In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry shares how AI is a powerful and essential tool for project management.
Gartner predicts that 80 percent of project management work will be done by artificial intelligence by 2030. Project managers, before you let that data point flood you with fear, listen up: AI is not going to replace you. But it will make you more efficient and effective, giving you greater forward-looking insights and increasing your power over steering projects to success.
Consider this second statistic: Organizations invest $48 trillion in projects annually, but only a little over one-third of projects are considered successful. This is why a leap in maturity for project and program management is long overdue. Many project managers still rely on slides, spreadsheets and manual record-keeping – this works okay for hitting deadlines and deliverables but is woefully insufficient for large projects with evolving targets.
AI Frees Project Managers For High-Value Work
Much of the anxiety surrounding AI stems from a general misunderstanding of project management.
Everybody thinks they can do project management because they can hold a status meeting and create a list of tasks. This is a vastly oversimplified idea of project management. Far beyond basic taskmaster duties, project managers must be able to wield influence over teams, projects, deadlines and budgets that aren’t their own.
Where does that influence come from? Solid data and insights. AI is just the tool to give project managers the data they need to anticipate problems early on, set appropriate budgets and accurately set deadlines and timelines.
For example, project managers regularly put out meeting agendas listing attendees and then create post-meeting notes. That’s a treasure trove of information an AI tool such as Copilot in Microsoft Teams can automate. Copilot can track who showed up against who was invited, alerting early on if a key stakeholder is missing meetings. Flagging that risk early on will help a project manager avoid all sorts of complications down the road. Copilot can also track when teams make key decisions, helping project managers determine the cost of the meeting versus the value of the output.
AI will also lighten the heavy administrative burden of project management, allowing project managers to spend more time on high-value tasks such as meeting with stakeholders and coaching their teams. A tool like Copilot can transcribe and summarize status meetings, easily saving project managers a few hours of low-value-add work.
“AI offers an opportunity to free up project manager time and allow them to do what they do best – lead teams and get the very best out of people. This will no doubt deliver far better results, fewer errors, more motivation, and greater success,” says Peter Taylor, vice president of global project management at Ceridian and author of AI and the Project Manager: How the Rise of Artificial Intelligence Will Change Your World.
How Project Managers Can Leverage Value From AI Today
To start generating value from AI now, project managers should first look at documentation and reporting. This is where project managers tend to spend a lot of time for little value.
There are AI tools on the market now — again, such as Microsoft’s Copilot — that can summarize meeting notes and help repurpose data such as user stories and sales reports in minutes. No more manual retyping and repurposing required.
GenAI tools such as ChatGPT can help write personas and acceptance criteria. Already, some project managers incorporate ChatGPT prompts into Excel spreadsheets to pull in acceptance criteria, which is then ready to import into an agile project management platform such as JIRA. ChatGPT can also help pull things such as industry standards, regulatory documentation, and training and policy manuals – all things that don’t need to be started from scratch.
Project managers will still need to tweak what comes out of an AI tool, but having a baseline to start from will save tons of time. To get started with AI now, project managers should educate themselves on AI’s current and potential capabilities, Taylor suggests. “Learn, read, explore, get engaged in debate, do anything you can to discover the realities and the potential of AI in your project world and beyond,” he notes. “It’s about being open-minded and proactively considering how and where AI can aid project management. And if your organization is not talking about AI yet, lobby to get the conversation started.”
New Technology, Old Story
Every time a new technology debuts, there are widespread fears about how it will impact jobs. When Agile arrived on the scene, for example, some people foretold the death of project management. What ended up happening, however, was project management became nimbler.
When figuring out how to use AI for project management, keep in mind that it’s not about the tool itself but about your processes. Tools just automate bad processes faster. How can AI bring visibility into what drives your business? How can it help you predict the future and better steer projects to success? Where are project managers spending lots of low-value time? In other words, instead of getting too caught up in investing in the fanciest tool (which will keep evolving), focus on how your processes can improve.
There’s no need for project managers to fear AI. Because whatever insights AI delivers, project managers will still need to digest and understand the information, then sell the future based on the data. AI will be a powerful — and essential — tool for project management and program management success.