Preparing Project Managers for AI

How to prepare your project managers for AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will fundamentally change the way we work in all industries, not just project management. While some are highly optimistic, AI has been a place of contention for project managers. Atlassian research shows that project managers are equally excited yet sceptical of the impact of AI on their jobs. 

Project management as a field will be significantly changing and its future depends on how well AI is not only welcomed, but fully embraced. To fully embrace something is to fully understand its capabilities and our own. With this quick guide, we’ll give you a realistic understanding of the impact of AI on project managers and how best to prepare for the oncoming AI revolution.

How AI is changing the future of jobs

Before diving into project managers specifically, let’s look at how AI is changing the world collectively. A Mckinsey Global Institute report ,‘Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce’, suggests that AI and automation will significantly accelerate the shift in skills in the workforce (see image below).

The report shows that there will be a monumental shift from manual and basic cognitive skills to technological and social skills. For technical skills, advanced IT and programming skills will be the most in-demand, potentially growing by 90% from 2016 to 2030. Sadly, this skill set may be limited to a small minority due to the high barrier of entry. But don’t be discouraged as the demand for basic digital skills is also significant, with increased demand by 69% in the US and 65% in Europe. 

Uniquely, even as we press forward towards a more technologically integrated future – it is our social and emotional skills that we will need to develop more than ever. These are skills that no machine could ever truly replace. There are all kinds of social skills that are in demand, from innate skills such as empathy, to things such as advanced communications and leadership that can be developed. Of these skills, the demand for entrepreneurship and initiative taking are set to grow the most.

But even with all these changes that seemingly shut out a large majority of people from jobs and opportunities, their research found that only 6% of companies in Europe and the US expect their workforce to shrink as a result of automation and AI. AI will bring change not just to employees as it will fundamentally shift the mindset and organisational set up of companies. Companies will now be focused on cross-functional, team-based work with a high emphasis on agility and we can expect prior traditional hierarchies to give way to more agile approaches.

Evolving Role of Project Managers: From Managers to Leaders

Just as these sweeping changes are making waves around the world, project managers will also see similar shifts in their own required skills and roles. As AI and automation take over a significant portion of administrative activities, project managers will see their role shift from simply ‘managing’ the moving parts of projects towards ‘leading’ in integrative practices, ideations and processes that take advantage of the full capabilities of AI. 

Research by KPMG showed that 46% of project managers believed the most important factor to delivering a project successfully was proper management of people and 28% of them felt technology would be the key enabler of effective people management. Project managers can finally pull away from the suffocating hold of the ‘iron triangle’ of time, cost and scope, and balancing the scales towards once neglected activities such as stakeholder management, ideation, communication, problem solving, and strategic thinking

How AI will change Project Manager activities

We’ve talked about how the role of project managers will change, but what does that look like on a practical day to day level. As per PMI’s PMBOK, there are 10 knowledge areas that define a project managers activities.

So how will AI impact these different knowledge areas?

Integration Management

The integrative capability of AI is one of its biggest assets. By handling large data sets and filtering through relevant information, AI helps reduce the departmental silos organisations often struggle with by creating an interconnected web of information. Not only will data be accessible in real-time, machine learning capabilities will also help create predictive models and analytics based on historic data across teams to provide project managers with critical data-based evidence to support their decisions. 

AI will play a pivotal role in integrating activities not only within teams, but between teams. It will also accelerate the shift towards more agile methodologies to take advantage of the speed and flexibility the technology now affords. 

Scope Management

Defining work breakdown structures (WBS) is one of the primary jobs of a project manager. Defining logics, understanding interconnected relationships between moving parts, assigning resources and schedule activities are still largely completely manually, though with limited automated support. 

Mind maps have been one of the easiest ways to visualize these breakdowns. With AI, it is possible for machine learning algorithms to translate mind maps into semantic networks, providing an added depth to WBS tasks and the relationships between them. As more data is collected, the more accurate suggestions the AI can provide, shifting its role from a mere supporter to an advisor.

Cost Management

Cost modelling, estimation and real-time tracking are the fundamental pillars of effective cost management. The two barriers to keeping these pillars in check is inaccurate or delayed reporting. Current cost management approaches are still highly dependent on human data input and approvals that are prone to error and are time consuming.

