Operations and Systems Management

Our PhD students

Aidan Turner

  • Role Title: PhD student
  • Address: Richmond Building Portland Street PO1 3DE
  • Telephone: tbc
  • Email: agturner1@hotmail.com
  • Department: Operations and Systems Management
  • Faculty: Portsmouth Business School


Thesis Title: Exploring the roots of Project Management within the UK Navy

What is the nature of the problem?

Project Management textbooks (1) (2) and articles (3) (4) (5) tell us that Modern Project Management began in the 1950s or 1940s at the very earliest. Projects such as Manhattan (1942–46) and Polaris (1955-1960) are often seen as bringing a new level of complexity to man’s endeavours which have necessitated the development of a new discipline, a new kind of management – Project Management.

We know from the Association of Project Management Body of Knowledge (6th Edition) (13)  that ‘a project is a unique, transient endeavour, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits.’ Nowhere does the definition say that in order to be considered a project the activity must demonstrate a certain level of difficulty or complexity. Why then is the perceived increase in complexity of the Manhattan and Polaris projects given as a reason for the development of Project Management?

If we define complexity as the ‘the state or quality of being intricate or complicated’ (Oxford Dictionaries online) (14), then there is truth in the view that complexity is a comparative term. If we are to imagine a situation where a country is undertaking the building of a massive military capability designed to be as big as the next two largest forces combined and at the same time introducing two radical new types of capability derived from the latest scientific developments would this not be ‘complex’? We need not imagine it, this was exactly the case in Britain in the early years of the twentieth century as the country sought to establish the fleet of some 150 warships deployed at the time of the Battle of Jutland (1916), which included both Aircraft Carriers to project the power of the nascent Royal Flying Corps, and the development of the first military use of submarine technology in Britain. Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, who famously served with Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, did indeed have foresight when he said ‘You will see great changes in naval architecture. Some people laugh at science, but science will alter the whole character of the Navy. (6)

The question for this PhD is how did the Navy address and manage the production and introduction of these ‘great changes in naval architecture’ and the ‘character of the Navy’, how were these changes delivered before the birth of Modern Project Management? What lessons can we learn from the Military History of the early 20th century? In addressing this question we will also aim to resolve the question ‘Is it true that Modern Project Management began in the 1940s?’