The past year has seen continued uptake of technologies and tools to improve the effectiveness of project management and agile delivery. Fresh from presenting a masterclass on artificial intelligence (AI) and big data in project management at the Dubai International Project Management Forum, consultant and PM-Partners facilitator Dr Elissa Farrow explores how greater investment in AI will shape project delivery and PMO functions over the near future.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and other innovative auto-generative systems were a key theme at this year’s Dubai International Project Management Forum. Over the summer break we also saw ChatGPT (or Generative Pre-Trained Transformer) making headlines across a number of major news outlets. A chatbot released by OpenAI in November 2022, ChatGPT is fuelled by large volumes of data and language processing algorithms that will shake up many industries and sectors previously in the slow lane or at the fringe of AI.
Already, there’s no doubt that machine intelligence combined with the power of 5G networks is having a significant effect on organisations and the way staff, leaders, community members, and even other AI, interact with each other. This is a topic that has been covered comprehensively in articles such as The Harvard Business Review’s The Business of Artificial Intelligence and one I’ve explored in my own research (Farrow, 2020).
But what does all this mean for project delivery – what specific impacts should we anticipate over the course of 2023 and into the future?
AI and the PMO
According to Spyros Makridakis in his paper The Forthcoming Artificial Intelligence (AI) Revolution: Its Impact on Society and Firms: “The successful firms during the AI revolution will focus on evaluating and exploiting AI technologies to gain the most out of their implementation in all aspects of the firm”.
This consideration of adding value is very relevant within the day-to-day functioning of the portfolio, programme and project management office (PMO). One of the PMO’s primary roles is to analyse data in order to create decision-ready insights that target issue management, prioritisation and governance attention.
Particularly in large organisations, the volume of ever-changing data PMOs are required to aggregate can be huge. It’s also expansive in breadth, relating to time, cost, resources, change impact, benefit, risk, governance, quality – to name a few. As the size of the complexity of portfolio’s grow, the value proposition to using intelligent machines to navigate and make meaning from the ‘big data’ becomes a necessary reality.
In its 2020 Project Management Survey, KPMG found the use of AI tools to support project delivery to be “very limited”. Only 10 per cent of respondents indicated they use them, while a further 8 per cent said they were planning to adopt. However, with the growing use of AI agents such as ChatGPT providing the ability to summarise larger texts into key points, among other time-saving features, this is likely to change.
The implications of using AI
Like any change to enterprise and solution architecture, organisations need to determine how modern technologies (such as robotics and AI domains such as machine intelligence) can be of assistance.
As I found in my recent research (Farrow, 2022), there are a number of implications of AI in organisational settings and in the project management context (as temporary organisations). And, as with most developments, we should expect both positive and negative effects, including:
- Faster processing of large data sets to enable decision making
- Automation of administrative or repetitive tasks (i.e. report generation, schedule scenario testing)
- More time for project managers to spend on building meaningful human connections with team members and customers
- Better analysis of the risk and estimate uncertainty
- An extra ‘brain’ or first responder in change (for example, chatbot Q&A or portfolio analyst)
- AI-enabled products to support workplace learning
- 24/7 operation (AI does not need rest, sick leave or holidays).
- Poor or unclean data inputs, leading to misleading results
- Undetected bias encoded in algorithms by developers (e.g. ChatGPT accesses available published explicit data and not the tacit knowledge)
- Risk of over-reliance and trust without adequate assurance
- Environmental and energy impacts of AI production and use
- Reduction in sense of fulfilment and purpose for displaced team members
- Harder for junior PMs to get experience when entry-level functions are being automated
- AI cannot replace human nuanced moral, ethical or ‘grey’ thinking (yet).
Taking a considered approach
It’s important to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of using AI in PMO contexts. By being mindful of these issues, we can ensure that the development and use of AI is responsible, governed and beneficial for the organisation and broader society.
As I highlight in my research (Farrow, 2022), leaders will need to recognise the challenges and opportunities and be able to adequately address people’s fear of the future, namely through culture and an approach to leadership that guides people through this transition. One of the best ways to start exploring this space is by trying out accessible AI such as ChatGPT and make judgement for yourself.
Final decisions will need to be made by humans for the foreseeable future. But what is here now, and rapidly evolving, is that AI will be of assistance in supporting successful PMO and delivery decision making. The scenario of an AI project manager replacing 100 per cent of the role will not occur any time soon, but we may see an AI portfolio analyst, communication agent or administrator, and we will certainly have AI as an extra ‘set of eyes and insights’ around the governance table.
Keen to keep pace with the evolving project management domain? PM-Partners can offer insights on future-proofing your PMO, as well as pathways to acquire essential skills. Our PMI Agile Certified Practitioner course, for example, is a good next step for those working in an agile environment, providing the necessary preparation to obtain the globally recognised Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP®). Contact us for more information, or call 1300 70 13 14 today.
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