With AI, all the tedious cost management activities can be streamlined and automated leading to greater accuracy in estimation calculations. It can do this by using historic data to provide accurate cost predictions, using automation to make reports in real-time and speed up approval processes. Overall AI will help reduce all significant bottlenecks of cost management, reduce margins for error and give companies the added benefit of rewarding their employees on time.

Time Management

Schedule management has already come a long way, some may ask how we could make it even more efficient. With the help of scheduling bots and artificial neural networks, AI can harness data from previous projects and effectively sequence project resources and activities in the most optimal order. An AI schedule assistant can help plan and forecast the multitude of moving parts from cost, resources and schedules, to account for potential risks and advise on the best course of action. Imagine all of that work automated for you at the click of a button. 

Risk Management

Though intuition, context and experience are vital to identifying and planning for project risks, AI will allow project managers to gain an added layer of depth by applying machine learning to identify trends and patterns that can be easily overlooked. Not only can AI help identify future risks, it can also perform accurate risk modelling and analysis by pulling from many data sources in real-time. This means that any miniscule change across the breadth of the project can be identified, evaluated and mitigated in the most efficient manner.

Quality Control

Being human, we are bound to make mistakes and projects are not free from them. Rather, projects are often riddled with errors that can range from slight inconvenience to potentially explosive consequences. Look at the case of  Equifax, where one human error led to a 145 million person data breach. AI can reduce human errors significantly through cognitive technologies that can review project documents like contracts. Rather than wasting valuable time overlooking paperwork, machine learning can be applied to recognize, extract and provide recommendations for potential errors in the work. 

Maintaining quality requires excellence in both documentation and process. With the help of AI chatbots, project managers can use AI to help encourage improved practices for data input as improving the quality of data improves the overall quality and confidence in the project.

Stakeholder management

AI not only allows project managers to focus on human centric activities by easing the burden of administrative tasks, it can also help optimise it to a new level. In the near future, AI assistants can utilize sentimental analysis algorithms to effectively read through and evaluate customer satisfaction on a defined scale. Through in-depth text analysis and large data pools, AI can then provide recommendations on how to engage with the stakeholder. These recommendations not only increase efficiency but can also help project managers better align and communicate project goals, progress and achievements.

Human resourcing

Matching required skills and available resources will be easier than ever with machine learning and AI assistants. On a project level, AI can help calculate resource skill matrices in real-time and ensure people are being allocated to the most critical projects. Not only will it learn where to allocate resources, it can also learn the pace and workload balance through historic data to provide project managers with accurate data-based estimations for future resource planning. 

Communication

Say goodbye to unnecessary meetings and updates. With AI, periodic status reporting can be sent and accessed in real-time, process-based queries can be answered with chatbots and communication with stakeholders can have an added layer of personalization with minimal effort. Though work from home has given us a new understanding of the capabilities of digital communication, we have yet to fully optimise it. Many teams are facing ‘zoom-fatigue’ and not enough time is spent properly collaborating. As time consuming communication is handled by AI, project managers can focus on the more value generating communication activities.

Procurement

AI can play a significant role in facilitating future hiring processes by scanning, evaluating, communicating and assigning potential candidates automatically. By integrating with the resource planning bots, any changes to staffing and their progress can be updated in real-time and displayed on easy to use dashboards. 

Additionally, AI Procurement Bots may be able to communicate directly with buyers and suppliers through a conversational interface. Further effort reduction is gained through AIs ability to provide visibility of spending data and check for compliances in real-time.

Barriers of AI for project managers

There are three main barriers that are preventing project managers from fully embracing AI.

1. Lack of realistic understanding of AI

Media and tech hype has produced a highly unrealistic image of AI. Though its endless potential may be true, the current feasibility and application of AI in daily project activities is nowhere close to the JARVIS-like fantasy we see in the movies. AI technology is still heavily bound by strict rules of logic that limit their ability to handle complex, nuanced issues. The technology is also still largely dependent on human input and can only be as good as the framework it is built upon. At its current state, only a small minority of experts are able to build them and they still require extensive amounts of time, effort and talent.

