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Artificial intelligence in project management

About the research and why it is important

How to use AI technology in project management has had a lot of attention recently and the impact of AI has become a popular topic to debate when predicting the future of the project profession. AI has potential to become a significant tool for project professionals when delivering projects. Our report, led by the University of Southampton explores how professionals view the current state of AI in project management.

This research aimed to study the general perception of AI and the ease of use of AI technology within projects. The scope of the report is to find common themes of AI in projects rather than to provide specific cases of AI in projects. The research developed three research and practice-oriented objectives to reach this aim.

This allowed the report to include previous research to determine the current state of AI research in project management, and to suggest recommendations based on the current perception of AI among project professionals.

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Intended audience

This research will primarily be of interest to project professionals and organisations across all business sectors who have an interest in AI or areas such as project data.  The report is also likely to be of interest to academics and students with AI becoming an increasingly popular research topic within the digitalisation of project management. 

How was the research undertaken? 

The study was undertaken via a mixed methods approach including a literature review, interviews with 16 project professionals with experience of AI technology and survey data from more than 280 project professionals.

What did we discover?

Six key findings arose from the research:

  • AI enhances decision-making in projects
  • AI supports problem-solving functions
  • AI is most likely to be used during project planning
  • AI improves efficiency when analysing large volumes of data in projects
  • AI has the potential to increase project success and mitigate project failure
  • There is a positive correlation between the level of project complexity and the perceived usefulness of AI – “complex projects consist of many unknowns which are increasing all of the time… Using AI technology reduces some of the unknowns.”

Suggestions for project professionals and organisations

  1. Offer AI training - key for organisations’ senior management to focus on increasing professionals’ AI skills.
  2. Create a ‘why’ for using AI - justify why this technology is necessary through an organisational ‘why’. This will set the correct expectations and create a common purpose for using this technology.
  3. Define a clear AI problem formulation – to enable better use of resources for data management and identify suitable AI techniques for solving specific problems.
  4. Develop effective data management processes – this may include sharing data between internal project teams, managing historical project data and using external project databases.
  5. Create an open learning AI environment - project professionals don’t find AI easy to use and project organisations should aim to make AI more accessible by creating an open and inviting learning environment where learning about AI is encouraged across the whole organisation.

In summary

This research provides insights into the critical conversation about the role of AI technology in project management.  For the individual project professional, the current low use of AI in projects opens up opportunities to get ahead of the competition and gain valuable skills before the technology becomes widespread.  

The report’s findings indicate that it is likely that the use of AI will increase over time as AI training is offered to professionals and AI technology becomes more widely available. The professionals that recognise its opportunities and potential early on are likely to be the ones that demonstrate its increasing value and implement its use for positive project outcomes.

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