Life on the Road: The Mother of All Project Plans

In “The Mother of All Project Plans – Ancient Egypt” Sherry comes to grips with her disinterest in ancient sites.  By comparing her former life as a project manager with that of the ancient Egyptians, she has a new appreciation for the organizational skills it took to produce these massive projects, and in doing so, gains a new found respect for temples.


Text Version: I must confess – I’m not really into ancient sites, it’s just not my thing. I was bored by Pompeii, disinterested in the Parthenon, and I skipped the Roman Forum altogether – for some reason, these places just aren’t as interesting to me as present day culture. I much prefer sitting in a café people watching or trekking to a village and meeting the locals.

[singlepic=970,200,,,right]So when I arrived in Egypt and realized that one of the big draws is all of the ancient temples and sites, I didn’t exactly jump for joy. Sure, I really wanted to see the Pyramids, but beyond that, I honestly really didn’t care too much. However, a portion of the tour was about visiting dozens of these ancient sites and for someone who isn’t a temple person, this was overload. But I did try to enjoy it, and I was rather impressed with how well preserved all of the sites were. And I found that the most intriguing thing for me about temples was how they got there and how long it took them to build it.

In my old life I was a Project Manager. My job was to understand what the customer wanted and break it into hundreds of achievable little tasks that would yield the final product. Some projects were harder than others – some took a couple years while others took a couple months. So, when I started touring around the temples and tombs of Egypt – the one question that kept coming to mind was – “how did they ever put together a project plan for this?

[singlepic=964,200,,,left]Think about it, something like Abu Simbel took about 20 years to build. And with short life spans, that means there was turnover during those 20 years. Plus, it’s a good bet that the original project manager also died before it was completed – so a new person had to take over. Now imagine a project team for a site like the Pyramids included about 50,000 men. My typical project team consisted of 20 people – and with their various issues, that was hard enough to control.

We live in a society today that is all about immediate gratification. I think that’s why I struggled so much in understanding how these temples were ever finished. How in the world did you motivate people to keep working for years, and years, never really seeing the finished product. After the 5th temple I finally had to seek out some answers – so I went to Connie, the high school history teacher in our tour group to ask her how this all worked.

[singlepic=972,200,,,right]Once a King took power, he would decide upon how many ‘structures’ he wanted built. He would then discuss this with his appointed priests and provide them with the authority to get the job done. The priests were really the project managers in this ancient org chart. They were given this job because they were the only people in the community that could read and write, therefore they had a high up position in society and a close relationship with the King. After the Priests drew up the plans, their real work began – gathering labor and making it all happen.

Apparently it was surprisingly easy to acquire labor. Working on a project for the King meant free food and lodging, people took pride in working on a royal project and showing off their workmanship, and finally it gave you some good karma – because in Egypt – it’s all about the afterlife. The issue of turnover due to death or old age wasn’t really an issue either as in those times, kids were trained in their father’s skills – so the child just took over where the father left off. By this theory I would have ended up an Engineer working for Catepillar all my life…that would have been a site!

[singlepic=973,200,,,left]But what happens when the King dies before the work is done – does the work stop – or does it carry on? Apparently the King’s seal is supposed to be good after his death – therefore that approval that the priest got 40 years ago – is still valid and the project should be finished.

By considering how they planned and executed these massive projects helped me visualize it and respect these temples. The Priest’s work was hard – but it demonstrates to me that Project Management is actually an ancient job….and it was a good one to have back then! I still would have liked to see the Priests work breakdown structure, critical path, and gant chart for one of the temple projects.

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3 Comments on "Life on the Road: The Mother of All Project Plans"

  1. Mark H on Fri, 28th May 2010 7:15 pm 

    In contrast to the Egyptian temples, some of the European great cathedrals took centuries to construct necessitating generations of project managers along with generations of stonemasons, architects, workers, glass makers, aculpters and various other trades. That thought blows my mind.

  2. Eating at McDonalds While Traveling Around the World | Ottsworld on Sun, 13th Jun 2010 11:18 pm 

    […] for 11 months and had been in Egypt for a week touring temple after temple. The problem with this…I’m not a ‘temple person’. They don’t really excite me. Sure – I wanted to see the pyramids, but the other stuff was just […]

  3. McDonalds and the RTW Traveler | We Blog The World on Sun, 18th Jul 2010 6:02 pm 

    […] for 11 months and had been in Egypt for a week touring temple after temple. The problem with this…I’m not a ‘temple person’. They don’t really excite me. Sure – I wanted to see the pyramids, but the other stuff was just […]

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