The word "project" is really starting to piss me off
April 30, 2010 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Business etymology: When and how did the word "project" get turned into an all-purpose business word? Why does it seem that "work" is now just a series of "projects." Is this word choice shifting the way business is done, or is it the other way 'round?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say early 90s, without looking to hard for supporting documentation. That was a huge wave of flattening of management, and a time when management by objective MBAs were coming out of even small, third rate B schools.

With a flat organization, the new mid level manager was now a "project manager" with the advantage to the organization that as projects ended, successful ones got bonuses & others didn't and then new projects would be assigned based on past performance but without necessarily having to move a manager "up" in position.

I've been out of the corporate world for 10 years, but I hear 15 to 20 year old concepts coming into university administration, so I am guessing that Project Management is waning in the private sector and will soon become the standard for academia.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:07 PM on April 30, 2010

Can you give some examples?
posted by geoff. at 5:33 PM on April 30, 2010

I agree with beelzbubba on the timing and furthermore I would say that this is largely due to Jack Welch's tenure at General Electric in the 1980s. He flattened management hierarchies significantly and instituted Six Sigma project management. The 1990s saw most large companies following his lead.
posted by kindall at 5:36 PM on April 30, 2010

CPB, I've got nothing to add on when this happened - I started my professional life in '91 so I've always taken it to be normative.

But what I would add is that by characterizing work as a "project" a principal achieves two goals: one, making something, in some vague way, "measurable" since a project is desecrate event, and two, reinforcing the reigning corporate zeitgeist that treats employees as solutions to be attached to a particular problem rather than as fixed resources (and, hence costs). Both views reinforce how expendable the average worker is, which ups the motivation of said average worker to do anything they can to keep their job, no matter how shitty.

Just my rupee .05....
posted by digitalprimate at 5:50 PM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Perhaps this is a result of the shift in the US away from a manufacturing-centric economy?

When I think of "work," I think of an assembly line. When I think of a "project," I think of designing a new product, install a new IT system or acquiring a company. As the labor force ages and the manufacturing base shrinks, most people will have never encountered "work," only "projects." And the result is the shift in language you've noticed.

That's just my guess.
posted by mullacc at 2:31 AM on May 1, 2010

« Older buying a wooden ship model   |   Need a Dell charger part Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.