Wednesday, 03 October 2018 07:00

Artificial intelligence in project management: silly or sensible?

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Every company has projects that need managing and monitoring.

Every day, project managers are faced with difficult decisions, repetitive tasks, and complex analysis. Is artificial intelligence (AI) the assistant that project managers need?

AI is already entering our workplaces. It’s supporting support desks, chatting with customers, and taking on the boring tasks we don’t want to do. But as of yet, AI and project management have been slow to intermix. This could be set to change – and soon.

Here, Howard Williams, marketing director of automation expert Parker Software, explores the concerns, excitement, abilities and potential future of AI in product management.

AI project managers?

Before anything else, AI cannot fully replace human project managers. Project management demands a level of human relationships and flexibility that AI tools are unable to deliver.

For example, project managers need to be able to negotiate and compromise on resources and the ways they’re used. They need good communications skills, and the emotional understanding to not only inspire their teams but resolve conflicts and problems as they arise.

AI is not currently capable of any of these things. However, while AI is not suitable to work as a project manager itself, there are many skills and processes in project management that AI can assist with.

How can AI be applied to project management?

There are several areas of project management that AI can support and streamline.

  • Repetitive tasks

AI and automation shine at the boring administrative tasks that weigh project managers down — data entry and management, preparing project schedules, and so on. These tasks can be completed automatically. This takes some of the weight off project managers, who can focus attention on more challenging tasks.

  • Complex analysis

Artificial intelligence can also assist in complex analysis. It can draw on substantially more data than a human manager could reasonably do alone. For example, using AI can help to make performing value and risk analysis a less arduous and time-consuming task for human employees.

  • Difficult decisions

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With this ability to assist project managers with in-depth data analysis, AI can help project managers make difficult decisions. In some cases, it can even make the decision for the project manager to approve.

For example, using its knowledge and data about KPIs, AI can develop an understanding of project performance. Then it can use this insight to make recommendations and help project managers decide who to make the leader of a task.

Cause for concern?

So, AI can assist in project management, but does that mean it should? There are some cons to a hasty implementation of AI in project management.

  • Current AI tools rely on people to initially input data correctly.

Unfortunately, humans are prone to making the occasional error. When that error is included in the data that AI uses, it can cause a myriad of problems. When data is incorrectly entered or recorded, AI tools aren’t yet able to notice.

  • AI is prone to be misused.

It can be tempting to automate everything that can be automated — even when it’s better to leave some of those jobs to humans. AI can recognize a drop-in performance from Bill, for example, but the automated message it sends alerting him is unlikely to solve the underlying problem. The human touch is needed for that. It’s important to find the right balance between human and AI.

Cause for excitement?

Concerns around AI are avoidable, and there are benefits to be reaped by the careful use of AI to support project managers.

We will soon see AI emerging that can make good enough assumptions about missing data to fill in any blanks accurately, and create new layers of metadata to boot. This is particularly exciting as it will enable AI to overcome data input issues, allowing it to really understand the state of a project and provide meaningful advice.

AI can also encourage better practice among teams. Excitement surrounds the amount of time and resources claimed back by using AI tools. More time can be spent being creative and supporting clients and staff, rather than on administrative responsibilities. Project managers will benefit from the weight of repetitive tasks and intense analysis being lifted from their shoulders.

Future of AI in project management

Looking to the future, AI stands to evolve both technically and socially — meaning that it will be able to fit into supporting project managers even more.

Technical evolution will see AI tools move from their niche focuses on a project to cover much wider functionality. The next generation of AI will expand on its current understanding of projects and the team members working on it. As such, it’ll grow more capable of providing real, actionable indicators of a team and project performance. And it doesn’t stop there, the subsequent generation to that will bring about the use of metadata — a complex analysis of data — to deliver meaningful advice to improve project performance.

Social evolution, meanwhile, involves the way that the perception of AI will evolve. Currently, some people consider AI in project management to be the promise of the future, while others are skeptical of its impacts on the workplace. Ultimately, however, as we see more and more businesses take the plunge into AI and reap the benefits of artificial intelligence, AI is set to become commonplace in the coming years.

If the right tool is chosen and implemented correctly, capitalizing on AI or even business automation is inevitable, as time and resources can be reclaimed for other uses. Projects that take advantage of AI will see a team move at light speed compared with teams who haven't adapted.

Conclusion

The face of project management is another job area that’s changing thanks to AI. The capabilities of AI have great potential to step project management up a gear.

AI assistants can assist project managers in a variety of tasks, from developing a list of project concerns to determining team training needs. They can aid faster, smarter business decisions and take away day-to-day administration — leaving human project managers free to be more agile, responsive and analytical.

The bottom line is: be excited about AI in project management, be open to it, and do not fear it.

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Howard Williams

Howard Williams works in customer experience at Parker Software, a UK based software house that specialises in the development of live chat and business process automation software. Howard leads the activities of Parker Software’s global customer team, with a focus on the consumer, their experience, and how it can be continually improved.

Website: https://www.parkersoftware.com
Twitter: @ParkerSoftware

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