Comparing Project Management and Chemical Engineering – Some Observations


By Raju Rao, PMP, SCPM, OPM3 Certified Professional

Chennai, India




Chemical Engineering is now a more century old profession and history has shown that it had to surmount many challenges before being accepted widely. Project Management as a practice started off much later seems to follow a similar trajectory. In this paper a comparison is made of the evolution of the two disciplines, understanding the areas of commonality and some concepts that project management can follow in its practice. One such practice is the concept of ‘unit operations’ which was a principal reason for the widespread use of chemical engineering. Similar to this, it is propounded that we can use the concept of a ’universal process’ in project management which will enable it to be applied as a generic methodology and will go a long way in implementation of any project irrespective of the domain, industry or size.

Historical comparison

Chemical Engineering

The development of chemical engineering as a discipline and practice can be observed through six periods.

  • (1780 -1880 ) The initial years: Saw the emergence of a substantial chemical industry and the new science of chemistry.(6)
  • (1880 -1910) Origins of chemical engineering: A ‘Society of chemical engineers’ was first started in the UK and formal educational courses first offered by Universities in the period 1887 /1888. George Davis first postulates in a series of lectures recognizes that chemical processes could be regarded as combinations or sequences of a comparatively small number of procedures .Before 1905 many universities in the US were offering such courses and this matched the growth of chemical industry. In 1908 the American Institute of Chemical Engineers was formed. (6) )
  • (1910- 1945) Defining a new profession: Major focus was on education. Arthur D Little first coined the term ‘unit operations’ in 1915. Chemical engineering courses were started in various institutions in the US, UK, South Africa, India and Japan. During this period various books were published most notable being Principles of Chemical Engineering, Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook and Chemische Ingenieur–Technik.(6)
  • (1945-1970) Sustained Growth: Substantial spreading of education and awareness around the world occurred. Emergence of Chemical Engineering Science movement .Introduction of principles of transport phenomena and mathematical understanding of chemical engineering. Start of interest in Bio-chemical engineering.(6)
  • (1970-1995) New challenges: Stagnation in growth due to less product development form the sixties, energy prices and safety concerns and pollution control issues became threats to the growth of chemical engineering.(6)
  • (1995-present) A Paradigm shift? The London communiqué signed by eighteen societies of professional chemical engineers around the world review the role of chemical engineers and considered a more holistic approach which included quality of life, employment, economic and social development, protection of the environment and encompassed the essence of sustainable development. (6)

The future looks at various areas of research: energy and natural resources processing, biochemical and biomedical engineering,(1) advanced engineering materials, electronic, photonic and recording materials & devices, environmental protection, safety and hazardous materials, cross-cutting surface and interfacial engineering and computer assisted process control and process engineering. Chemical engineering practice and profession can be expected to move beyond the concept of unit operations, reaction engineering or even a multi-disciplinary approach to solve problems.


To read entire paper (click here)



About the Author

Rpmwj37-Aug2015-Rao-PHOTOaju N Rao

Chennai, India



Raju N Rao
is Founder of Xtraplus Solutions which is involved in consulting and training in Project Management. Raju has presented papers at Global Congresses and has been involved in the development of many standards of PMI particularly OPM3. He often writes for project management journals and is coauthor of two books – Project Management Circa 2025 and Organizational Project Management. He is a PMP, SCPM and a PMI certified OPM3 Professional. He was a Founder Board member of PMI Chennai Chapter, has been on the Leadership Team for Awards for PMI India and Global Advisory Board for OPM3 Professionals. Raju can be reached at [email protected]