Human-in-the-Loop: What Project Managers Need to Know

GenAI is reshaping how work gets done and redefining the role of the project manager. While GenAI is great at some tasks, human oversight is essential to deliver high-quality outcomes. Here’s what project managers should know.

Written by Project Management Institute • 29 February 2024


In an age of relentless technological advancement, Generative Artificial intelligence (GenAI) is shaking up industries and disciplines around the world, including project management. From optimizing schedules to analyzing costs and automating tasks, GenAI is reshaping how work gets done and redefining the role of the project manager.

But make no mistake, while GenAI can serve as a super-powered assistant for everything from taking meeting minutes to brainstorming, the technology needs – in fact, demands – a human guide. Hidden decision-making processes, invented data, privacy breaches, plagiarism, bias, and misinformation plague algorithms.

"Project management requires data and intuition,” said Juanita Woods, Ph.D, PMP, PgMP, organizational consultant and associate professor, University of North Georgia - Mike Cottrell College of Business at the PMI® Global Summit in Atlanta. “AI is excellent at managing data, specialized intelligence, and codifying knowledge. It understands the how and what. Humans understand the why. Think of AI as a savant with an IQ of 200 and the emotional intelligence of a five-year-old. A savant that we can work with to get stuff done. AI is a tool. Like a hammer. But a brilliant, multifaceted hammer."

Thus, the need for human oversight becomes paramount. It’s up to humans to act as a guiding light to keep GenAI ethical, accurate, and aligned with organizational objectives.

Understanding Human-in-the-Loop

“Human-in-the-loop” is an approach where human oversight is integrated into GenAI processes and systems. In essence, it ensures that humans remain an essential part of decision-making, working alongside algorithms to improve performance, reliability, and ethics. This collaboration makes it more likely for GenAI to operate effectively in real-world contexts where human intuition, expertise, creativity, and ethics are crucial.

"At the moment, there's a complementary relationship emerging between humans and AI," says Robb Wilson, founder, lead designer, and chief technologist at, which was ranked as the top company in Gartner's first report on Enterprise Conversational AI Platforms. He's also the author of "Age of Invisible Machines: A Practical Guide to Building Smart Digital Workers."

"Humans aren't great at doing repetitive tasks without error," Wilson says. "Machines, on the other hand, are quite capable of this. Machines aren't great at establishing context and creating creative solutions to problems. This is where humans excel. We should be deliberate when creating these advanced systems to use the strengths of machines to elevate humans and vice versa. Human-in-the-loop is a critical part of this process."

Considerations for Human-in-the-Loop

Desiree Underwood-Williams is the PMO director at WCG Clinical Services, an organization that improves the quality and efficiency of clinical pharmaceutical trials. For Underwood-Williams, being able to trust your data is everything. "As we look at AI for processes, we can't quickly disconnect humans from AI," says Underwood-Williams. "We need to have a human-in-the-loop. We need to analyze our output, understand our data, and have confidence in its accuracy."

According to PMI research, GenAI is already influencing how projects are carried out and changing the responsibilities of project managers. This influence will increase in the future. When considering how to integrate GenAI to produce high-quality outcomes, project managers should evaluate the tasks and deliverables of a project against two dimensions.

The first dimension is the level of complexity, which goes from low to high and covers factors such as how many variables are involved in the task, if there are business context perspectives to consider, and if it requires specific project management knowledge and experience.

The second dimension is the degree of human intervention needed to get the expected output from the GenAI tool. In this case, the more complex the task is, the greater the need for human intervention to complete the task.

Within these two dimensions, project managers can determine how much support GenAI can provide along a spectrum that ranges from automation to assistance to augmentation.

Together, We Can Do More

“AI is reshaping project management, offering opportunities to increase efficiency, precision, and quality,” says Keisha Lewis, PMP, chief enterprise project officer, Montgomery County Government, Rockville, Maryland, USA. “As project professionals, we're lucky to be more than just observers, but active participants in this transformation."

As impressive as GenAI is, it's important to remember that algorithms aren’t human. They can't challenge authority, uphold ethical standards, or take responsibility for their choices. But project managers can do all this and more because they have empathy, accountability, innovative problem-solving, and many other skills. These are attributes that machines, no matter how advanced, cannot replicate. And it is why projects that use GenAI need a human-in-the-loop.

Ready to learn more about GenAI and project management? Visit the PMI AI Resource Center for thought leadership, courses, and community discussion.


Project Management Institute
Author | PMI

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