Easier, Better, Faster: AI in Project Management
A Google search for "AI and project management" brings up millions of articles about the subject. Even from a cursory look at the headlines, you can see project management professionals feel conflicted about the rise of artificial intelligence.
While many project managers are excited about how much easier and efficient their jobs may become, others seem skeptical — and worry AI will take their jobs. “It’s impressive, and sort of unsettling,” writes Meeta Sharma at Brightpod, “to see the extent to which smart machines are taking over so many of the day-to-day jobs across the world.”
There's no doubt that AI is here to change the way businesses oversee projects. Here we explore some of those changes and predict what everyday life will soon look like for project managers.
AI Will Free Up Time
Vegard Kolbjørnsrud, Richard Amico, and Robert J. Thomas, and writing at Harvard Business Review, report that project managers spend over half of their productive time on administrative tasks. The Accenture researchers argue that managers at any level who want to remain successful will let the bots do this kind of work.
For example, some project managers spend hours putting reports together. With improved AI, the software will be able to carry out all or most of these arduous tasks. In return, the PM can spend more time motivating their team, designing effective strategies and solving problems.
Another way AI will help save time is by cutting down on the number of apps you use in a day. Think about how much time you spend switching among the six or more apps you use at work.
Right now, you may have to move information across apps that don't play nicely together. Sometimes, you have to go searching through your various apps to find that one piece of information you need. It's a waste of your valuable time, and AI is here to help.
Industry analysts Tom Austin, Mark Hung, and Magnus Revang compiled a groundbreaking report that predicts the future of AI in project management.
“Instead of scores or hundreds of apps (of which individuals typically depend on 4-to-6 in any given day), we expect [business] people to rely on multiple agents that will learn their needs and preferences and do their bidding, providing proactive, context-sensitive support almost everywhere,” the researchers write. In fact, they expect this conversational AI to be essential in many workplaces by 2021.
You Can Save Otherwise-Doomed Projects
How many times has a huge problem come seemingly out of nowhere to take your project off track? It’s incredibly stressful and can derail your business. Soon, these last-minute scares will be a thing of the past, thanks to AI.
Well-designed AI can accomplish this because its reporting is just better. A project manager's reporting may slightly change based on how optimistic they feel at the moment. Furthermore, the combined pressure of looming deadlines, frustrating colleagues and home stressors can affect a person's ability to input data accurately. Bots are not subject to these whims.
Greg Bailey, vice president of resource management at ProSymmetry, says that this flawless reporting would lead to better data, which can ultimately allow AI to predict potential problems before they become actual problems.
“An AI-enhanced project management tool could provide realistic and objective reports on project progress every week,” Bailey explains at ITProPortal. “It would warn you of any project delays and carry out analysis of project health before reporting back to you. This would then help with decision making, and cut the chances of project delays and failures.”
If that sounds like a familiar science fiction movie to you, you’re not alone. Management author and founder of Velociteach Andy Crowe says this technology could function much like Minority Report, but without the moral ambiguity.
“Some projects already receive weather, traffic, and shipment notifications to alert them to problems before they manifest,” Crowe writes at LiquidPlanner. “Add to that the possibility of supplier problems, failed quality checks, delays, and personnel issues, and suddenly you have the potential for a robust risk tool.”
If you don’t believe that AI can save your project, consider that it already saves lives. PM consultant Brad Egeland points to emergency dispatchers in Copenhagen who have adopted a tool that can detect over the phone when a caller has gone into cardiac arrest.
“[The] AI was able to detect cardiac arrest with a 95% accuracy, compared to 73% for Copenhagen’s human dispatchers,” Egeland writes. “If AI can save lives like this – apparently 22% more accurately than humans can – can it save or improve project delivery? Probably.”
The same AI that can detect the subtle sounds of cardiac arrest over the phone could almost certainly learn to detect the slight changes in tone that indicate a person isn’t confident in their work. Imagine knowing whether someone on a status call was worried about what they were saying. That’s just one way AI could help project managers plan ahead.
