AI’s Mainstream Reality

Headshot of Jon Gustafson

Digital transformation has been commonplace for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, pushed its importance to new heights. As PMI’s Global Megatrends 2022 report highlights, companies rushed to bring new digital offerings to market during the pandemic, especially those that enabled remote work or connectivity. 

Perhaps no form of digital transformation has been adopted more in the last couple of years than artificial intelligence (AI). According to a 2020 survey from Harris Poll, nearly 50% of companies accelerated their AI strategies because of COVID — and that shows no signs of slowing down as we emerge into a post-pandemic world. In fact, according to The AI Journal, 72% of leaders feel positive about the role AI will play in the future. 

This is evident at companies such as Woolpert, an international construction engineering company based in Dayton, Ohio, USA. It recently began building an AI center of excellence (CoE) with the goal of “building an industrial-strength AI capability for our business that supports internal workflows and processes and the adoption of machine learning for different service lines,” said Jon Gustafson, PMP, director of AI, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. “Essentially we are making our business smarter, services smarter, products smarter, processes smarter through automation and related technology.”  

Woolpert’s CoE will serve as a hub for AI knowledge and governance, and work to bring consistency to how the company approaches AI, whether that is for client-facing teams or internal teams such as human resources.  

“We're seeing that a lot of our business groups are at different stages of maturity of how they look at AI and how they could integrate that into their business,” said Gustafson. “It's our job to help educate and amplify and bring consistency and standards for a lot of those AI technologies and practices. 

“There has been a lot of success in our organization over the past couple of years, so [leadership] felt it was time to kind of grow up and take the next step and formalize the AI capability,” he said.  

With the increased adoption of AI comes expectations that job roles will also change — including the role of the project manager. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing, according to Marcelo Antonelli, PMI-ACP, PMI-RMP, PMP, MBA coordinator and BOT developer, Impacta Tecnologia, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Antonelli believes AI will provide benefits for project managers and the entire management function.  

“Artificial intelligence has accelerated the management process,” Antonelli said. “It has reduced repetitive work and increased focus on higher-value activities.”  

Some of the work AI is taking over for project managers includes the automated creation of status reports, auto-completed time and cost estimates and risk identification.  

“The project manager will be more concerned with strategic activities, managing expectations and face-to-face communication,” Antonelli added. 

Despite AI’s potential role in project management tasks, project professionals should not be worried about being replaced by technology.  

“Just understand AI is an enabler,” said Gustafson. “It can enrich your workflow and your decision-making process. It’s also adding another layer of responsibility.”  

At the same time, he said that project managers should not place too much importance on AI, either.  

“I think a lot of people feel that AI is this big silver bullet that can solve all of our problems and remove the human from the workflow and automate everything,” he said. “Press a button and it'll give you the solution. Navigating that hype is certainly a challenge organizationally. Sometimes AI might not be the right solution. It could be a process change or it could be just a cultural shift that could yield better results.”