Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to upend project management as we know it. This cutting-edge technology is regularly cited as one of the top opportunities and challenges facing today's project managers. Results from the Project Management Institute (PMI) Annual Global Survey on Project Management indicate that AI is already shaping the field, with 21 percent of survey respondents claiming to use this technology to some extent.
There's no turning back: AI has been unleashed, and all signs point to an inevitable impact on project management. Its application may vary between niches and from one project to the next. Still, project managers who try to master AI tools could be well-rewarded. Possible upsides to embracing AI project management? More attention from employers and improved project outcomes once on the job.
To illustrate the powers (and potential perils) of AI and project management, we've compiled all the need-to-know details: what project management automation involves, where these solutions can prove most influential, and which issues project managers should consider as they navigate a rapidly evolving digital landscape.
Understanding Artificial Intelligence in Project Management
Project managers rely on an ever-increasing array of tools, methodologies, and solutions to boost efficiency, spark innovation, and promote collaboration. AI is one of many exciting opportunities emerging as project management technology advances swiftly. Artificial intelligence is one of the most significant and far-reaching improvements. However, we are just starting to understand its implications for the future of project management.
What Is AI?
To truly comprehend the evolving role of artificial intelligence in project management, it is essential to recognize what AI is and the full scope of technologies it encompasses. At its most basic level, this concept centers around machine intelligence, with computer science principles and vast data sets joining forces to create a machine-based system capable of completing tasks traditionally associated with humans.
Modern AI rests on the assumption that human tasks can be defined and analyzed in a way that makes it possible to mimic machines alone. The ultimate goal of this technology is to imitate and then expand upon human capabilities such as reasoning and perception.
AI has numerous subcategories, applications, and use cases that allow it to drive impressive improvements in efficiency, accuracy, and innovation across many fields. The most impactful subfield is arguably machine learning (ML), which enables computers to improve their performance by 'learning' through ongoing exposure to data and complex algorithms. This machine-based learning can occur without active programming on the human's end.
The Role of a Project Manager
Project managers handle the planning, organization, and execution of initiatives known as projects, which call for the extensive coordination of personnel and the strategic use of resources. A project manager aims to complete projects within an approved time frame and according to each initiative's predefined reach or scope. Projects must also be completed under budget while accounting for various risks.
As PMI experts point out, the role of a project manager can be difficult to define, partly because project managers oversee a wide array of tasks and work with many team members, clients, and other stakeholders.
This versatility sets project managers apart; they are prepared to take on many roles and responsibilities, adapting their approach to fit the situation. As PMI's definition points out, this "allow[s] them to approach each assignment in a unique and strategic way."
AI may further adjust or expand project managers' reach. Still, the basis of the role will remain the same: to draw on their expertise to initiate and complete ambitious projects.
AI's Role in Enhancing Efficiency
According to a survey by PMI, artificial intelligence (AI) will have three main roles in future projects. Firstly, it will automate minimally complex tasks to increase efficiency. Secondly, it will leverage generative AI to assist with analysis. Finally, it will augment project management capabilities to gain complex insights through machine learning. However, automating tasks to boost efficiency is the most frequently utilized role.
Industry insiders at PMI identify various low-complexity tasks that require little to no human involvement and can benefit substantially from the efficiency-boosting nature of AI. These include:
- Performing calculations
- Summarizing meeting notes
- Generating reports
- Analyzing documents
By allowing machines to take over these essentials, AI frees up project managers and their teams to focus on collaboration and complex decision-making, which still calls for human perception and insight.
The Benefits of AI-Powered Tools in Project Management
While early phases of AI integration primarily focus on automating rote tasks to ramp up efficiency, the future of AI in project management may prove more dynamic. After all, generative AI represents the next phase in AI project management. Generative AI centers around the machine-based production of high-quality content — and the implications are far-reaching.
PMI's Dave Garrett highlights numerous instances in which human-GenAI partnerships can prove valuable: "creating a project charter, identifying a critical path, or creating a persuasive business case." Other AI solutions may play into risk management, forecasting, or even resource allocation, as discussed below:
Increased Accuracy and Forecasting
No project manager can truly predict the future. Still, many rely on an increasingly advanced array of tools to help them determine which scenarios are likely and how to prepare accordingly. By analyzing historical data, project managers can better understand which risks are most likely to arise and which opportunities could boost project outcomes.
Forecasting efforts often focus on project duration and budgeting concerns, with methods such as regression analysis guiding otherwise tricky decision-making processes. AI can boost forecasting by providing easy access to high volumes of data, which can be analyzed accurately and efficiently while drawing on insights from various sources.
Task and Reporting Automation
Although project management is a flexible field that relies on critical thinking, decision-making, and collaboration, it still involves many manual processes that can feel tedious in the best circumstances. AI provides an excellent opportunity to automate these tasks, freeing project managers up for more engaging and impactful higher-level responsibilities.
Automated solutions can also play heavily into reporting processes. AI is frequently built into reporting automation, in which data-driven insights are promptly generated and delivered without forcing team members or other stakeholders to seek important information. The automation, in turn, ensures team members enjoy access to critical insights when needed and can use this data to better mitigate risks or otherwise boost project outcomes.
Project Cost Estimation and Budgeting
Budget constraints underscore many of today's greatest project management challenges, with project managers continually expected to do more with less. AI can help project managers make the most of every dollar while ensuring that limited funds are properly allocated to drive the most significant impact.
AI expert Tom Davenport tells the PMI Center Stage podcast, "By using AI-powered data analysis that looks at data from past projects, we'll be able to predict, with a much higher degree of confidence, how much a project will cost and how long it will take," adding that this will help to overcome previous deficits in project management budget forecasting.
