Reimagining the Role of the Project Manager

The mainstreaming of AI is transforming role of the project manager to one of strategic leadership. Get ready now by trying these easy generative approaches.

Written by Dave Garrett • 14 June 2024


A type of “sea change” moment is happening in the project management profession. Project managers’ administrative workloads are shrinking. But far from replacing project managers with machines, these changes are likely to increase their value as strategic contributors within their organizations. The choices project managers make now will be game changing, but for some it will require a mindset shift, some upskilling—and a reorientation of what it means to be a project manager.

That’s why I’m sharing some simple generative approaches you can implement right now. Practicing these techniques will help broaden and deepen your organizational role.  While the term “generative” is most often used in reference to artificial intelligence (AI), it simply means “having the power of originating or producing”, and there are many generative approaches that project managers can implement on as individuals, with stakeholders, or by leveraging AI.

Create Value by Asking the Right Questions

When electronic spreadsheets were first invented in the 1970’s, accounting was a popular profession that consisted mostly of adding up numbers on paper. Mistakes were common, and difficult to pin down. All in all, accounting involved a lot of manual work.

Enter the spreadsheet. But rather than replacing accountants, spreadsheets made them more valuable. With cumbersome administrative tasks automated, accountants and business leaders started asking deeper questions.

It began with simple questions like, “What if I hired more employees? What if I charged a little less for my product? What if I borrowed more money?” Then it expanded to questions like, “What if these companies merged? What should the deal structure look like?”

It is easy to see the explosive creation of value, driven by accounting and finance, from that point forward. This led to a much tighter partnership between the “numbers people” and business leaders in every organization. It’s not much of a leap to say that the technology that took the discipline of accounting to another level may have made the role of CFO universal, whereas before it barely existed. For the forward-thinking individual accountant, it meant they were more in demand and opened the door to all sorts of new career opportunities. As a parallel for project managers, we can look at the rise of the Chief Transformation Officer.

So, what is the path to greater value creation for the project manager? Think about the questions you are asked today, both from above and below.

  • Are we solving the right problem?
  • Is there a better approach to solving this problem? Why?
  • What are our options? Why?

“What if” questions are a starting point that guide you to a place where “decisions that matter” can be made. We can answer these questions quickly and effectively using a simple combination of design thinking approaches and generative AI.

How this benefits you: If you don’t often use these types of approaches, getting started might feel daunting. Many project managers will wait until they are forced by their manager (or PMO leader) to use these specific tools and techniques. By then, those same project managers will be chasing the change, rather than taking advantage of it now. So, while experience with these approaches helps, even just trying them with no experience at all could yield a useful result right away—and greater confidence to continue.

Don’t Overthink How to Get Started with AI

Today, project management is still burdened by administrative tasks that generative AI promises to reduce or entirely eliminate. Adoption has been slower than expected but will certainly accelerate as the technology improves. For example, a poll on found almost 60 percent of respondents had not used generative AI to take and organize meeting notes, but most non-users said they plan to try in the next three months. And PMI research shows that while only 21% of respondents are currently using AI, 82% of senior leaders believe that AI will have some impact on how projects are run at their organization over the next five years.

Sure, being an expert prompt engineer is an advantage, but just talking to generative AI in your own way can make you much better informed than you are today. Applying a couple of simple techniques can really move things forward.

Take your most pressing problem at work today and — to protect your organization’s proprietary information — make it generic. Let’s say you’re implementing a CRM system at a finance-focused organization, and everyone is concerned about the change to the customer experience. Simply go to the GPT you feel most comfortable with and ask, “What are the top five concerns finance organizations have with CRM implementations related to changing the customer experience? For each concern, tell me why it matters and what most organizations do to address the concern.” This gives you a great jumping off point for a conversation with the AI where you can drill down deeper – exploring the specifics of each concern, trying to get to the answers you think your stakeholders might be seeking.

As you move through this process, drill down on anything you are unsure about. When you think you are done, ask a few more questions.

How this benefits you: Because you used generative AI to create a first draft, you not only saved time for you and your stakeholders, but you will also feel more confident approaching your stakeholders to tackle business issues.  This “prep” use case is a big step forward on the journey from Task Coordinator to Business Partner – and it can happen quickly.

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Align Stakeholders Through Co-Creation

Once you have a solid first draft, you can pull the right experts together, validate, refine, and clarify the concerns and common solutions—getting everyone on the same page. The design thinking approaches you can now apply are inherently generative, but they build on the foundation you laid in the previous step, which immediately “levels up” the conversation.

By validating and evolving the list of common concerns you drafted using AI, you saved your stakeholders hours of time. Now, gather your stakeholders as a group, and take things a step further:

  • Eliminate and add to your draft list of concerns. The point is not to be 100% right, but maybe 80%. The goal is to drive a conversation that gets to a co-created list of problems and solutions.
  • Dig deeper for those items that don’t feel quite right. Determine if you are describing them at the right level of granularity. An easy design thinking group exercise you can use right now are the “five whys”. This iterative technique involves asking “Why?” five times. The answer to the fifth “why” should reveal the root cause of the problem.
  • Identify and prioritize the most urgent and important concerns. A design thinking technique you can use for this is the Problem Prioritization Matrix.

Don’t make this exercise too formal. Simply have the conversation. Point out each participant’s contribution. Let them see the co-creation and feel ownership. Then take that co-creation and make it visible to everyone that it might help. These steps will get everyone aligned faster and your stakeholders will feel that you led them on a journey to success.

How this benefits you: Your conversations with stakeholders will be more efficient and meaningful. And you’ll gain confidence in your skills to facilitate generative co-creation workshops going forward.

Be Bold

In our recent report on AI adoption for project management, First Movers’ Advantage, our research shows that project professionals leading the adoption of GenAI are already building critical skills over those in the initial stages of adoption. The research concludes that project professionals should experiment with GenAI in different projects and business contexts, as well as in various activities of the project life cycle.

Trying new tools and techniques is likely to feel uncomfortable for many, but in the coming years, operating at this level will be table stakes. Getting started now will have a positive impact on your career and save “future-you” a lot of stress.

Once you’ve test-driven prompting, design thinking, and co-creation, these generative tools and techniques will be easier to leverage in future work.

Remember, success almost always comes from trying and learning; no one’s an expert before they start.

You Might Also Like…

  • First Movers’ Advantage—The Immediate Benefits of Adopting Generative AI for Project Management ǀ Read the Report
  • PMIxAI—Thought leadership, courses, and PMI Infinity ǀ Explore
  • Tips for Using Generative AI Tools in Project Management—Projectified® Podcast | Listen
  • Using AI to Make Meeting Minutes Magic—The PMI Blog | Read

Dave Garrett headshot

Dave Garrett
Senior Advisor to the CEO | PMI

As Senior Advisor to the CEO, Dave Garrett advises and supports decision-making regarding the execution of the PMI strategy to create a clear growth path and increase the value delivered to our customers. He advises PMI leadership and our teams, ensuring seamless alignment and integration across the organization. Dave has previously held senior leadership roles at PMI including Chief Strategy & Growth Office; Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation; and Vice President, Transformation.

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