In particular, how were large-scale operations like war campaigns organized, how were logistics tracked, and how did people ensure that complex chains of time-sensitive events were carried out correctly? What pen and paper (or other) methods existed?

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    Bureaucracy and the staff system didn't require computing, nor business systems. The information management techniques such as list making, card cataloguing, or filing were developed on top of the hierarchical headquarters systems and French / German staff systems of the 19th century. That time-sensitive events will not be carried out correctly is a military truism ("Friction"), and for an excellent example of the failure of a 19th century staff / logistics system Zola's The Debacle accounts for the failure of the French in the Fraco-Prussian war. Aug 6, 2014 at 21:01
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    Computers were originally (mostly) female clerks sitting in front of a mechanical (!) adding machine. For reference, see any detailed history of Bletchley Park during WWII, or Feynman's memoirs of Los Alamos: Surely you're joking, Mr. Fenman. Aug 7, 2014 at 3:01

1 Answer 1


The Gantt chart was originally a paper based project planning method. The Google article says

The first known tool of this type was developed in 1896 by Karol Adamiecki ... . The chart is named after Henry Gantt (1861–1919), who designed his chart around the years 1910–1915.

It continues

One of the first major applications of Gantt charts was by the United States during World War I ...

Gantt charts are sufficient (but a little out of fashion) for many projects, but as you begin to seek an optimal solution (in time, materials, people), more powerful tools become worthwhile.

The two most common techniques (often used together) are the Program evaluation and review technique (PERT) and the Critical path method.

Development and early use of PERT:

The Navy's Special Projects Office, charged with developing the Polaris-Submarine weapon system and the Fleet Ballistic Missile capability, has developed a statistical technique for measuring and forecasting progress in research and development programs. This program evaluation and review technique (code-named PERT) is applied as a decision-making tool designed to save time in achieving end-objectives, and is of particular interest to those engaged in research and development programs for which time is a critical factor.

Development and early use of Critical path method:

The precursors of what came to be known as Critical Path were developed and put into practice by DuPont between 1940 and 1943 and contributed to the success of the Manhattan Project.

Each of these tools were originally manual, but since they are strongly prescriptive techniques, they are readily implemented in software. For example, I recall that ICL had a PERT product in the mid-1970's.

  • Do you have examples of specific techniques used in planning before the 20th century?
    – Linda H
    Aug 20, 2014 at 2:05
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    No. I have answered using my own expertise supported by references, and was not able to locate more information easily. I would have thought more would be available, for example on military planning, or building cathedrals and the pyramids, but didn't find anything. I seem to recall some archeological evidence regarding the pyramids but couldn't find any thing.
    – andy256
    Aug 20, 2014 at 7:30

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