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25 November 2019updated 08 Sep 2021 2:26pm

The future of work is nothing to fear

AI signals opportunity for project managers, not obsolescence.

By Mike DePrisco

Artificial intelligence has unleashed a wave of projects and possibilities, changing the way organisations and their employees live, work, and play. A recent survey by Gartner shows that close to 60 per cent of organisations have deployed AI. And more change will come. While those organisations currently have an average of only four AI projects in the works, respondents expect that number will jump to 35 by 2022.

But AI has also unleashed enormous anxiety and misconceptions among practitioners within the project management space. Quite simply, people are afraid for their jobs, convinced that AI and other technology means that humans will have limited roles and reduced impact going forward. To a great extent this fear is unfounded.

AI is no different in terms of disruption than any other technology that has been introduced in the last 50 years. For project practitioners, they need to learn about the technology, embrace it, and recognise the value-add that it brings to their organisation and to the customers they aim to serve.

For project managers, the impact of AI will be especially beneficial. As I travel around the world and meet with Project Management Institute members, I’m often asked: “Will AI replace what I do?” What PMI’s most recent Pulse of the Profession® research highlights and confirms is that AI will actually create more opportunities for PMs, not less, and it will improve the opportunities for adding value.

Certainly AI will likely automate many of the mundane tasks associated with a person’s job. But it will enable people to engage in more strategic work – work that needs to be managed by humans. And only humans can be creative and strategic, and lead and influence people as they adapt to change and disruption.

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Our research also reveals that AI is changing how projects are managed. Over the next three years, project professionals expect the proportion of projects they manage using AI to jump from 23 per cent to 37 per cent, according to PMI’s AI Innovators: Cracking the Code on Project Performance.

In that context, project managers need to view AI as another tool to help deliver value for their organisation. They need to leverage AI’s disruptive nature in a way that allows their organisations to achieve their most important and strategic projects and outcomes.

To do this, project managers don’t need to be experts in AI. They don’t need to be application developers or software engineers to know how to build the algorithms that inform machine learning, for example. But they do need to understand how they can leverage the data that AI produces in a way that enhances and optimises the team that they are leading and the outcomes that they are trying to achieve.

That means they have a responsibility to educate themselves on the various types of AI technologies that are being used and to understand what is most prevalent and most relevant for their particular industry.

Project managers are going to have to manage projects that include multiple disruptive technologies – whether it’s knowledge-based systems, voice assistance, speech recognition, or something else. And they need to be the conduit to help translate the power of that technology to drive project success.

The danger is not in the technology itself but in the fear of it. As has been the case too many times with disruptive technology, organisations talk about it, recognise the importance of it, and accept that it will change things and improve how value is created and delivered to customers. But they are slow to react when it comes to actually integrating it into their daily work.

They are slow to react not only because they don’t fully understand it but also because integration requires a large investment of time, money, and resources. And organisations are sometimes hesitant to be leaders in terms of adopting this technology, unless they’re in an industry where it is absolutely essential and is already part of their work.

The true test of AI will come down to the value it delivers, whether to customers or in terms of producing expected business benefits – or exceeding them. That’s why I encourage project managers to understand AI and educate themselves about it. They need to recognise that it’s another tool at their disposal, not something that will make them disposable.

Mike DePrisco is vice president, global solutions at Project Management Institute.