Project Management

Artificial Intelligence and Project Leadership

From the Leadership in Project Management Blog
This blog is meant to elaborate around leadership in the context of project management and discuss questions like What is leadership? What kind of leadership does project management need? Which role do values and ethics play in PM leadership? Examples of good practices in leadership. How to become a PM leader? My comments in this blog represent my own personal view and do not constitute any statement or information on behalf of PMI or the PMI Board of Directors.

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How would a bunch of intelligent machines make stuff happen? 
Far fetched? Utopia? Do not think so.

How are military drones eliminating targets? Search - select - execute - confirm.
It is a time limited endeavor to achieve a unique result = a project.
There still may be some human decision makers involved today, or not. I do not know.

How are banks making decisions about - say - credit risks. They look for parameters from all kind of sources, big data, own databases, request data from other sources, calculate the risk, decide.
It is a time limited endeavor to achieve a unique result = a project.
There are probably no humans involved anymore. 

The three sides of PMI’s talent triangle are 
- technical PM (the processes, tools & techniques), 
- the business acumen (making business decisions and setting strategies) and 
- leadership. 

Let’s have look how these sides are being ’supported’ by intelligent machines, imagine a time-frame of 5-20 years:

Technical PM is prone to be taken over by systems, a process can be put into a workflow, results can be digitized and lesson learned can be used for self improvements. Who is calculating a critical path manually today? Could a system trigger work authorizations, check deliverables, analyze deviations from the plan? Yup.

Business acumen is meant to make business decisions, set strategies and objectives, observe the environment and respond to changes. Business decision ’support’ is here since decades, morphing into big data and analysis. Insurance companies, tax authorities, energy suppliers make decisions automatically without human intervention. Death of the white collar worker? Yup.

So, this leaves to the third side: 
Is there still leadership required for these kind of projects?
Do we still need emotional intelligence, conflict management, team building etc. when machines are making decisions and machines are implementing projects? 

Very interested in your thoughts.

Posted on: August 11, 2016 10:19 AM | Permalink

Comments (17)

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Call me a little old school, but as technology driven as we are in society today, I find it difficult to believe that artificial intelligence can fundamentally replace the soft skills that come from years of "human touch". It's partly why I've seen more heuristic prioritization models only provide a directional sense of priority, and why I've seen even more of these models fail for that reason. It's why risk management is so fundamentally a human process that can't ultimately fully be "trained" into a machine system.

Humans will forever always be looking for something outside of standardized, algorithmically defined information, and will always ask new questions no data analytics engine can answer. It's the age old question..."How do you FEEL about it?" A machine can't truly answer that question, and sometimes thats the only data point I need to make an important decision.

I agree with Brian. Its difficult for machines to truly describe human feelings/emotions. Templates, checklists, big data can make the life of a technical PM easier and to certain extent make business decisions predictable, but leadership can't be learnt through them.

I think we can have assisted decision making. But to make the decision should be leave to the PM (human), that can take in account many other factor that might not be consider otherwise.

I dont know what a artificatlal intelligence manage project would have on motivation, performance....

When was the last time you saw humans following a computer? A computer cannot lead a project on many fronts, just as all of these responses point out.

As the article pointed out in each case technology assists humans in the process of making decisions, but there is a part of the cycle that needs a human to start or close in order to complete.

To me this is also nice for a technology project, but we really haven't advanced far enough to replace humans on a construction project.

Thanks for your replies. Trying to play devil's advocate here.

I think we already have decision making without human interaction (e.g. in self driving cars, in stellar sondes sent out to Pluto, automatic investment backing etc.) and some of this might even be better (quicker, unbiased) than if humans were involved.
An AI managed project does not need motivation, since no humans might be needed.

Venkata, who needs human feelings in a project? And some R&D are working on AI able to read human emotions from faces/gestures etc. - like police wanting to recognise liers or terrorists in a crowd. My question is open to the idea that human leadership might be replaced by AI leadership (Google/Apple and your phone already determine how you spend most of your day - Amazon is working on sending something before you even order it).

