Artificial Intelligence and the Role of the Project Manager in 2030

Madeleine Gritzbach, Monday 12 November 2018 | Reading time: unknown

AI-controlled software will assist us in the planning, controlling and optimization of projects, automatically and independently - but what will the project manager do then?

In the year 2030, projects will no longer be controlled by managers, but by software. Artificial intelligence will take over project management, based on the data sets of all projects planned and executed with this software. 

This is not a gloomy future scenario, but reality in many areas. You ask Google for the term "Jaguar" and based on your previous behavior and the behavior of other, similarly thinking Google users, it knows that you mean the car and not the animal or vice versa. You buy your favorite band's new album on Amazon and Amazon suggests other bands based on your previous buying behavior. And it also shows you what other Amazon customers with similar tastes are interested in. Do you consider this frightening or even threatening? Most of you will probably answer: No. 

So why shouldn't your project management software autonomously suggest the best approach for your project objective, support you in your work and make your everyday project life easier?

The software thinks and directs 

When the term artificial intelligence is used, many people think of robots that will sooner or later replace us humans. After all, the human factor represents the greatest risk. We humans overestimate our abilities, underestimate danger and are very bad at revising an opinion once it has been formed. AI techniques like self-learning algorithms have no ego. They calculate emotionless, e.g. the best route through the evening traffic or the ideal abseiling height for the Curiosity Mars vehicle. 

This technology can be used for projects that are subject to constant change due to increasing complexity, fast pace and the high pressure to innovate in all industries. Although the subject area of AI is huge, the techniques can be reduced to what constitutes project management at its core: 

  • Searching
  • Planning
  • Optimizing
  • Drawing logical conclusions

In the future, any project management software will be able to derive general rules from all the project data that the software users provide. Based on this, the software will assist you in project planning and controlling. It will make optimization suggestions based on the classic parameters of time, costs and quality and propose the most efficient execution of the upcoming tasks to the team. It will provide the appropriate documents for each planning stage and autonomously check whether or not the information is correct. 

What does the Project Manager in 2030 do then? 

First of all, the project manager will probably no longer be calling himself that. After all, the software is responsible for "managing", i.e. planning, controlling and optimizing. Finding a new name for the job will be the responsibility of others, but the core tasks of the future project person will be those, which we already hold, but partly regard as secondary:

  • Solving conflicts
  • Being creative
  • Recognizing innovation potential
  • Implementing innovations

These are abilities only humans have. No other living beings or artificial intelligences can compete. Today knowledge is power, in the future empathy, creativity, flexibility (of thinking and acting) will be power. We will no longer be able to compete with the knowledge that machines will have thanks to AI.  

Why aren't we ready yet? 

A representative survey from 2018 found that Americans are mostly optimistic when it comes to AI: Although 77% of respondents don’t fear losing their job to AI, a majority does agree that AI will have a negative impact on the U.S. workforce and the economy.  

Now add the widespread fear of transparency in project management and you have the answer: because we don't want it (yet) and can (still) afford not wanting it.  

In the private sector, 43% of projects exceed their budgets. We can no longer afford this luxury of wasting resources. So first of all, it will be a process of moving from man to machine. The project person will treat the software proposals in the same way as the Amazon proposals: some will be accepted because they are very useful. Others will be disregarded after initial inspection. The project person will show the software what they think is right. Step by step the AI-controlled software will make ever better and ever more reliable suggestions. The ability to learn enormously fast from an ever-increasing pool of data gives the software the decisive edge to deliver clear added value to all project people: better project results. 

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