As a program manager, how many times have you told yourself, “There’s got to be an easier way?”
Program managers have so many hats to wear and data points to juggle that it is difficult to manage them all. Global software engineering company Ciklum notes that program managers feel administrative duties take up to 54 percent of their time, more than any other aspects of their jobs combined.
Artificial intelligence has the ability to help program managers streamline these tasks and complete more jobs on time and on budget. As project manager and Binfire.com founder David Robins explains, by incorporating artificial intelligence into program management, program managers can apply learning from past and current projects to future projects. This integration gives program managers tools to better plan and estimate work for projects. AI can also identify issues as soon as they happen and present several options for resolution.
Artificial intelligence can be used to alleviate program managers’ workloads by handling the necessary administrative tasks for projects, freeing the program manager to focus on the quality of the work being done and to troubleshoot any issues the AI identifies.
To understand how AI is integrating with program management, it’s important to understand exactly what artificial intelligence can do.
Understanding Program Management AI
Andy Crowe, PMP and founder of PMP certification training company Velociteach, notes that AI-facilitated automation is about a machine reliably solving a problem or task that a person would normally solve. AI, however, is not capable of driving strategy. That is where humans and AI technology work together: Machines perform data collection, analysis and monitoring while humans interpret the meaning of that data.
Scott Middleton, chief executive officer of strategy at consulting firm Strategos, says that AI helps teams make smarter decisions and move faster by automating simple tasks and developing an understanding of key project performance. That understanding can be used to uncover insights and make recommendations, perform complex tasks and even make some decisions.
Robins paints a future where AI-integrated program management software can monitor and study each member of the team when they work, inferring capabilities and shortcomings for each, as well as for the whole team. The software will determine whether the project is moving at the right pace to meet deadlines, or whether it has gone off track. It will then warn the manager and team to take corrective action before the issues become too big to fix. Then, it can analyze data from similar past projects and guide the team on the path forward for the best results, based on resources available.
Robins’ picture illustrates the key areas where AI can most impact program management: resource planning and management, cost and schedule management, and risk analysis and management.
Resource Planning and Management
Staffing is often done manually by program managers based on the resources they have available to them and what they know about those employees’ past performances. This process can be time-consuming and have blind spots when there is no hard data to support those decisions.
Enter artificial intelligence. AI can help program managers match the right people resources to the right roles within a project by learning about the people and the skills they possess. By gathering data on employee engagement levels, performance information and feedback on culture, AI can make company- and team-specific predictions instantly to identify ideal team members for any project.
For example, a team of data scientists at Microsoft used machine learning technology to develop a recommendations-based staff allocation tool. The software recommends optimal staff composition, and it identifies individual team members with the right experience for new projects, an alignment that helps program managers perform better and allows for faster staff allocation.
Artificial intelligence technology can also be used to help alert management how much additional work can be added without overburdening the company’s available resources, notes Harold Kerzner, Ph.D, senior executive director for project management at the International Institute for Learning. Such knowledge prevents program managers from overextending their resources and hindering completion of projects.
Cost and Schedule Management
Artificial intelligence technology can also help program managers take control over budgets and timelines in projects.
Our chief defense industry client strategist at Artemis, Joe Kerins, explains that software that integrates AI features can help with complex project scheduling and budgeting by providing a baseline that can be adjusted and refined. With a tool that combines both cost and schedule into one, program managers can easily make changes based on real-time data to a project’s baseline through a centralized database of information.
Global data expert and author Bernard Marr succinctly explains this idea: “Fed with the right data, AI systems could accurately produce information on budgets or estimated time frames in real time, something that even the most experienced human project managers could never do.”
Program management comes with rules, whether regulatory or project-specific. AI technology can help ensure that changes to projects do not break any rules by building in efficiency and quality checks, says Kerins. It allows program managers to write specific project rules into their tools to proactively identify any problems that need to be fixed before going any further into the project. Those problems, if left unaddressed, could be a compliance problem after completion.
Effective AI practices overcome traditional project schedule and budget optimization practices that are still based on manual trial-and-error techniques. Artificial intelligence technology can also help make predictions based on historical and current data through automated processes. Kerins notes that with the right solution capable of running “what if” scenarios, program managers are able to determine the outcome of any changes to budget and schedule. AI can make this process more effective by taking all present and future projects into consideration, not just current projects.
Risk Analysis and Management
Artificial intelligence technology is perfect for helping program managers with risk management in their projects. The same “what if” scenarios that can be run to determine the outcome of change can be used to determine the validity of a risk mitigation plan, Kerins says. Deloitte explains that cognitive computing tools can address complex situations full of ambiguity and uncertainty, which can help to more clearly identify risks in a project.
IT trends analyst Brian J. Dooley notes that most AI applications are focused on areas in which AI can sift through large volumes of data and pinpoint particular behavioral instances. Financial services professional Ipsita Pradhan expounds on this idea by saying that traditional methods of risk analysis are incapable of handling the large volumes of data that AI can work through, finding indications of known or unknown risks that humans are incapable of detecting.
It’s All About the Data
The biggest challenge to AI in program management is the quality and suitability of the data available.
As Middleton notes, some project teams enter either minimal or no data into their PPM tools. They may also have data that is inconsistent across the organization or completely missing. All of this negatively affects the performance of AI.
At this point, AI technology still relies on humans to input accurate and complete data, which is why there is a big advantage for companies who implement software that operates from a centralized database, notes Kerins.
Though not yet completely adopted by the program management discipline, artificial intelligence is the wave of the future for program managers. Respondents to a Harvard Business Review study, cited in the Ciklum whitepaper, indicated that 86 percent of program managers want support from AI for administrative tasks. There are some AI tools currently available for program management, and that field is going to grow fairly quickly as more program managers learn how AI can help them complete their projects.
Lee Stogner, PMP and president of Vincula Group, encourages program managers to evolve with AI technology. He advises program managers to “be the project manager who embraces new tools to make the job easier and more efficient.”