Impact of Artificial intelligence on Project Management

Have you been also thinking if project management sector is also ripe for disruption? I have been. Not that basic principles will change but how we do it. Today, we can say that three industrial revolutions hugely improved the living standard and changed the societies in unimaginable ways although it must have been tough at the time to adapt to. We enjoy many benefits of industrial revolutions such as access to energy, fast and reliable transportation, affordable goods due to mass-manufacturing and Internet. No doubt, benefits came with huge cost. Every revolution disrupted the society with changes in work practices, opening new frontiers, introducing uncertainties, at the same time rate of change has been increasing at break neck speed, social systems are struggling to keep up and anything that is couple of years old today seems to lose relevancy.

Technological advances, innovation, cheaper access to computational power and availability of data have made current situation ripe for next revolution. Root of this revolution is digitization as it has enabled us to create a virtual world where we can not only connect to our physical world but see future through predictions.

Fourth industrial revolutions is called by many industry experts as Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution.  It encompasses connected systems, automation of production line consuming  sensor data and intelligence to make decisions based on data. This has opened doors for predictive maintenance, inventory control, improved co-ordination between plant floor and management, and higher shareholder value to better decision making. Good thing is, all the improvements and lesson learned are part of feedback mechanism to gradually improve the results through self learning system that AI will bring changing the way industries produce, manufacture and deliver.

“How does this influence project / product management?”, is the obvious question you will be asking next.

In my opinion, two ways – first is directly in form of improved project management tools and second, indirectly in form of the sector we work in. Let me elaborate a little.

Project management tools incorporate many automation routines but availability of the Internet, access to big data and capabilities of AI offer a powerful combo. How we manage and control project management tasks are going to be influenced by this combo.  Project management tools of future will no longer be simply user driven, somewhat automated but would be connected systems, offering predictions, adding intelligence and always improving through interactions. Project plans would integrate with calendars, finance systems, procurement systems, risk and issue logs and other task management apps and keep intelligently updating plan and learning all along.  A Siri or Alexa kind of voice activated bot would quickly analyze and answer any question a stakeholder might have. Project planning will be more robust and stakeholders will learn quickly about roadblocks, informing about scheduling risks and prediction based on multiple scenarios with data driven confidence level instead of gut-feels. Project management tool  will be able to schedule meetings based on tasks, include relevant stakeholders, seek input and share updates.

Indirect influence of AI is coming sooner than later. As companies are finding value in data and insights it can provide, Internet of Things (IoT), sensor data and digital transformation of businesses make use of Machine Learning (ML), an essential step to survive Industry 4.0 wave. As AI/ML capable infrastructure and applications are being brought into organizations, these current and future projects would need new project management mind-set.

As teams are becoming agile in nature, project managers are assuming product manager role, organizing work breakdown structure and gathering business requirements would evolve from classic way to  framing the business problem, articulate the value proposition, data collection from data scientist’s point of view, orienting project around business models & algorithm strategy.

Since the discussion is completely altering how business problems could be solved, project manager would need to carefully analyze the problem by asking question, like, could the business problem be solved by other means that are faster and easier to build than AI, understanding the  data and sources, choice of algorithm(s), understanding of biases in the design and working with some new roles like Data Scientists, Statisticians, Domain Experts and Engineers.

In short, it is a new frontier for project managers when dealing with an AI project and project managers got to be more technical and domain aware.

Project management covers many domains and knowledge areas and a project manager is subject matter expert of integrating discipline with deliverables. Technology alone will not ensure success but certain attributes that a PM can offers such as project leadership, stakeholder management, negotiation skills, and empathy would keep him or her an indispensable for the business.

To summarize, my take is project managers will get a lot of assistance in way of better and improved project management tools, letting them focus on what is critical. Role will evolve from managing and controlling to collaborating and contributing while managing the stakeholder expectations.  Project managers who will succeed in Industry 4.0 revolution will likely be those who manage to embrace the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning aspects of the business needs, being technically savvy, and seeing how a solution can add value not only to business but also to the data engineering and data science teams.

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