The Future of Work (in Projects)
Project managers have always valued tools that save them time and help them become better professionals. From the well-known document templates for starting a project, status reports, risk register, change log, etc., to more sophisticated tools to manage resource capacity, simulate “what if” scenarios, calculate the probability of finishing on time and under budget, etc. Good project professionals have always been supposed to have these hard-skills. For example, in many job interviews, candidates were asked if they are proficient in Microsoft Project, and those who used Excel to schedule and control dates were not well regarded.
Project work has changed. Requirements are usually not clear enough, and project scope has to be progressively elaborated. Controlling changes, time and cost is less important than value delivery and meeting business goals. Managers need to make informed real-time decisions, anticipating issues while there are still options to correct project performance, and they don’t have time to read comprehensive documentation from dozens or hundreds of projects. Just one person to manage the whole project is not effective: collaboration is needed because the best solutions may come from one of many stakeholders.
Nowadays, project managers increase their productivity by using tools to be more effective in three areas: personal, team, and organization. As we move up from person to organization, hard skills become less important, and communication, interpersonal, soft skills, or power skills, become more important. In this hyperconnected digital society, hard and soft skills are enhanced by technology. Applying technology to projects is becoming increasingly important. Project managers will not be replaced by artificial intelligence, but project managers who master tools may replace those who do not.
You may not be replaced by AI as a project professional. Other professionals who are more proficient in technology may take over.
Last March, Microsoft unveiled 365 Copilot, the new version of Microsoft Office powered by GPT-4, with the promise that it will revolutionize knowledge work. We will be able to ask Word to draft a document, PowerPoint to prepare a presentation, Excel to analyze some figures, Outlook to respond to emails, Teams to summarize the decisions made in the meeting, etc., considering the specific worker’s context within the organization, corporate policies, information confidentiality, etc.
Every day there are more and more projects needing quick effective decision making from a big number of decentralized active stakeholders. Stakeholders create, access, and share big amounts of data, from any device, everywhere, any time. We can see a trend in project management “socialization” producing more and more project related data in the cloud, getting to the levels required by AI.
How will project teams work in an AI world? Dreaming is free. Let’s imagine…
AI applied to a single project
Let’s see how AI enhanced PPM systems will help manage a single project:
- A chatbot helps initiate new projects, pending to be approved. It asks questions to set the exit criteria, dependencies with other projects, access levels, etc. AI calculates the relative project priority within the business unit, program, or portfolio.
- Program managers and portfolio managers use AI recommendations to approve the most value adding project set.
- AI recommends the available fittest project manager to manage the project.
- PM’s planning work is effective: AI proactively proposes requirements, work packages, deliverables, durations, milestones, team members, material resources, costs, etc. Reusing data from past projects, AI can initiate stakeholder register, risk register, assumption log, etc.
- AI sets up software tools for the project team with the right security levels.
- AI enhances project management team register project performance data in real time. It also updates lessons learned and other relevant knowledge management information while the project is running.
- AI optimizes elaboration of status reports. Project managers talk with a chatbot to get aid on performance assessment and decide corrective and preventive actions.
- Stakeholders are aware of project status real time. They can use their mobile phones to send comments, project feedback, people feedback and change requests. AI optimizes communications to stakeholders. AI ensures critical communications are timely received. AI prevents unnecessary communications to stakeholders.
- AI continually measures stakeholder satisfaction, expectations fulfillment, etc.
- AI assesses stakeholder engagement level –unaware, resistant, neutral, supportive, leading– and proposes alternatives for improvement.
- AI helps monitoring and controlling risks, changes, resource planning, etc.
- AI coaches project managers. Performance background is analyzed to help project managers achieve professional development results.
- AI helps ensure contract terms are fulfilled. It can automate payments to contractors via smart contracts.
AI applied to many projects
Let’s see how AI enhanced PPM systems will help manage a megaproject:
- One tool can manage hundreds of projects grouped into business units. Users can only access those projects they are granted.
