What will be the impact of AI on Project Management? Professor Mary Ludden shares her insight
There is no shortage of information about the expansion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the impact it will have on every facet of our lives. Not too many years ago there was much skepticism around the use of AI for anything other than repetitive tasks that could be duplicated through machine learning. We now know that AI can be developed to perform complex tasks that were once performed by human beings. AI now exists in the automotive, aerospace, healthcare, and the financial industry to name a few sectors of what is becoming a very exhaustive list of industries that are leveraging advanced robots. In fact, a new report issued by the McKinsey Global Institute in late 2017 suggests that as many as 375 million workers globally, or approximately 14% of the global workforce, will be impacted by automation and may need to evolve their skill sets to adapt to the impact of AI.
Like many other professions, Project Management will not be immune to the impacts of AI. Many phases of the project lifecycle will see an evolution from traditional manual tasks performed by humans to complex tasks being performed by machines. Take risk management for example. It is very common to have the project team develop the risk register at the onset of the project, using various inputs, and updating the register as they become aware of new risks through conversations with stakeholders, observations of the work in progress, or a schedule delay based upon an impact from a dependency. I use to refer to the risks listed in the initial project register as ‘a foregone conclusion’. It was typically built by a team that had experience within their organizations leading similar projects and so they had become adept at listing the risks that had traditionally impacted their projects based upon historical knowledge. Eventually those risks would become issues impacting the project team for a variety of reasons which could include poor root cause analysis or the project managers had not coalesced the information in a form that could be evaluated by enterprise risk teams. The challenge with always listing the inherent risks that you know is that your register becomes stagnant and may not capture the emerging threats to your project that you have not encountered yet as a project manager. But what if a smart machine was able to synthesize two years’ worth of risk and issue logs to assign a risk index rating based upon sophisticated algorithms thereby truly leveraging historical data to predict future success, or failure, of a project? What if the robot was able to assess the performance of dependent systems and identify end of life risks to your project or security vulnerabilities to the product you are developing?
In another facet of project management, many of us have traditionally leveraged Organizational Process Asset repositories, or utilized historical business information, to estimate our project durations and costs utilized for monitoring the progress of the project. Many times a top down estimate is performed by functional management in haste so that a project can be fast tracked, or a bottoms up estimate is completed by the team members performing the work who may be too conservative in their estimates leading to inflated costs. What if a robot could take three years’ worth of historical information from the project organization leveraging productivity rates, attrition rates, holiday time, you name it, to come up with an estimate of the project that can be utilized for forecasting investment needs? What if you could leverage intelligent process automation (IPA) to assign routine project tasks to robots and assign the more critical, complex tasks to your human project team members? We use to define cross functional teams, or integrated teams, as being comprised of individuals who were matrixed to a variety of functional managers. But, what if cross functional teams will now refer to a blend of humans and robots? Projections indicate that by 2020, the leading skills required to function on this type of team will be emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility (Gray, 2016).
So how do we as project managers prepare for the potential impact of AI to our industry?
First and foremost, embrace the technology and leverage AI where possible to increase the likelihood of project success. We as humans have unique skill sets of critical thinking that when applied to systems, projects, and achieving the mission of the project organization, can create insights and recommendations needed to propel the project forward to a successful conclusion.
Leveraging AI to automate and improve data sets utilized in project execution will allow your organization to realize optimal investment value in the project and potentially identify savings that could be leveraged for further investments in product development leading to organizational growth. How cool is that?
Northeastern University is at the forefront of incorporating AI into our curriculum through experiential learning opportunities as explained by President Joseph Aoun in his book “Robot Proof.” Check out Northeastern University’s catalogue of Project Management or our Program and Portfolio Management courses to see how you can join our mission of developing “Robot Proof” students and become part of an innovative institution leading this new age of technology.
Gray, A. (2016, January 19). The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from:https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/
Professor Mary Ludden, PhD, MBA, PMP, CFE, CSM is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the College of Professional Studies. She specializes in Portfolio, Program & Project Management.