September 5, 2023 | Project, Program, Portfolio Management
With over 30 years of experience in the Information Technology field, I have found it necessary to reinvent myself on more than one occasion as new methodologies, technologies, and solutions gain critical mass in the market. Managing projects has been a common thread throughout my career where I have had the opportunity to lead efforts using various methodologies and mindsets from Waterfall, through Rapid Application Development (RAD), and now Agile. A consistent expectation early in my career was that project managers possessed in-depth knowledge of many disciplines, a “Swiss Army” knife of skills in the toolbox to deliver a project. This seems to have changed over the years to a more specialized role focused on planning, scheduling, and risk management.
Project management appears to be poised to benefit from enhanced tools and practices due to the increasing impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Routine project management tasks will likely be automated and project managers will be provided real-time insights, changing the nature of the role that has been a staple throughout my career. In this blog post, I will explore the various predictions for when and how the project manager’s role will change, and how professionals like me can prepare for these changes.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
Gartner defines Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the application of ‘advanced analysis and logic-based techniques, including machine learning, to interpret events, support and automate decisions, and take actions.’ AI is a big overarching term used to discuss techniques that mimic human ‘intelligence’ such as pattern recognition, language processing in a more practical and efficient manner.
AI is bound to strict logic such as rules-based frameworks that are reliant on accurate human input. So far AI has largely been limited to repetitive tasks and will evolve to undertake more complex tasks where more nuance is required.
Predictions for When Changes Will Occur
AI has been around for years especially as we consider how long social media companies have been leveraging different aspects of its capabilities. The integration into project management tools has not matured quite as quickly, but things are about to change. According to the Standish Group, only 35% of projects are considered successful and with approximately $48 trillion invested in projects annually, the wasted resources and unrealized benefits are difficult to ignore. And it’s not just my opinion, here are just a few references:
- “By 2023, AI-enabled project management platforms will reduce project failure rates by 30%
- “By 2024, AI-enabled project management platforms will be the primary means of monitoring and controlling project progress.” (ProjectManagement.com – How AI will help Project Planning)
Program Management Institute (PMI):
- “By 2027, 80% of project management tasks will be automated, resulting in more efficient use of resources.”(ProjectManagement.com – How AI will help Project Planning)
As you can see, the experts are predicting some fairly significant improvements in a fairly short period of time. As AI-enhanced systems become more sophisticated and widespread, the expectation is that project managers will need to adapt to new responsibilities and learn new skills in order to take advantage of the benefits of AI technology. Although I agree that realized benefits will be improved, being efficient doesn’t always translate to success and the forecasted timing doesn’t acknowledge a ramp up that occurs when adopting a new technology.
The Case for Change
Improving the success rate of projects by even just a portion of Gartner’s estimated 30% could equate to trillions of dollars of benefits. It is interesting to note that the capabilities needed to deliver the above predictions already exist; however, they must be tailored and integrated into the project management tools thus ushering in a much-needed higher level of maturity in the tools project managers use.
According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (How AI Will Transform Project Management), there are six key areas that will be disrupted as a result of AI development that will drive greater efficiencies and improved benefits realization assuming that the AI has correct data available:
||Better project selection and prioritization: from the faster identification of launch-ready projects, through success probabilities, balancing of risk, and the removal of human bias|
||Project management office support: from enhanced monitoring, automation of report preparation and distribution, through compliance reporting, and automation via virtual assistants.|
||Improved, faster project definition, planning, and reporting: from the automated collection and analysis of requirements, through scheduling tools, and automated reporting with real-time data|
||Virtual project assistants: from “bots” or assistants that change the human-to-computer interface to simplify time and task tracking, to using existing data to learn and improve the quality of information captured|
||Advanced testing systems and software: that will leverage automation libraries to detect and potentially correct defects, reduce time spent on testing, and deliver error-free solutions|
||A new role for the project manager: shifting away from administrative work through an understanding of the AI technologies to focus on benefits realization, interpersonal skills, leadership capabilities, strategic thinking, and business acumen|
Skills needed for the Project Manager of the future
I have read a number of research papers and various articles to help me anticipate the expected changes and found slightly different perspectives regarding the skills needed for the future. To help make sense of the materials, I decided that consolidating and summarizing the information would be a good task for ChatGPT. The following is an abbreviated version of ChatGPT’s response:
||Data analysis – the ability to interpret data and utilize the insights|
||Technical knowledge – a fundamental understanding of the underlying technology that powers AI|
||Collaborative skills – the ability to effectively communicate and work among and across teams in a cooperative manner|
||Creativity – the ability to develop innovative solutions to complex challenges that cannot be addressed by automation|
||Critical thinking – With AI’s ability to provide real-time insights, project managers need to have critical thinking skills to evaluate and interpret the data provided by AI systems to make informed decisions.|
||Change management – Implementing AI-based project management systems will require changes in workflows, processes, and roles. Project managers need to have change management skills to effectively manage these changes and ensure a smooth transition to new systems.|
Overall, project managers need to have a combination of technical, analytical, and interpersonal skills to effectively leverage the benefits of AI in project management. By developing these skills, project managers can ensure that they are well-equipped to navigate the changing landscape of project management in the AI era.
Chat GPT’s response did track with the materials I have read even though I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. I did notice that the skills listed are more representative of the early days of my career where project managers were expected to have a “Swiss Army” knife in the toolbox that spanned technical, behavioral, and soft skills.
Implications for the Project Manager’s Role
Technology in general has become increasingly capable and complex, which may be one reason for the shift to specialization over the years even for project managers. I also believe the speed at which business changes has created an additional level of difficulty for project managers. Customers have become accustomed to almost immediate responses to their needs which can translate into shifting priorities accompanied by the ripple effects on plans, schedules, and resources.
For many, artificial intelligence may be the welcome advancement to a project manager’s toolkit to help them keep up with the speed of business. With AI-enabled tools poised to take over many routine project management tasks such as scheduling, status reporting, and forecasting financials, project managers will be able to allocate more time to risk management, stakeholder engagement, and leveraging data to inform better decisions.
Of the six skills noted, I would suggest the first five are already embodied in today’s skilled project manager. Change management may be the one skill that is actually new for many project managers. I believe it may be the most important skill since it goes beyond process, tools, and roles to address the needs of individuals who must adopt the change, so it can be sustained over time which is crucial for benefits realization.
As with any profession, project managers need to remain current on emerging technology and processes. I expect that AI-enabled tools will eventually be able to perform many of the routine and repetitive tasks for project managers much in the same way machines and robots have taken over routine and highly repetitive tasks in manufacturing facilities.
The change management discipline has matured over the last 25 years improving our understanding of organizational change and its best practices. All of which are focused on navigating the challenges at both the organizational and individual levels with the ultimate goal of making organizations successful. I will be ensuring that I am versed in those best practices and well positioned to make the transition from the tactical and administrative to the soft skills and strategic activities.
The impact of AI-enabled project management tools will feel different for each project manager based on experience, receptiveness to change, and the value they perceive as a result of adopting the changes. For me, there clearly is a benefit as well as an acknowledgement that there is still much I need to learn regarding a technology that is as exciting as it is scary. As new capabilities are integrated into the tools, I would anticipate that project managers will be expected to do more, aided by virtual assistants and advisors. The role appears to be shifting back toward individuals that can cover a broader set of disciplines equipped with a proverbial Swiss Army Knife at their disposal. What was old may truly be new again, all aided by a more mature and data-driven project management toolkit.
For more information on how Lake Shore Associates can help you with your project management needs, visit www.lakeshore.is.