Robots Give the Best Advice
Albert Ponsteen and Jan Willem Tromp, who created the project management system Epicflow, believe that the future of AI is in making project management flow better. They claim that AI will soon “give advice about resource assignments by identifying who has the skills and experience necessary to perform a task, taking into account the current situation.”
In many ways, AI will help project managers make decisions about the people they manage. Yoav Boaz, vice president of product at Clarizen, a collaborative work management solution, explains that AI is able to process incredible amounts of data, which will lead to better management advice.
“The way AI will use data in a project management context is by combining feedback and results from every available source to give algorithmic and precise insight into what actions should be taken next,” Boaz writes.
This in-depth intelligence will give help project managers assign projects, assess timelines and set other expectations. PMs may never again have to worry about whether that one person on their team can actually complete a project on deadline.
Dave Robins, CEO at project management software company Binfire, invites project managers to imagine an AI software that can monitor every employee. Really take a moment to consider how much easier everyday tasks would be.
“It can figure out the capabilities and shortcomings of each one of them, and the team as a whole,” Robins writes. “It can figure out if the project is progressing too slow to make the deadlines or not following the optimum path—and warns the manager and the team to take corrective action before it’s too late. It could use the data from similar projects in the past and guide the team as how to proceed for the best result based on resources the team has at any given time.”
AI Will Make You Better at Your Job
While many people worry about AI taking their jobs, project managers should get excited about the rise of the robots. This emerging technology can make PMs better at their jobs, and might even improve their overall quality of life.
Tom Gruber, AI expert and co-creator of Siri, gave a TED Talk on how AI improves many aspects of life. What he had to say should make project managers feel more at ease: “I think the purpose of AI is to empower humans with machine intelligence. And as machines get smarter, we get smarter.”
He calls this type of technology "humanistic AI." Instead of movie robots that want to destroy humanity, this type of AI gives humans more tools. And when it comes to project management, AI can make project managers more efficient, improving memory and even helping with employee relationships.
Case Studies We Can Learn From
AI is not just some future technology; project managers and other professionals use this technology already. These pioneers have found a lot of success, too.
More than two decades ago, researchers Ayman Morad and Michael Vorster predicted the success of AI in the Project Management Journal. Comparing network-based problem solving to its AI relative, these project management experts saw that AI would enable organizations to efficiently assign tasks and get projects done on time.
Since then, more project managers have used this technology to make their jobs easier:
Ben Davis at Econsultancy found that one AI tool, called Wordsmith, was capable of doing more than he expected. Not only can Wordsmith create automated copy for emails and reports, but it can also inject humor and a more personal touch.
Lili.ai founder Milie Taing was recently recognized for her success in merging AI and project management. The virtual decision assistant she developed has helped clients identify potential risks before they become problems.
In 2016, Microsoft launched an AI tool specifically designed to help marketing agencies manage complex tasks. They call it AXAD. “A business management system is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so AXAD is designed to enable an agency to evolve while preserving and enhancing its core DNA,” says Michal Tekiela, ANEGIS CEO, who worked on this task with Microsoft.
harmon.ie has designed an AI product that helps projects stay on track while keeping humans at the heart of the matter. “By putting the human at the center – and not the technology – we believe AI can help enhance your project management tools and boost your chances of project success,” writes David Lavenda, the company’s co-founder and VP of product strategy.
Don’t Be Afraid of AI
Clearly, the buzz surrounding AI in project management is well warranted. Experts from across the business world agree that it will fundamentally change the way project managers work. However, change is not necessarily a bad thing.
With the right AI, project managers can stop spending so much time with paperwork and start focusing on the more human elements of managing. Plus, robots will soon interact with the endless stream of apps most PMs use for work, assign projects to the right people and warn of potential problems. Overall, these helpful tools will create better project managers.
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