Brian, yes, who imagined 20 years ago Pokemon GO, drones, and self driving cars? And that a computer beats the world champion in GO. Changes are coming quicker and more impactful. Besides that AI is working on soft skills, who needs them anyhow if humans are no longer required to be on the team? SIRI can already understand emotions in your voice and adapt ist answer to that.
You have a point with innovation, creativity. Some say even that is pattern based in our brains and Google's computer proofed that he is quicker in patterns than the world's best GO player.

Hi Susan, I think about the future when I look at project management.

In many other areas computers have taken over all or part of leadership and decision making: drivers using car navigation systems, pilots flying big airplanes on autopilot, medical surgery implementing knees and hips, investment decisions, terrorists killed by drones, robot nurses giving out drugs in Japanese hospitals, human-free factories or datacenters, rockets landing on Asteroids etc etc.
With selfdriving cars, taxi drivers will loose their jobs, and truck drivers (and no need for pausing every 8 hours or so).

If AI is starting to learn and improve itself (and its almost there), it will invent or create things we do not understand anymore (do you know how your fridge works?). Since long we have self-repairing computers and SW-driven configuration of them.

Recently saw a video of a bridge building machine. There was still some human supervision, how long will that be needed?

Yes the technology is changing very rapidly and with intelligence built around machines we are moving towards replacing humans.But the fact being the architect is human and comparing with technologies entering our world it had yet not reached the ground level everywhere.It will take years to replicate or made acceptable all around the world considering the challenges.I agree we had taken a big step and we are doing things which were non existent few years back.

If we can do that to healthcare and transportation and and and ... why should we not be able to do it to project management?
If I already knew how it will work, it would be there.

One more article for your consideration that talks less about how AI will replace traditional project management roles but help facilitate enhanced PM functions:

I am writing a book about the future of project management and I find your comment very inspiring.
One more hint: I find you are not considering the fact that new generations are very different at human interactions as we are used to. Soft-skills, team building, conflict management will dramatically change...

Thanks Luigi, and good luck with your book.

While I agree that behaviors change or are perceived to be changing, also driven by technology, they rely on very old mechanisms of emotions, reaction, fear, aggression etc. which are build into our system of body, mind and soul. The 7 sins are here for thousands of years.

These mechanisms change only with evolution over thousands of years. Thats why history repeats itself. Actually I think it is one particular danger of AI that the speed of technological change is decoupled from the human capability to cope.
In project management, change processes take years, in society even longer. Culture is prevailing, being a stabilizing (positive aspect) or adverse factor for change (negative).

For project management, therefor leadership will be the future areas of expertise (if it is so not today), not processes and decision making. Except if one day AI makes humanity obsolete, as some say.

Love your final phrase "if one day AI makes humanity obsolete, as some say". I have recently came across Yuval Harari and his work. I copy here a link to his new book which explains the new forces from AI and how these (according to him) will shape the future of decision makers (and eventually project management).
Thank you for bringing up the topic.

Stepping back and looking at the overall history of AI every time there is a new break through people start jumping on the Ai bandwagon, however over the long-term to date AI has over promised and under delivered.

I am a realist and looking at the rate at which technology projects fail, which is the lament I am always reading about, I think it will be several more decades before humans will be made redundant by AI.

Well, projects keep failing but neverthelss 1 out of 1000 will bring the breakthrough. Yes, some make optimistic predictions but progress is mindblowing, e.g. the GO champion was beaten 2 years before the prediction it could be done.
Being realistic might have to be replaced by being resilient, as control is being replaced by trust and ethical behavior.

Found a video showing the speed and impact of change. On humanity.

It is happening now. What is the role of project managers, if there is any.

The topic gains traction. I think PMs fall under 'other professionals', especially if we continue to fail on successes.

Dear Thomas
Interesting perspective on the topic: "Artificial Intelligence and Project Leadership"
Thanks for sharing

Project Managers are less and less going to carry out activities in the field of techniques and tools.
The business, the company and the leadership will be your areas of action

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