AI in Program and Project Management: Driving Project Value (Part One)

We all know Artificial Intelligence (AI) will continue to impact the way we work as technology evolves. And the field of program and project management (PPM) is no exception. A recent Gartner article estimates that by 2030, 80 percent of work done by today’s project managers will be eliminated as AI takes on traditional project management functions such as data collection, tracking, and reporting. This is supported by a recent report published by the Project Management Institute (PMI): “AI Innovators: Cracking the Code on Project Performance” which concludes the transformation has already begun. Of the 551 project managers surveyed for the report, 81 percent said their organization is already being impacted by AI technologies and PMI predicts the proportion of projects managed with AI will jump from 23 percent to 37 percent by 2022.

In this first, of a two-part blog series, we examine the benefits and potential impact of AI for CIOs, PMO leaders, and other business transformation leaders seeking to extract greater value from their portfolio management, program leadership, and project management competencies. In part two, we’ll look at the AI-enhanced tools currently available to project managers and how this space will continue to evolve.

Before we zero in on the impacts of AI for project management, let’s take a minute to level-set on the concept of AI. AI is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence of humans. AI is largely machine learning and its extension, deep learning. Machine learning consists of techniques that enable computers to figure things out using available data while deep learning is machines mimicking the complex ways in which humans process information to solve problems. AI may be complemented by Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which is computers mimicking human actions; Natural Language Processing (NLP), which is technology that enables computers to understand human speech; and Predictive Analytics, which is the analysis of existing data to predict what may happen next.

Opportunities to expand the value of AI into PPM

There are three key areas where organizations can leverage AI to drive higher value project outcomes and, ultimately, deliver even greater value to customers.

Opportunity 1: Step outside of the mundane

Project managers spend a lot of time on mundane, but essential, activities like scheduling meetings, reviewing logs, reminding team members of upcoming due dates, and packaging project data into reports. These activities keep project managers (and other team members) from value-adding, people-centric activities like team empowerment and stakeholder management. A recent study by Cognilytica found project managers spend more than half their time (54 percent) on administrative tasks such as managing updates.

Use AI to free project managers (and their teams) from the mundane, enabling them to perform activities requiring interpersonal interaction and strategic thinking. The chore of scheduling meetings can be performed through Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Chatbots can be used to send reminders to project team members when tasks are coming due or when an issue or action item goes too long without update. For example, RPA infused with Natural Language Processing (NLP) enables a project manager to tell her virtual assistant (Siri, Cortana, Google, Alexa) to schedule a meeting, or tell her which action items are on the aging list.

Opportunity 2: Mitigate bias

AI also removes the human biases that cause us to downplay problems, so by applying capabilities such as predictive analytics, project teams can see the real condition of a project. Predictive analytics and machine learning can look at task completion rates and risks to forecast the likelihood a milestone will be missed. Knowing early on the odds are high that a project will miss a deadline enables teams to make course corrections.

Opportunity 3: Strengthen personal relationships

Finally, apply AI to ensure project managers have additional capacity to focus on people-centered project management; freeing project managers to focus on the person-to-person interactions required to effectively drive projects towards completion. Human interaction continues to drive meaningful progress, and it always will. By removing automatable tasks, such as scheduling meetings, and combing through logs and the budget, project managers are freed to focus on a few core, value-added tasks:

  • Lead the project team to do great work through vision, inspiration, and removing obstacles
  • Develop and maintain productive relationships with stakeholders
  • Deliver even greater value to customers.

In the next blog of our series, we’ll look more closely at tools to enable AI in PPM and, more importantly, explore how to get started.