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Brainstorm: AI - The future of project management

Technological advancements will have a significant impact on project management, with AI changing how tasks are delivered and controlled.

By Johan Steyn, January 2022

AI is on its way to becoming more than just a tool for automating repetitive tasks, especially in project management. Today, the terms ‘AI’ and ‘automation’ are frequently used interchangeably. However, there is a significant difference: automation is a controlled process that adheres to pre-programmed logic and rules, whereas AI is intended to simulate intelligent and even human thinking. To date, much of the focus has been on the automation of pre-existing tasks, which necessitates some degree of standardisation.

Common project tasks are already heavily emphasised for simplifying and automating via workflow integration and process automation. Budget forecast reports can be generated automatically, with no administrative interaction required when updating a project's budget in a database.

Another way to improve project planning is to use programmed logic and rules to enable auto-scheduling, which automatically tracks the progress and status of activities completed by the project teams. Using incident management in conjunction with project planning tools can help reveal delays that may be caused by a large number of problems in a particular set of workstreams that are being addressed simultaneously.

Project management processes will be improved, and as a result, the work and labour costs associated with basic project management office (PMO) duties will be reduced. Automatic project management will save money while freeing up project managers to handle more difficult tasks and interact with the project's stakeholders.

Machine learning will play a significant role in project management. Predictive analytics powered by machine learning can advise project managers on how to set up and steer the project, based on its unique characteristics, and on how to react to specific difficulties and dangers in order to achieve the best potential outcome based on previous successful projects.

With AI, project managers' mind maps may be translated to a semantic network, from which tasks and relationships can be deduced. For example, AI-based project scheduling may include lessons learned from previous projects and generate a variety of plausible schedules based on the context and dependencies.

Fundamental skills

Additionally, project plans may be updated in real-time using historical data regarding team effectiveness and project success. Through real-time analysis of project data, an AI system may even alert the project manager to any potential hazards and possibilities.

I anticipate that project assistants will continue to conduct fundamental project management responsibilities and relieve project teams of repetitive, low-value work. Project management in this scenario will heavily use currently available and future human-computer interface technologies. Project managers in charge of a PMO and its staff will gradually be replaced with intelligent project assistants.

In the future, machine learning-based project management may expand to encompass autonomous project management. Humans will eventually have responsibility for project budgets and portfolios, among other things, to manage the risk associated with autonomous investment decisions.

It's also vital to evaluate the benefits an AI system can bring to projects, as well as your business culture and risk tolerance. Do you only want a digital assistant to do the menial tasks for you, or do you want something more complex and thorough in its evaluation of the project?

Project managers will continue to have a crucial role in the age of AI as long as they focus on the fundamental skills of project management and progressively shift into roles that place a higher premium on human qualities.

In the near future, there will be a significant increase in projects to implement AI-based platforms. The project management community will play a vital role, but they also need to focus on their skills in this field. AI may not replace humans, but it may replace project managers who are not skilled in this technology.

Writing in his personal capacity, Johan Steyn is a smart automation and AI thought leader and management consultant, working at PwC, and is chair of the IITPSA’s Special Interest Group on AI and Robotics.


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