For all the talk of the benefits of artificial intelligence, its role in project delivery is still to be fully realised, however sharing data from anywhere in the business gives AI a potentially valuable place in the project management office (PMO).

Whether we realise it or not, AI has already proven to be a valuable tool in more accurately, and expediently tracking the progress and project performance across all industry sectors.

By helping to reduce costly mistakes, and better risk analysis, while maximising project productivity and profitability, AI is progressively changing the course of project management practice.

AI can better pick up on slowly evolving trends in data, which while hard to see, may influence how reporting and resource management shift.

Humans vs Machines – Each Serves its Own Purpose

While that’s clearly important, James Dibbs, senior project manager and consultant, says AI should not be allowed to replace or undermine the human element within project delivery.

Vital in ensuring projects remain on track, Dibbs says it’s the human element which allows ‘real people’ to focus on what machines can’t be relied on to do well.

“As predictive automation – that builds a horizon of things to watch out for – AI helps take away a lot of leg-work from the PMO function,” says Dibbs. “But we need to be careful not to take away the thinking, and the ‘interpretation layer’ that will always rely on the human experience.”

While intelligent project assistants such as chatbots will increasingly replace the classic project manager (leading a PMO) and its staff, Dibbs expects the latter to remain relevant in the age of AI/machine learning.

To do so, he urges them to progressively move into work that emphasises their human qualities, like leadership, people and stakeholder management, communication (verbal & non-verbal), storytelling, empathy, emotional intelligence and negotiation.

“It’s the softer skills that ensure the results from AI tools are correctly translated and interpreted,” says Dibbs.

Automation/AI Helps Solve Project Challenges and Bootstrap Business Intelligence

Where AI is arguably having the biggest impact on project delivery is its ability to remove project risk and uncertainty in both project predictions and execution.

AI already has a ubiquitous presence in peoples’ lives through everyday tools used in things like high-speed automated trading, robo-advice, credit card fraud detection, entertainment recommendation algorithms, estimated meal-delivery times, email client’s spam filter, and voice-to-text and virtual assistants, like Siri or Cortana.

Much of this heavy lifting is now taken for granted and proves the ubiquitous nature of AI in the modern work place and beyond and projects are no exception.

Key Developments in the Project Management Space

Project management as an industry has typically been slow to embrace tools that fall under the broad umbrella of AI/machine learning. Having been around since the mid-1980s, AI in project management software is clearly leading the charge in this space.

Chatbots that serve as intelligent project assistants, are the most widespread applications of AI in project management software. Then there are more substantial project management software platforms where AI functionality is embedded within systems.

Once AI Chatbots have been successfully deployed to do everything from taking over menial tasks, through to initial insights into the existing data, the next phase of AI in project management will be the introduction of machine learning into project management practice.

While it’s yet to be comprehensively integrated into project management, first and foremost machine learning enables predictive project analytics.

By increasing the transparency into what the future holds for a project, predictive project analytics will increase the information at the disposal of organisational decision makers and thus serve to enhance the quality of decision making by project managers and their teams.

Hype vs Reality of AI in the Project Management Space

Media hype around AI has created a lot of fear and uncertainty around the erosion of both unskilled and white-collar jobs around the globe. However, According to Gartner, by 2020, AI will generate 2.3 million jobs, exceeding the 1.8 million that it will remove.

Rather than being fearful of AI, project managers and their team members should embrace it to help improve outcomes. Needless to say, the benefits of AI go well beyond the controlled process of automating simple tasks.

Equally important, once they understand the potential of bots and algorithms to gain a better understanding of key project insights, project teams should be able to leverage these insights to perform more complex tasks and make superior recommendations faster with a greater degree of accuracy.

Planning for Bias, Prejudices and Human Error

As with any evolving technology, the speed of its development and application can often supersede concerns around ethics, biases in code development, and the ability of humans to recognise both.

It’s highly critical that positive or negative biases of project management (and their teams) don’t render the interpretation of AI/machine learning data pointless. While there’s no easy fix to the problem of bias, one way is to plan for it. Dibbs suggests that we should always go back to the customer.

Dibbs says by ensuring solutions and the expectations are aligned, biases are less likely to cause any intrinsic problems within the outcomes. To mitigate the risk of bias, Dibbs suggests ensuring the project is in-sync with what the customer is thinking. By ensuring the customer is happy, he says project management will have a much better idea of what success looks like.

“By understanding requirements, rather than just taking an order, project management will provide what customers need, not just what they asked for at the outset,” says Dibbs. “This is something that no amount of AI can do without the human experience at work.”

Is AI Something to be Feared or Embraced?

The future can either be feared or embraced and the uptake of AI in project management is no exception.

The fact is that projects are probably already benefitting from AI and project teams may not even know it. But AI will not be the panacea to fix all project ills; instead it should be seen as another leverage point to improving project outcomes.

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Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...