Lessons from Past Project Managers: Lillian Gilbreth

Picture of Claudio Gutierrez

Claudio Gutierrez

President & Founder — Valens Project Consulting


This is our ongoing series where we talk about legends in project management. After sharing the stories and teachings of icons like Henry Gantt and Frederick Taylor, we are getting up close and personal with Lillian Gilbreth. Her story is inspiring and a playbook for innovation and putting people first in project management.


The life of Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972) was a pioneer in every sense of the word. She was one of the first female engineers to earn a Ph.D. and also went on to revolutionize industrial and organizational psychology. When working alongside her husband, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, she laid the bricks for what we now know as modern ergonomics and time and motion (or time-motion) studies.


Lillian’s focus on the human side of work made her stand out. She wanted to make the workplace kinder and more humane—not only more efficient. That mix of technical know-how and a big heart was pretty rare for her time and it remains something that still inspires us today.


Valuable Project Management Insights from Lillian Gilbreth’s Legacy

Now, let’s talk about some of the valuable lessons we can draw from Lillian Gilbreth’s work.


Putting people first:

Lillian championed the idea of designing workspaces and processes with workers’ comfort and needs at the forefront. This is a reminder for us in project management always to consider how our decisions and designs affect real people.


Balancing efficiency with empathy:

Lillian showed us that being efficient does not mean you can’t have a heart. Looking out for your team’s needs can actually improve productivity and lead to even better results. It’s about finding that balance between getting things done and looking after the people doing those tasks.


The importance of time studies:

Lillian and Frank were the pioneers of time and motion studies, and they showed the world how to find the most optimal ways to do tasks. This approach can be gold for any project manager who wants to optimize efficiency and productivity.

Time studies are among Gilbreth’s lasting contribution to industrial efficiency.
Never stop learning and adapting:

Lillian Gilbreth continued to learn and adapt over her decades-long career. This is an important lesson for us—staying flexible and constantly seeking knowledge is crucial in the ever-changing world of project management.


Breaking barriers:

As one of the first prominent female engineers, Lillian broke many barriers. Her legacy is a powerful reminder for us to challenge the status quo and welcome diversity in our teams and ways of working.



Final Thoughts

Lillian Gilbreth’s ideas have stood the test of time. Her focus on human-centered design, balancing efficiency with kindness, and pioneering work in time studies still guide us as project managers.


At Valens Project Consulting, we value the insights from past project management pioneers like Lillian Gilbreth. Our consultants use these teachings with modern methods to deliver successful project outcomes. So, if you want to improve your project management with proven techniques, contact us today!


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