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Artificial Intelligence and Project Management: The First Step

By Luigi Morsa and Richard Maltzman
October 25, 2023

AI – It’s Not New, but it’s Improved!

In November 2022, when ChatGPT was made available to the public, it put Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the spotlight for all people – not just ‘techies’ and those who have followed AI for a long time.  Indeed, Artificial Intelligence is not really new. The groundwork for AI started in the 1900s [1].

ChatGPT, developed by the American AI research laboratory OpenAI, is a so-called “Chatbot”, a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users. It is able to (with proper prompting) write poetry, generate code, plan vacations, translate languages and do much more. Two months after ChatGPT’s debut, Microsoft introduced on its Bing internet search engine a similar chatbot, and has announced its “everyday AI companion”, Copilot. In March 2023, Google launched Bard, and Baidu, the Chinese multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services, introduced ERNIE Bot.

With these chatbot applications, we can easily maintain that every technological field is destined to be invested or at least touched by AI. However, as wisely observed by The New York Times journalist Steve Lohr [2]: the lesson of history, from steam power to the internet, is that there is a lengthy delay between the arrival of major new technology and its broad adoption. Using the Internet as an example, he observed that in the 1990s, there were bold predictions that the Internet and the web would disrupt the retail, advertising, and media industries. Those predictions proved to be true, but the true disruption took place more than a decade later, well after the dot-com bubble had burst. During that time, technology improved, costs dropped and therefore the bottlenecks fell away.

The doubts in the immediate application by companies in case of the Chatbots are currently represented, by

  • risks of leaking confidential data
  • questions about how the data is used
  • biases in the system
  • accuracy of the AI-generated answers, including “hallucinations” and being loaded with incorrect data

How AI is already “here” for PM

McKinsey & Company, in a recent report (June 2023), based on a historical analysis of various technologies, modeled a range of AI-applications adoption timelines from 8 to 27 years between the beginning of adoption and its plateau. This range accounts for the many factors that could affect the pace at which adoption occurs, including regulation, levels of investment, and management decision making within firms [3]. Regarding Project Management (PM), the field of our interest, experts predict that by 2030, 80% of the work of today’s project management discipline will be eliminated as AI takes on traditional project management functions such as data collection, tracking and reporting [4].

An interesting report by PwC [5] highlights that AI-enabled project management tools give greater support and accuracy to the decision-making process and could be crucial in achieving successful project management in the near future across the following five key areas:

  • Business Insights. For example, by identifying relationships and trends in data, the system can remove excessive information and ‘white noise’, enabling management to focus solely on the most relevant and important information to derive actionable insights and strategies.
  • Risk Management. Effective risk management has to be proactive. AI enables predictions that are more accurate than traditional software solutions in determining risk responses, probabilities, and their impact. AI can suggest corrective action based on historical data and continuously track progress to warn the project manager when risk arises.
  • Human Capital Optimization. AI can calculate the best allocation of resources by identifying the right employees for different jobs based on their skills and availability. Previous success factors can easily be taken into account.
  • Action Taker. In the construction industry, for example, companies are combining drone technology with AI by using drones to monitor and capture information from sites and then using deep learning to correctly identify people, machinery, and materials. AI-enabled project management tools can then identify risks/issues that require direct intervention, providing recommendations and progress reporting to the project manager and intervening directly if needed.
  • Active Assistance. One of the most common services carried out by the PMO is status and progress reporting to different stakeholders and top management. Applying AI will assist project managers by performing administrative and repetitive tasks on their behalf, therefore augmenting their skills.