- Most projects –predictive, agile or hybrid– belong to programs and portfolios. One program may belong to one or many portfolios. Programs and portfolios may belong to one or many business units.
- Contractors can also use the same PPM system to manage their projects, programs, and portfolios.
- Each project is managed by a value driven professional project manager. Each program is managed by a professional program manager focused on program benefit delivery. Each portfolio is managed by a professional portfolio manager focused on portfolio strategy realization.
- Throughout the several years the megaproject is open, hundreds of people enter data as team members, and many more use the role of stakeholder.
- Team members submit time sheets and expense sheets. They can use their mobile phones to send comments, risks, etc. They use collaborative tools to manage tasks and communications.
- Stakeholders can supervise status reports. They can use their mobile phones to send comments to the project manager, but also change requests, project feedback, people feedback, etc.
- The tool is quite effective at quantitative analysis, classifying and clustering thousands of projects. AI saves a lot of time generating performance reports, assuring quality standards, etc. It can answer questions like: What are the odds this project will finish on time? What is the value of this deliverable? What projects should be re-baselined? What teams should be restructured? What contractors should be replaced?
What tools can we use today?
While we await this future of project management work assisted by AI, today we can already use certain tools that increase the productivity of project teams and project managers, in particular.
A modern-day professional project manager is not highly valued if they assign tasks via email, send emails with documents attached, interrupt us with virtual or in-person meetings that last too long, etc. They are supposed to know how to send large files to mobile devices, instant messaging better than WhatsApp, assign tasks or make conversation threads betther than email, organize a brainstorming session from home, etc. In software projects, they should know how to interact with programmers, without taking up too much of their time, so they understand the requirements, defects, testing, definition of done, etc. In agile projects, be them software or not, they should know how to use lists, virtual boards, etc.
Many organizations are increasingly focusing on projects, but they recognize bureaucracy and inefficiencies due to not using productive tools. The project manager must have the habit of researching new tools and continuously updating their skills to be able to proactively offer solutions in the organizations they work for.
As of today, a professional project manager should master four categories of tools: 1) tools for personal self-organization; 2) tools for team collaboration; 3) tools for scheduling and controlling time and costs; and 4) tools for managing multiple projects with many people.
A project manager should be effective in managing their own personal time. If they don’t manage their time well, how could they manage the time of others? Often, valuable time is lost searching for documents, notes, links, multimedia files (audio and video), which could be avoided if they organized their folders well and used file-sharing tools accessible from the computer, tablet, or mobile device (e.g., One Drive, Dropbox, GoogleDrive, Box).
It is not very productive to organize ideas in your mind or write them down on non-digital media. Mind mapping tools can be very useful when organizing project information, analyzing requirements, sorting ideas for project scheduling, etc.
Another personal productivity drain is the case of inefficient use of web browsers. Productivity can be gained by narrowing down searches and properly annotating the results for later reference. An interesting aid to research work is the use of AI language generative platforms like ChatGPT, Perplexity, etc.
Many professionals use calendar applications to block their own time, set reminders, etc. According to the Getting Things Done productivity framework, calendar should only be used for commitments with objective dates. The GTD method, published by David Allen in 2001, is still used today by many knowledge workers, including many project managers.
2) Team collaboration
Many tools were created to facilitate teamwork, but their misuse often leads to unproductivity. This is the case with email, which is often used for conversations, as a to-do list, and as an information repository, resulting in endless inboxes. Conversely, many productivity methods aim to achieve inbox zero as a goal.
Office tools have become a productivity issue for many project teams. For example, when an email is sent with an attached document that several team members need to review. Each one generates a different version that later needs to be merged. This waste could be avoided by having the team always work on a single version, which is shared as a link to a cloud file. An effective project manager promotes that documents, presentations, and notes are edited and commented online, from any device with internet access. They would also know how to effectively collect surveys from a large number of stakeholders.
