Will AI disrupt project management consulting?
Larger companies traditionally reach for project management consultants when projects are challenging, to fill resource shortfalls or provide a ‘comfort blanket’. As organisations grow in-house capability, there is greater focus on value for money from project management consultants. Through automating high-volume tasks, artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionising many industries including project management; is it possible that at some point project management consulting may also be disrupted by AI?
The Management Consultancies Association states in 2018 the UK consulting industry grew to reach an estimated value of £10.6 billion. Programme and project management consulting represent eight per cent of the UK consulting market. Smaller consultancies have significantly grown with specialised offerings to differentiate them in niche markets. This trend shows clients are looking for alternatives to the big names, as smaller boutique firms are staffed with senior, experienced and comparable experts, but with lower fees.
We know the many variables such as time, cost, scope, resources and benefits that need to be controlled makes project delivery a complex problem. A project manager is sometimes required to be a clairvoyant; predicting project outcomes based on risks and assumptions. Additionally, a project manager can be inevitably bias and imperfect as all human beings, and project delivery also involves other people that require soft skills to manage, like conflicts between stakeholders and team members.
The knowledge and expertise a project manager gains through experience plays a large part in more accurate estimation and prediction. If current data could be analysed against recorded best practise, or experience could be automated, or expertise ‘programmed’, would this improve the likelihood of success in project delivery? After all, a project in its crudest form is a series of tasks/actions that lead to options/decisions which in turn lead to further tasks/actions. Recognising early deviation from patterns could mean spotting failure earlier and so an increasing numbers of people believe the planning, organising and controlling aspects of project management could be performed by computer systems, enabling project managers to focus on leadership, people and strategic tasks.
In a special report, The Economist makes the argument that AI providers will increasingly compete with management consultancies. Project management as a career is about to get upended by AI by 2030. According to Gartner, AI will take 80 per cent of project management tasks, with things like data collection, tracking and reporting taken over.
There are over 300 project delivery tools on the market performing a variety of tasks, such as scheduling, issue tracking, project portfolio management, resource management and team collaboration. Initially AI tools in project delivery sees Chatbots providing streamlined integration and workflows between applications. This integration is also likely to enhance team collaboration and is supported by automation where the computer is ‘doing’; replacing human aspects of the project delivery process i.e. performing simple repetitive tasks. For example, AI technology can process, handle and analyse large amounts of data faster and more efficiently than the average human – think rapid project reporting insights. Virtual assistants can search through data created by projects to automate repetitive tasks. This frees up time so the project management consultant no longer needs to support the issue – they can focus on other areas.
While streamlining and automation improve the efficiency of the project delivery processes, AI will add the most value if it can support prediction to provide insight and foresight. For example, using historical data to inform early rapid progress insights could help companies develop strategies to minimise the likelihood of project failure. Some AI start ups are already experimenting in this area, such as Aptage, which uses AI to recalculate if a project will be delivered on time and on budget.
Project managers and project management consultants will provide benefit to both the client and supplier from these impacts. For example, there could be a reduction in the hours of laborious data gather and analysis, or an improvement in project workflow by reductions in wasted duplication or even reducing unnecessary communication. However, the greatest potential benefit would be in prediction and provision of insight and foresight that helps improve decision making. This would enable consultants to focus on the higher value tasks like undertaking comprehensive planning, providing greater insights, or working or coaching key stakeholders - perhaps there would even be a reduction in fees…
There will undoubtedly be an impact of AI on project management consulting, as well as project management generally. Various AI tools exist that are changing the way project management consulting works, these begin by replacing admin level tasks, which allows consultants to focus on high value.
As these tools become the norm, the next generation of consultants will need to adapt and have new skills to work better and smarter. AI will also enable consultants to exercise enhanced judgement based on broader and deeper information.
However, AI tools for project delivery are still in the early phases of evolution. Currently, most tools on the market are focused on improving the efficiency of project delivery processes and centre around the use of Chatbots. The use of AI to offer more insight and foresight is still in the experimental stage, but as this improves, the role of the project manager and project management consultant evolves to benefit the project and the project customer.
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