Regarding the application of AI to Project Management, two things must be observed:

  1. Human factors. Experts are convinced that AI will undoubtedly change how projects are delivered and how project management as a practice will evolve. However, it is important to remember that there is something AI cannot do – be human. This means that project managers will also stay relevant in the age of AI if they focus on the core skills of project management, namely: Leadership, Communication (verbal & non-verbal), Empathy, Emotional intelligence, and Negotiation[6]. Thanks to all these features, specific to human beings, project managers manage people, motivate them, and keep them focused on delivering projects successfully[7].
  2. Application/Implementation Effort. Nieto-Rodriguez and Viana Vargas highlight that training AI algorithms to manage projects will require large amounts of project-related data, as noted in Harvard Business Review[8]. Roughly 80% of the time spent preparing an algorithm for use is focused on data gathering and cleaning, which takes raw and unstructured data and transforms it into structured data. These experts also provide a list of questions that can help to assess the decision to adopt AI, among these questions are:
  • Are you ready to spend time making an accurate inventory of all your projects, including the latest status update?
  • Can you invest several resources for some months to gather, clean, and structure your project data?
  • Are you prepared to invest in training your project management community in this new technology?
  • Are you ready to let this technology make mistakes as it learns to perform better for your organization?
  • Are senior leaders willing to wait several months, up to one year, to start seeing the benefits of the automation?

Generative AI applications in PM (a non-exhaustive summary)

As well known to those who work in project management, the typical daily work of a project manager is quite hectic–meetings to conduct or to attend, decisions to make, emails to read, answer, and classify, and interactions with team members. Having a reliable Assistant can be very useful.

As highlighted by Forbes[9], AI systems can effectively handle scheduling, reminders, and follow-ups. In this way these systems can save humans time on their various efforts by helping to make sure that nothing is overlooked. These systems integrate with popular communication tools like Slack as well as project management tools like JIRA to make for a more efficient process.

PMOtto software[10], for example, is a virtual project assistant able to update project status and KPIs and give recommendations by using historical data. For instance, a user can ask PMOtto “Schedule John to paint the wall next week and allocate him full time to the task.” The assistant might reply, “Based on previous similar tasks allocated to John, it seems that he will need two weeks to do the work and not one week as you requested. Should I adjust it?” [8].

In regard to the meetings, among the others, three software are worth noting–OtterPilot, adam.ai and Fireflies.ai. According to their web sites:

OtterPilot is an AI meeting assistant that joins meetings, records audio, writes notes, captures slides, generates summaries, and answers team’s questions [11].

adam.ai is an intelligent all-in-one meeting management platform to capture, manage, and share knowledge before, during, and after meetings, transform content into valuable assets, and drive successful business outcomes [12].

Fireflies.ai captures video and audio and generates transcripts in minutes across several video-conferencing apps [13]. As highlighted in Great Meetings Build Great Teams [14], this allows the project manager to spend his or her time eyes-up, focusing on the body language, vocalics, and other non-verbal messages of stakeholders at the meeting, something still best done by a human.

In the near future, we can imagine a platform like the one shown in the following picture managed by project managers with the help of AI assistant software. This could help the project manager keep the information included in the platform updated and give smart hints.

In many cases a project manager uses several software not integrated, and as a consequence the information is fragmented. The ideal assistant helps with the integration and synthesis of the most important parameters or indicators in a project. When a meeting about the status project starts, the platform should be open, and all the field contained discussed and updated. In this case also the traditional follow-up Meeting Memo sent to the participants would be overcome, instead there will be directly the update on the common platform visible to all stakeholders.

As it is now well evident, AI is destinated to play an important role in the future of project management. In order to capture the benefits, it is important to take the first step now (by using the AI Assistants) and be prepared for the next moves.

Conclusion

Based on the above considerations, we can deduce that AI can contribute to PM (it requires a certain effort) and will not replace project managers. However, AI can be a powerful tool, but to get an immediate tangible effect or contribution, it must be used as an Assistant.  This is the first step towards AI by project managers.

Project managers can do a better job at applying AI by learning how to ‘engineer’ prompts and to ‘converse’ with Generative AI systems, knowing in advance the limitations and capabilities of these systems.

References

[1] Tableau, “What is the history of artificial intelligence (AI)?”, https://www.tableau.com/data-insights/ai/history, Oct 2023.

