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The silent disruptor: Navigating the unchartered waters of AI - A project manager's reflection

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In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, embarking on an Artificial Intelligence (AI) project with a Private Equity client over the past year has been nothing short of a thrilling journey. Having managed software development projects since the pre-"Cloud" era, the rapid pace of technical progress within the realm of AI has been a truly eye-opening experience. However, beyond the algorithms and lines of code, what has struck me the most is the overwhelming eagerness of individuals to engage in conversations about AI. 

From those completely unfamiliar with the intricacies of AI to seasoned professionals who acknowledge the gaps in their knowledge, the spectrum of curiosity is vast. Some approach the topic with a thirst for understanding, craving insights into a world that seems both fascinating and complex. Others, who possess a baseline understanding, are acutely aware of the perpetual learning curve that accompanies AI, pushing them to seek continuous improvement. 

Fear often lingers in the background, fueled by the vivid portrayals of AI in movies and books. Conversations with these individuals might initially be met with hesitation, but in the right environment, they quickly warm up, eager to dispel myths and gain a realistic perspective on AI's capabilities and limitations. On the flip side, there are those who exude confidence in their AI knowledge, only to discover that their understanding is more surface level than they thought. As the saying goes, it's often the empty vessels that make the most noise. It's a reminder that in the dynamic world of AI, humility and a commitment to ongoing learning are indispensable traits. 

Reflecting on my role as a project manager, I find myself compelled to share the insights gained during this transformative journey. While I don't claim to possess superior intelligence or more extensive experience than my peers, I recognise the unique value I can contribute lies in sharing the lessons I wish someone had imparted to me a year ago. 

When AI infiltrated my requirements through a single sentence in the business case — it crept in like a silent ninja, catching me off guard with minimal notice and altering the project's trajectory far beyond any other risk I’ve seen in my career. In the blink of an eye, I found myself thrust into an unfamiliar world, roller-coasting on an accelerated learning journey, flying through a whirlwind of new concepts with sweaty palms gripped to my seat.

Thankfully, you don’t need to endure a similar experience. When you’re asked to manage an AI project, start with APM’s articles “Innovation Projects” and “How AI Projects are different” to kickstart your journey. I’m also speaking at the upcoming APM conference where I'll share some nuggets of wisdom to help prepare you (and if you can't attend, keep an eye out for the recording).  

The most fundamental lesson I learned from the experience was “no data, no AI”.  

“Algorithms tuned by an average engineer can outperform those built by the world’s leading experts if the average engineer has access to far more data.” - Kai-Fu Lee, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order 

AI simply doesn’t add value without data and most business cases dive-bomb without it. My advice: prioritise data capture, quality and availability as the initial stepping stones for a successful AI venture. Prioritise data literacy in your skills development as it makes up 80% of your project planning and implementation. Some other helpful learning resources I’d recommend are: 

A diagram of a learning pathway

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In conclusion, venturing into the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI) may seem daunting, but it's a journey worth undertaking. Like any technological revolution, AI requires time to mature, and both individuals and data must evolve for its full potential to be realized. Instead of striving for instant mastery, professionals are encouraged to take a gradual approach — understanding that the goal is not to be a trend pioneer (like Netflix) but rather to avoid being "left behind" (like Blockbusters). 

Understanding AI and data principles, concepts, and tools, experimenting with them and incrementally integrating them into workflows is the pathway to success. As AI continues to evolve, those who actively engage and experiment will position themselves for success, harnessing the opportunities presented in this exciting phase of technological advancement.  


In 2024, the challenge of creating an interesting blog post lies not in writing the article — but in selecting a topic which can’t be written by AI. While the topic and research are my own work, supported by colleagues at MIGSO-PCUBED, I must give credit to ChatGPT for most of the heavy-lifting. 


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  1. Ashok Singha
    Ashok Singha 21 March 2024, 01:43 PM

    Informative article. Key take away do not underestimate the collection of good data with AI projects.