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Artificial Intelligence in Project Management: What impact will it have?

Artificial Intelligence in Project Management: What impact will it have?

In the latest of his "Future focus in PPM" series Project Management advisor and lecturer, John McGrath looks at the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence in Project Management.

I think that AI is going to have a significant impact on project management in the future. If you think about it, artificial intelligence is changing how we live and work, and it will fundamentally change how we manage projects.

Gardner’s prediction is that by 2030 AI could result in the elimination of about 80% of routine work in project management.

The future workplace will be based on the collaboration between machine intelligence and human intelligence. And if we think about it in terms of project management, we have an art and we have a science to project management. Certainly, nothing will replace human intervention in terms of the art of project management, but I certainly think in terms of the science of project management. that’s where AI can make a valuable contribution. In terms of what that valuable contribution will look like or what it will achieve, I think a lot of it is around the information gathering and the analysis of data. And really what that will give us is more accurate planning and more accurate estimating. A lot of projects contain a significant amount of complexity and we need to carry out simulations of risk or “what-if” analysis and again AI will step up to assist with this.

In fact, anything to do with the identification of risk is a valuable asset in project management and whether we like it or not as project managers we all have various biases and this certainly impacts our ability to assess risk.

The idea of having real-time reporting and communication of project, programme, and portfolio status is a real competitive advantage to any organization.

If we think about it, AI is already having a massive impact on other industries, certainly, in terms of the recruitment process. It is highly unlikely that a CV is ever read by a human on the first trawl or on the first analysis of applications.

Where do we start when it comes to Artificial Intelligence in Project Management?

I think the biggest problem for the project management community, whether you’re looking at it as an enterprise PPM developer of software or as an organization, or as a PMO, the big question is where do we start? I think it starts with asking that fundamental question – “Does your organization have a central repository of project management data?” Do you have a single source of truth on all your project raw data information? And if you do, you can straightaway start using AI to process large amounts of data, finding patterns in your data, and making predictions based on that data.

If we think about it, project management is all about trying to predict the future. None of us have a crystal ball to do it, but we are expected to forecast project scenarios and outcomes and to predict the impact of risks and issues. We often have to estimate risk with incorrect or inadequate information, and really, these different elements are the critical building blocks of project management, and AI can certainly assist with those.

The workplace of the future

We are already acutely aware that the workplace of the future will be built on the collaboration between humans and machines. We also know that project management is as much an art as it is a science and that while AI may impact or even take over the science of project management, it will never replace the ability to lead and influence people. That fundamentally is a human endeavor grounded in the project manager’s ability or skill set in emotional intelligence.

Helping information gathering

Certainly, one of the areas where we will see AI assist in Project management is in information gathering; in terms of estimation, in terms of performing a “what-if” analysis, or a simulation of various options in project management. Certainly, in the identification of risk and probably most important in the real-time reporting and communicating of project, programme, and portfolio status. We will have live health checks across the project, across the program, and across the portfolio and how those projects are contributing to a strategic objective.

We should not be afraid of AI or look at AI as having a negative impact. Think of how AI has assisted the recruitment process. You rarely find a HR person trawling through hundreds or thousands of CVs. AI does the first cull and goes through and looks for keywords, etc. leaving the human to carry out the more significant or important task.

Obvious cases for the application of Artificial Intelligence in Project Management

If you think about it, forecasting project scenarios, you know predicting the impact from risk and issues, estimating work, etc., these are critical building blocks in project management and they’re all an obvious use case for the application of AI. I would go further as to say that the impact of AI in project management may be much broader and may truly disrupt how we run projects.

On one level, AI may just become a new tool or just a new methodology, but instead, on the other side, we may see that it fundamentally redefines our entire approach to project management and even the profession itself. I think it is very important that we see AI as a win, as an advantage to project management.

The body of research is conclusive in identifying that project managers tend to spend about half their time on administrative routine tasks. If we can get AI to assist with that 50%, we will be spending more time on project execution, more time engaging with project teams and stakeholders, and thereby creating more successful project outcomes.