Project Management Institute

Great projects of China



Spurred by a growing economy, China is rapidly adopting Western technology and terminology to advance project management capabilities—but with its own local twist. I discussed the past, present and future of project management in China with Wu Zhiming, construction management professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, at the September 2006 International Project Management Forum in Hong Kong.

How did the concept of project management apply in ancient China?

Mr. Wu: Although the term project management was coined in the West, the concept has been present since ancient China. For most, the Great Wall will remain the iconic project in the history of China, but there are many other noteworthy projects where project management methodologies were already being used.

One example was the project to reconstruct the palace in BianLiang in the early 12th century. The Song Dynasty minister, Ding Wei, established a comprehensive project implementation plan. When he realized the reconstruction required a large amount of soil, he instructed his men to dig it from the main road near the palace.

After the soil was removed, a large drainage was formed and connected to the main river nearby. This resulting channel served as a water transportation system to ship materials in and out from the project side, which further helped reduce project cost and time.

Upon completion of the project, the team refilled the canal with construction waste and leveled it up to transform the main road to its original condition. Mr. Ding's effective project approach solved major logistical problems by converting project risks into opportunities, which led to overall cost savings.

When and how was the concept of Western project management introduced in China?

Mr. Wu: In the late 1950s, a well-known Chinese mathematician, Hua Luo Geng, introduced the critical path method and program evaluation and review techniques to China. Mr. Hua promoted these concepts, and the results of his efforts are still in effect.

Between 1980 and 1990, modern project management was introduced in China through the Lu Bu Ge project. Funded by the World Bank, the project entailed building a hydroelectric plant at the border between the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. The project became a distinctive success story in the industry and earned the accolades of the former Chinese premier, Li Peng. The project introduced three important systems to China's project management: owner responsibility, construction supervision and contractor bidding.

How do you view the influence of Western project management practices in China today?

Project management in China is at a turning point. Our project histories, experiences and lessons learned have become valuable assets and are part of our heritage. My vision for project management in China is to help growing industries adopt a “Created in China” project management methodology by integrating Western concepts into local practices.

What are some examples of mega projects completed in the last 20 years in China?

Mr. Wu: Along with the Lu Bu Ge project, there were the Three Gorges program, Qing Zang Plateau Railway and Shenzhou-6 spaceship program and others.

How important are China's project management-related certifications?

Mr. Wu: Certifications help project managers stand out in the highly competitive job market. There are currently five different certifications in China: Project Manager Title from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security; Registered Construction Professional and Project Manager from the Ministry of Construction; IT Consultant and Manager from the Ministry of Information Industry; and Registered Consulting Engineer from the Development and Reform Committee and Chinese Association of Consulting Engineers.

What are the major challenges facing project managers in China?

Mr. Wu: As far as standardization and localization are concerned, we have to integrate local issues with elements from the West, but we cannot blindly adopt those methodologies if it conflicts with the local state of affairs. To move forward, project managers must understand the Chinese business world, such as the legal system, the element of good will or quanxi, and the drinking culture.

We also need to update ourselves on the global trends of project management development, including how to further improve people skills and how to innovatively deliver project management education and training to all levels of stakeholders. I hope to see more constructive discussions—via the Internet, conferences, seminars and publications—on the process of standardization and localization of project management in China and southeast Asia. PM


S.K. Khor, PMP, is founder of Asia ICT Project Management Sdn. Bhd, Selangor, Malaysia. He also is regional chair-Asia Pacific of the PMI Information Technology and Telecom Specific Interest Group.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




Related Content