Informal communication within the team is key to the success of any project. The use of WhatsApp groups for this purpose is met with resistance from many people who prefer to restrict it to their private messages outside of the workplace. They find it intrusive and unprofessional due to confidentiality and productivity issues, as communications reach all team members, cannot be deleted, are not easy to rectify, search or reuse messages, etc. These problems have been successfully addressed in other instant messaging applications such as Slack or Teams. In any case, it is necessary to implement good practices for productive use (asynchronous messages, channels vs. direct messages, dictated notes rather than voice messages, use of threads, reactions, integrations, etc.).
Another great achievement in the field of team productivity has been “having tasks in the cloud.” From any internet-connected device, tasks can be noted, described, consulted, scheduled, grouped, prioritized, commented on, assigned, tracked, completed, tagged, etc. Thanks to task management tools such as Asana, I feel that I have control over the tasks performed by the development team in India. When I have a new idea to evolve the tool, I don’t keep it in my head, but I can write it down on the list of developments that only I see. When that new feature is well described, I can also put it on another list that the development team manages. When someone on the team self-assigns that task, I can know if it is pending, in progress, or completed, simply by checking a kanban board on my mobile phone. If there is any doubt or impediment, a notification pops up in my inbox so that I can respond asynchronously. When they complete the task, it pops up in my inbox and I can validate the “definition of done” that I described in the task itself. If it doesn’t pass the test, I mark the task as incomplete, and the programmer receives another notification and can read my comments. When we talk, I can use the links to these tasks in the cloud so that no one wastes time searching. The productivity savings compared to having synchronous meetings or managing tasks by email, in my case, are orders of magnitude. Asana is also the tool I use to assign homework to my students and to organize my personal tasks under the GTD framework.
3) Schedule and control Time and Cost
Being on the market since 1980, Microsoft Project is the “de facto standard” at project scheduling. Other tools like ProjectLibre, Smartsheet, Primavera, etc., can export files to be used with Microsoft Project, and vice versa. Consequently, most scheduling tools share the same design for views, tables, fields, and methods to plan and control time and cost.
Controlling a project is more than recalculating dates and costs. A project manager should know how to report project status, measure variances and forecast, anticipate risk, simulate what if scenario analysis, propose preventive or corrective actions, and so on.
4) Managing multiple Projects with many People
There are more and more projects where decisions have to be made quickly, based on the decentralized involvement of a large number of people who actively participate, generate, share, or access a lot of information from any device, anywhere, at any time. We will witness a kind of “socialization” of project management, and the consequent proliferation of enormous amounts of projects related data.
Value driven project management requires more and more stakeholders to share loads of technical data –terms and conditions. resources. job descriptions. SOW, specifications, documents, blueprints, test cases, releases, defects, etc.– and management data –procurements, payments, financing contributions, milestone dates, activity start/finish dates, baseline/planned/actual dates, activity dependencies, budgets, cost estimates, actual costs, team member assignations, time sheets, expense sheets, corrective actions, defects, audit nonconformance issues, change requests, comments, feedbacks, questionnaires, dashboard indicators, status reports, forecasts, scope statement, requirements, deliverables, project charter, stakeholders, risks, issues, assumptions, lessons learned, etc.
PMPeople is the tool for the project economy. It is aimed to unify professional project management by these differential points:
- Designed by and for professional project managers, following professional project management standards.
- Online productivity –less meetings, less documents, less workflows– through distributed collaboration among 12 specialized roles: Organization Owner, 6 roles on demand management and 5 roles on supply management.
- Freemium product –unlimited time, unlimited users– usable via web and mobile application.
Start using PMPeople for free, for unlimited time and for any number of users. In premium organizations, only managers have a cost. Several roles –stakeholders, team members, sponsors and resource managers– are always free. You can increase or decrease your premium seats according to the organization actual needs. Premium organizations have access to our interactive support through Slack. Our servers are located in EU. This software can also be hosted on customer premises.
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