Do You Know the ABCs of AI?

Kathleen Walch Photo

Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to change the world, including how projects are managed.

AI technologies—including machine learning and “deep learning” that are designed to simulate human intelligence—are still at an early stage. However, AI is already being used to help manage projects, including scheduling meetings, tracking project progress and spotting early signs that a project may be in trouble.

More than 80% of project professionals from around the world say that their organization is being affected by AI technologies, according to a PMI Pulse of the Profession® report. The research also found that over the next three years, project professionals expect the portion of projects they manage using AI to increase from 23 to 37%.

“In the next five years, but definitely in 10 years, I think that basic knowledge of AI technology will be increasingly important in just about every single industry, project management included,” says Kathleen Walch, managing partner at Cognilytica, a research company in Washington, D.C., USA, specializing in AI.

AI can automate routine administrative tasks in project management, including scheduling meetings and data entry. Project managers will welcome that, and although some may worry that AI will cause job losses in project management, history shows that most new technologies actually create jobs.

How can project management practitioners leverage AI to their advantage?

Useful skills will include knowing how to use robotic process automation (RPA) bots to automate straightforward but time-consuming tasks and AI-enhanced “data visualization” tools, which can identify bottlenecks in projects, says Walch.

It is also worthwhile to learn about big data collection and data analysis technologies.

“You do not need to be a data scientist to use AI-based tools,” says Paul Boudreau, MBA, PMP, a project management practitioner with more than 35 years’ experience in the technology industry who writes about applying AI to project management. “AI is based on data, so an important role will be the ability to collect a greater amount of project data as well as the type of data that is required to build successful reference models.”

Learning about statistical methods and how to interpret the results of data analysis is likely to be useful for project managers, Boudreau adds. 

There is a lot of information about these subjects online and most AI-based project management software suppliers are willing to provide a free demo of their product’s capability, he says.

Learning how to use AI-based natural language processing (NLP) software tools is another useful AI-related skill for project workers. The software analyzes the “sentiments” (feelings and emotions) of project workers’ emails and other messaging and updates the project communication management plans based on their feedback.

“NLP [natural language processing software] determines whether an individual feels positive, negative or neutral regarding a project message,” says Boudreau. For example, after a project status meeting a team might appear to accept task or role changes. But after the team’s messages are analyzed, the AI software may detect “serious confusion and negative comments that threaten the project goals,” he says. The project manager can respond by changing how the project is managed.

However, project workers should not neglect the quintessentially human “soft skills” such as empathy, humor and good communication. They oil the wheels of most projects and even the most advanced AI will struggle to master these human skills in the foreseeable future.

“Soft skills are the one critical area where the human project manager will be successful and will be able to leverage AI tools,” says Mashhood Ahmed, PMI-RMP, PMP, an AI expert in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “This will include our ability to motivate a team member and build a trusting relationship.”

Digital Exclusive article developed for Project Management Institute, Inc. by Nick Huber, a U.K.-based business reporter.

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