who is on tour to historical monuments, old temples, churches and palaces wonder how those were built during a period when construction machineries, computer and communication devices were not available. I have wondered every time I visited thousands of year old temples in India how they were built during those days. Beautifully carved single stone structures, each weighing several tonnes placed at enormous heights. There is no way they can be built with out precise planning and execution. Because they are sophisticated by their construction and the locations where they built are challenging.
I have searched a lot to find a piece of graphic which illustrates the planning done on any of such great projects. But sadly I couldn’t find any! When history of project management can’t look beyond 1900, what is the purpose of searching for PM documents dated several thousands of years back!
Construction of some of the outstanding historical structures like The Great Pyramid of Giza) is believed to be employed several lakhs(1,00,000) of people. There were extensive studies on the methodologies used for construction (in the absence of machineries) , especially on Egyptian Pyramids. How ever I couldn’t find any research on the project management and labour co-ordination techniques used. A video on ‘Construction of Persepolis’ (built 2500 years back, known as the richest city under the sun !) in ancient Iran indicate that there was proper construction organisation with titles similar to managers and supervisors. Archaeologists have recovered proofs indicating wage system for labourers. Giza Pyramid construction workers were believed to be lived near the construction sites in so called ‘Labour camps’.
When archaeologists & scientists are working hard to reveal the technologies (and techniques) used in these ancient ‘Great Projects’ , no one seem to be working on the project management and planning perspective of these jobs.
All the results of my searches related to project management constrained to 19th century. Does this imply that no project management and planning techniques were used in all those magnificent projects which may be extremely challenging even if executed these days?
Well, the socio-economic conditions prevailed in those days were different form today. Most of the ancient great projects were result of an instruction from the ruling King. The most skilled crafts man was chosen to take care of the construction and it was his responsibility to recruit best talent to work under him. Messengers were sent to each village to reach the message of the new project and great crafts men reported the King or his designated Master craftsman.
  •  Motivation? Fear or respect to the King or a mix of both! [Build it , or you are killed ! – haa haa]
  • Fund ? Unlimited funding from the King’s treasure!
  • Quality ? The king won’t compromise for a low grade product! – So best of its kind!
  • Schedule? Yep , there would have been , because the King want to see the result before he dies and probably he want to enjoy the fame of the great creation for as long as it can be !
Some records show details of labour allocation into gangs. An ancient version of Organogram !
Check out the crew allocation diagram for ‘Giza Pyamid Construction Project’:

But how they managed the big picture? Those were not random creations or activities. Coordinated efforts/activities to achieve a well defined outcome. Look at the magnificence and symmetry of great old temples in India! It is evident that a lot of planning and activity sequencing might have taken place. But how they did those? No one knows!
Most of such temples possess the following characteristics:
  • Challenging locations
  • Enormous sizes
  • Overall symmetry in site installations
  • Symmetry in individual structures
  • Minute art works in elements of individual structures

Indian art generally seems to focus on symmetry and detailing. The same reflects on old constructions as well. More over ancient artists/crafts men are fathers of modern engineers! Even renaissance engineers like Da Vinci and Michael Angelo were outstanding artists also apart from being engineers and inventors.
The reason for the non availability of the details of execution of these projects can be:
  • Educated upper society was only interested in the beauty and magnificence of the structures. In short the focus was on design & architecture and not in the methodology of construction.
  • Execution was the responsibility of craftsmen who were generally uneducated.
  • Secrecy: Several techniques were kept as secret among certain ‘Gothras’ or tribes who were specialised in crafts. These techniques were only transmitted from one generation to the next of the same ‘Gothra’
  • It is also debated that rulers kill the creators/crew of great structures once it is completed so that similar kind is not built again (How ever , this is not a proven fact!)
It will be great , if premier PM organizations like PMI take up some research projects on ‘Ancient Project Management’ and extend the history of PM beyond 19th century. It may also bring out some theories which can contribute to modern project management.
 If you have few more moments to spare, just have a look at these outstanding ancient projects. I also recommend you to visit the external links provided at the end of this article.
You may find that ancient Hindu temples tops all the great constructions in terms of beauty , attention to details and sophistication!

 208 BC The first major construction of the Great Wall of China, circa 221-206 BC

 The Colosseum

The Taj Mahal , India 1631-1654

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

 The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
 The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus


Lighthouse of Alexandria

Stonehenge in England, built in several stages from 2800 - 1800 BC

 Petra, the rock-carved city in Jordan, 6th century BC

Parthenon in Athens, Greece, 477 to 438  BC 

  Mayan Temples at Tikal, 700-900

Angkor Wat in Cambodia, 1113-1150

 Cathedral of Chartres, France 1194 to 1260

Machu Picchu, Inca city in Peru, circa 1400s

 Madurai Meenakshi temple, India

 Khajuraho Temple, India

Sun Temple, Konark, Orissa- India
 Prambanan Temple, Indonesia

Nanjundeswara Temple, Mysore, India

Somnatha Temple, Karnataka, India


  1. Beautiful piece. Gives better understanding of where we are coming from in project management so we can understand where we are and how to shape the road map for the future.

  2. Sreejith,

    I agree that such a research will be very valuable. I compared modern Project Management and the ancient Indian epic Ramayana here Read them from 1 to 10.


  3. I was on the look for Generic Cialis information, but I must say that this topic is one of my favorites since a little boy, I pretty sure according on what I read that the dates you posted for many of the ruins are even older, for example the Giza pyramids are probably 13000BC or even more older.


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