[2] Lohr, “The A.I. Revolution Is Coming. But Not as Fast as Some People Think.”, The New York Times on-line edition, Aug. 29, 2023.

[3] Chui et al., “The economic potential of generative AI: The next productivity frontier”, McKinsey & Company, www.mckinsey.com, June 2023.

[4] Gartner, “How AI will reinvent Program or Portfolio Management”, 2018.

[5] Al Najjar et al., “A Virtual Partnership? How Artificial Intelligence will disrupt Project Management and change the role of Project Managers”, www.pwc.com, 2019.

[6] Marc Lahmann et al., “AI will transform project management. Are you ready?”, wpwc.com, 2018.

[7] Gupta, “Artificial Intelligence, Analytics and Agile: Transforming Project Management in the 21st Century”, International Journal of Recent Technology and Engineering (IJRTE) ISSN: 2277-3878 (Online), Volume-11 Issue-1, May 2022.

[8] Nieto-Rodriguez and R. Viana Vargas, “How AI Will Transform Project Management”, Harward Business Review, February 02, 2023.

[9] Schmelzer, “AI In Project Management”, Forbes online version, Jul 30, 2019.

[10] https://www.pmotto.ai, Oct. 2023.

[11] https://otter.ai/otterpilot, Oct. 2023.

[12] https://adam.ai, Oct. 2023.

[13] https://fireflies.ai, Oct. 2023.

[14] Maltzman, J. Stewart, “Great Meetings Build Great Teams – a Guide for Project Leaders and Agilitsts”, Business Expert Press, Jun. 2023.

Luigi Morsa (Ph.D.) is an Aerospace Engineer and Project Manager working in the Aircraft Industry in Germany. Luigi’s passion for project management has led him to contribute to two books by Dr. Harold Kerzner, the pioneer and globally recognized expert in project management. Luigi wrote two case studies about the Aircraft industry for Project Management Case Studies, 5th and 6th Editions (Wiley, 2017, 2022), two sections (Open Innovation in Action; The Project Manager’s Role in Developing Innovation Skills and Ideas in People) and the chapter “Innovation Management Software” for Innovation Project Management 1st and 2nd editions (Wiley, 2019, 2023).

He recently wrote with Richard Maltzman, PMP and Master Lecturer at Boston University Metropolitan College, the chapter “10 Lessons Learnt from Irresponsibility in Project Management” for the book De Gruyter Handbook of Responsible Project Management (De Gruyter, 2023).

Luigi is a contributor for the IIL blog; he is the author of “Avoiding Mistakes: The Great Challenge” (2022); “Team Management: The Key to Success” (2022); “Agile. Creativity. Innovation.” (2022); “Reduce the Risk – Share the Success” (2022), “Managing Conflicts in Projects” (2021); “Chess and Business Strategy” (2020); “People Innovation: A New Vision to Innovate” (2019).

Rich Maltzman, PMP, recently retired from a 40-year career in the telecom industry, with the last 30 years in a Global PMO role. He’s currently a Master Lecturer at Boston University, developing and teaching a suite of courses in Project Management and Leadership. Rich is the co-founder of EarthPM, LLC, a company devoted to integrating sustainability thinking into project management.

Rich has presented on Sustainability, Project Meetings, Change Management, and PM Competency in Italy, Malaysia, Canada, South Africa, Costa Rica, China, and at many PMI Chapters in the US and around the world.

Published Works (co-authored): Green Project Management (2011 – Winner of PMI’s Cleland Award for Literature). Project Workflow Management: A Business Process Approach (2014), Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success: The Sustainability Wheel (2015), Bridging the PM Competency Gap (2017), How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings, with Jim Stewart (2018), Great Meetings Build Great Teams, with Jim Stewart (2023).

International Project Management Day goes live on November 2, 2023. Full streaming access to content will be available through February 5th, 2024. Sign up here!

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

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