Resource Allocation and Prioritization
Every successful project includes strategic plans for identifying and procuring resources, such as equipment or labor. These resources can be difficult to define and estimate. Still, AI-assisted techniques can provide powerful insight into which resources are best utilized for specific tasks.
Findings presented at the 2023 International Conference on Advance Computing and Innovative Technologies in Engineering (ICACITE) reveal that real-time, AI-driven resource allocation can help project managers "make quick, informed decisions...as the project progresses," with predictive analytics allowing project managers to anticipate future resource requirements.
Risk management is a critical component of project management but has long been challenging to navigate. AI can boost risk identification by drawing on extensive data to uncover hidden risks that project managers and their teams might otherwise never consider.
AI algorithms also produce quantitative measurements of identified risks, revealing which should be mitigated first and which can wait until project managers can gather more information and discuss these issues in greater detail. Project managers can simulate likely scenarios through predictive analytics and assess their possible impact as various factors are applied.
We have identified numerous cases where predictive analytics can impact project management activities, and even determine the course of project results. Predictive analysis combines machine learning, insights from present trends, and past patterns to unveil how forthcoming tasks or projects may unfold.
Predictive project analytics (PPA) is advantageous for gaining foresight into possible risks, drawing on data-driven strategies rather than relying on simple intuition. As experts at Deloitte tell The Wall Street Journal, PPA can help "identify a floundering project and to avoid the costs of a late or poorly delivered project or an outright failure."
Project metrics must be carefully tracked and analyzed to ensure these initiatives remain on track. AI-assisted project monitoring provides detailed insights into project status, highlighting areas for improvement and optimization.
Real-time reporting and analysis capabilities have only recently emerged, but it's already clear that this will facilitate a leaner and more agile approach to project management. As AI solutions identify emerging issues, project managers can stage timely interventions or incorporate these insights into future projects.
Will AI Replace Project Managers?
Many ambitious professionals are concerned about the proliferation of new technologies, and not simply because these can be hard to understand or navigate. Instead, many are wondering: Will AI replace project managers?
The simple answer to this question? No, AI will not completely derail the human side of project management. AI can supplement projects and may even take over select tasks, but it cannot handle the nuances of human project management.
In project management, as in many fields, professionals equipped with the right blend of soft and technical skills will remain relevant even as AI capabilities continue to improve. PMI's Dave Garrett puts it aptly: AI probably won't take your job, but "someone who does a better job of applying AI might."
The Impact of AI on the Project Manager's Role
shift towards problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaborative initiatives that call for exceptional emotional intelligence. Project management roles will go beyond guiding and supporting human team members to encompass AI as a central part of these teams.
Advocates believe this blend of technology and human intelligence will open up a new world of possibility, making the projects of tomorrow feel more dynamic and compelling. Still, Interthink Consulting President Mark Mullaly offers an important reminder: "Project management is all about people…We talk about our tools and our processes and our practices and risk plans, and work breakdown structures, but this is all about people."
How AI Aids in Decision-Making for Project Managers
From the modern project manager's perspective, AI should not be viewed as a threat but as an opportunity to boost job performance and see dramatically improved outcomes. Many AI opportunities highlighted above will play into future decision-making: predictive analytics, budget forecasting, and even generative AI. AI solutions can help project managers obtain and learn from far-reaching data relatively quickly and may even reveal common blind spots.
Meanwhile, AI-driven simulations provide a lower-stakes way of evaluating possible decisions and determining which solutions are best avoided. Not only can this prevent negative outcomes, but it can also help project managers learn from their mistakes and rapidly improve their decision-making skills.
The Future of Project Management
If results from the above PMI survey are any indication, one thing is clear: AI will have a major impact on project management in the future. An overwhelming majority of senior leaders anticipate AI to have at least some impact on individual projects, with 91 percent stating they expect AI to influence the project management profession as a whole. In addition, experts anticipate a "mushrooming" of AI, with new and unexpected technologies and applications surely around the corner.
How to Incorporate AI Into Your Project Management Strategy
If you are intrigued by the many opportunities AI-assisted project management presents, the next step is to build AI solutions into your project management strategy. Keep in mind that no one AI solution will be ideal for every team or in every situation.
Begin by identifying current weaknesses and determining where AI opportunities might help to bridge the gap. Set goals for AI implementation and track metrics carefully to determine whether AI solutions meet their full potential. Look to a growing array of educational resources to help master these tools and determine where they are best applied. Team buy-in is also necessary, and project managers may need to serve as AI cheerleaders to get reluctant team members on board.
The Risks of AI in Project Management
While we've touched on the many benefits of AI, there are a few caveats worth keeping in mind. These risks must be fully understood to amplify AI's rewards. PwC experts explain that security can be a huge source of risk, especially if AI solutions do not align with organizational security standards. Privacy is a common source of concern, too, as AI-led projects can easily gather vulnerable data that should be protected. If that data falls into the wrong hands, the implications could be devastating.
To address these issues, project managers must determine how AI systems will react when processing data sets. Typically, as the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) points out, this involves testing exercises focused on low-risk, highly controlled scenarios.
Additionally, it is crucial to closely follow regulatory frameworks, particularly as they relate to ethical AI.
Build Your Project Management Skills Today
AI has a powerful role in the future of project management. Working with AI need not feel intimidating — but if you want to make your mark as a project manager, you should develop a comprehensive skill set that includes strong leadership and communication and in-demand technical acumen.
As you prepare for a bright future in project management, look to the experts at Champlain College Online for guidance. Our project management graduate certificate could provide a strong start, and we offer a master's in software engineering and project management. These graduate programs can equip you with critical skills to help you excel in IT project management or other tech-driven fields. Reach out today to learn more.
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