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AI Hype vs. Reality: Project Management Reimagined

AI Hype vs. Reality: Project Management Reimagined

By Cyndi Snyder Dionisio
March 20, 2024

We’ve all heard predictions about what the advent of AI means for our society, our lives, and our careers. Let’s face it, there are some pretty extreme scenarios out there, including some by well-known people and highly respected companies. Think about this prediction regarding going to a restaurant or shopping at a mall “Within ten years, humans will not be allowed to drive cars. It will be illegal by 2030.” Qiao Liao, General Secretary of World Robotics Federation (2018). Certainly, there has been a lot of interest in self-driving cars, but given the recent problems with companies like Cruise, Tesla, Waymo and Apple, it does not seem likely that we will be banned from getting behind the wheel any time soon.

There are also some interesting prognostications for jobs:

“AI will probably replace 40% of jobs within 15 years.” – Kai-Fu Lee, former president of Google China (2018)

“By 2030, robots will have taken over 800 million jobs.” – Bank of America Merrill Lynch report (2019)

There are also projections about specific types of jobs:

“Human nurses will soon become obsolete with the rise of AI nurses that will provide better, cheaper, and more comprehensive healthcare.” – Steven Hawking (2017)

“Robots will be able to write most books, scripts, and articles by 2025.” – Media analyst Andrew Owsiak (2017)

Perhaps some of the most disturbing forecasts have to do with the intersection of work and society:

“AI may soon be able to outperform humans at all tasks, leading to a society where human cognitive capabilities are effectively no longer relevant.” – Stuart Russell, AI expert (2019)

“…a large portion of the population becomes unemployable due to AI automation, leading to significant social and economic unrest. (Popularized by Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Homo Deus”)

These are dire predictions, but likely more extreme than realistic. In the next section we will look at some more realistic expectations.

Realistic Expectations about AI and PM

The most obvious benefit of using AI in the workplace is its ability to automate routine or repetitive tasks. You might see this play out in the manufacturing, warehousing, and administrative sectors. In these sectors you will see streamlined workflows and increased efficiency. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Jobs Report, “By 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by AI and automation, but 97 million new roles may emerge due to the new division of labor between humans and machines.” This points to the prediction that rather than workers being fully replaced by AI, the way work is done will be transformed. In many situations, AI will serve to augment our capabilities rather than replace us. For example, project scheduling, notetaking, research, and documentation can be performed by or enhanced with AI.

With this automation comes a shift in the workforce skill set. For some roles, such as project and portfolio managers, we will have more time to focus on higher-reasoning skills such as data analysis, critical thinking, strategic thinking, and complex problem-solving. On the other end of the spectrum, we will also need to improve our human-centered or soft skills. Skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, adaptability, creativity, and communication will become more important. These are areas that artificial intelligence can’t replicate.

There will also be a shift in the type of technical skills needed. Today’s workforce will need to upskill and reskill to stay relevant in this new era of work. Examples of new skills and roles include:

  • Design, development, and management of AI systems
  • Developing effective human-AI interfaces
  • Anything associated with data science
  • Cyber security

In addition to the shift in skill sets, AI will also contribute to workplace improvements. AI and digital technologies enable more flexible work environments. This supports remote work and virtual collaboration. AI tools can facilitate communication and project management across distributed teams. AI tools for data analysis and decision support can assist project managers in making more informed project decisions. AI can help in risk assessment, resource allocation, and predicting project outcomes.

However, there are also perils associated with AI. There is a risk that AI systems may perpetuate or exacerbate biases and inequalities if not designed carefully. Ensuring that AI systems are fair and equitable will take ongoing monitoring. In this context, equity reaches beyond racial, religious, and cultural biases. It introduces a new area of inequality between those who are digitally savvy and those who are not. The adoption of AI into our workplace can exacerbate economic inequality and societal divides by disproportionately impacting lower-skilled, lower-wage jobs.

Another potential challenge with the integration of AI is privacy and surveillance in the workplace. As AI systems become more advanced and ubiquitous, there are valid concerns about employee monitoring and data privacy. Many AI applications involve the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data, including communications, keystrokes, computer activities, and even physical movements. While this data can provide insights that optimize productivity and workflow, it also raises ethical questions about the boundaries of workplace surveillance.

Preparing Yourself

Given that one of the realistic changes coming to the workforce due to AI is the need for reskilling and upskilling, let’s look at how you can best prepare yourself to thrive in this new reality. The first thing you need to come to terms with is that from now on, you will need to be a lifelong learner. The speed of transformation is so rapid that you can’t afford not to continually invest in your own education and skill enhancement. If you aren’t already, start with becoming data literate. Data literacy includes:

Becoming familiar with AI technologies such as Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Predictive AI

Building your data skills by brushing up on data analytics, data visualization, and predictive data analysis. Learn how to use data to improve decisions and outcomes.

Using AI tools. There are more AI tools out there than you can possibly imagine, with more coming out every day. If you haven’t already started working with AI, you can begin with free versions of ChatGPT, Claude 3, Gemini, or Co-Pilot. It’s easy to start, just type in a question and see what happens.

Higher-level thinking skills will be essential in the coming years. Grow your capabilities in these areas:

  • Strategic thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Critical thinking
  • Risk management

Since AI does not have the capacity for human-based skills, make sure you do. Leadership and soft skills can be learned, and those project managers who master these skills advance farther than those who don’t:

  • Leadership
  • Emotional and social intelligence
  • Creativity
  • Negotiation
  • Empathy

Change management is going to become even more critical for organizations for the foreseeable future. Most companies will be undertaking change initiatives to integrate AI and to upskill their workforces. By establishing yourself as a skilled change agent, you will be well- positioned to lead these initiatives.

Most of all, you need to be flexible and adaptable. The technology, business, and project management landscape will continue to evolve rapidly. Stay informed about the latest AI advancements and their applications in project management. Be ready to identify, analyze and adapt to the ever-changing landscape – and don’t get caught up in the hype!

Cynthia Snyder Dionisio is the Practice Lead for IIL’s Project, Program, and Portfolio Management (PPPM) Practice. Cyndi has over 20 years of experience leading international project teams, consulting, developing courses, and facilitating training. She has received several awards, including the PMI Fellow Award in 2018 and PMI’s Distinguished Contribution Award in 2009. Cyndi is passionate about turning chaos in order, engaging with awesome teams, solving problems, and facilitating achievement.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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