Before taking a stance on AI, it would be worthwhile to spend some time properly studying the capabilities of AI and how it can feasibly impact your work. With clearer expectations, project managers will be better prepared to make the most out of current AI capabilities whilst also preparing for the future.

2. Skills and knowledge barrier

As an up and coming field, there is sadly no specific degree or certificate for project management with AI but not all of us can, or may even need, to embark on a full Data Science degree. The current issue is that a genuine understanding of AI and its impact of project managers specifically is not always readily available.

For most project managers, that level of depth may not be necessary as they will largely be depending on their PPM systems or softwares to integrate AI tools for them. However, some may want to get ahead of the game and truly build AI tools from the ground up. Gaining the necessary knowledge and implementing it is time and effort intensive, and has been the biggest deterrent for project managers.

3. Legal and ethical grey areas 

Like any rapidly developing field, the rules and guidelines of AI are still very much in the grey. Even if you decide to invest heavily on new AI models and tools, they could potentially be completely scrapped in the future if they do not meet legal or ethical compliances. These boundaries are constantly being contested and this added layer of vagueness acts as a significant deterrent for project managers who are seriously thinking of tapping into AI.

Skills Opportunities for AI-savvy Project Managers

Don’t scrap the idea of AI altogether just because of a few challenges. We’ve done some research to gather the most sought after professional skills for project managers in future so you can be best prepared for the AI revolution.

The McKinsey Global Institute report identifies three key skill areas that will see the most increase in demand in the next three years: technological skills, social and emotional skills and higher cognitive skills. 

Technological skills

Technological skills is a very broad and overarching term. A breakdown of this skill area includes specific skills such as:

  • Basic digital skills
  • Advanced IT skills
  • Advanced data analysis and mathematical skills
  • Technology design, engineering and maintenance 
  • Scientific research and development

Looking at all these seemingly advanced skills may seem intimidating but most project managers won’t be needing a full degree in data science to stay valuable. There are plenty of tools and resources currently available to help upskill yourself from university courses, academic research, to professional certificates

Social and emotional Skills

The future of project managers is not only data. Though reports show project managers believe stakeholder engagement is the most valuable PPM process, the laborious managerial tasks and reporting is diverting their efforts to other spaces. As AI takes over the majority of these tasks, project managers can now focus on activities that bring more value such as communication and relationship building. The McKinsey report breaks down social and emotional skill area into specific skills such as:

  • Advanced communication and negotiation skills
  • Interpersonal skills and empathy
  • Leadership and people management
  • Entrepreneurship and initiative taking
  • Adaptability and continuous learning
  • Teachability and training others

A PMI report shows that soft skills are the most in demand skill for project managers with, with four out of five project managers stating it is more valuable now than five years ago. But building up social and emotional skills is not as easy as taking an online course. It takes practice and experience. Don’t make the mistake of attempting to build these skills blindly.  We’ve put together a free soft skills development checklist to get you started on the right foot!

Higher cognitive skills

These skills may sound abstract but they are the very reason why project managers won’t be going away any time soon. Though the value of these skills are seemingly obvious even in the current context, the AI future will make them even more valuable, especially in regards to data-driven decision making and creativity. Higher cognitive skills can be broken down into specific skills such as:

  • Advanced literacy and writing
  • Quantitative and statistical skills
  • Critical thinking and decision making
  • Project management
  • Complex information processing and interpretation
  • Creativity

Many project managers still depend on shaky data and guesswork to make their decision. With AI making data easily accessible, the challenge for project managers is to derive value from said data. A combination of business intelligence and data analytics will allow project managers to collect and visualize valuable data through platforms such as  Microsoft Power BI , giving them the ability to make the most informed decisions to achieve greater security and assurance for project success.

Learn more about AI in project management

We’re just as excited as you for the oncoming AI revolution and will be keeping a close eye on the evolution of AI in the project management space. If you want to stay in the loop, make sure to check out our other posts on AI such as our guide to preparing your PMO for AI, the evolutionary stages of AI in project management, and more. Keep an eye on our blog for more insightful content to come!

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