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Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Project Managers in the Future?

I am currently teaching one of the most popular courses in our business management degree program, MGMT 260: Foundations of Project Management. Recently, I received an email from a student about the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in project management (PM), and whether AI will replace project managers in the future. This question is an important one to consider not only for the profession of project management, but also in similar professions where the question of AI "taking over" job roles is in question. This is also an important question for students in our project management certificate program to consider as they learn about project management and venture into new roles.

Here is our email exchange.

Question: Hi Professor, I am curious to know your thoughts on artificial intelligence replacing project managers. Do you think there is a chance AI can or will eventually replace a PM job?

Answer: Good morning. Thanks for the great question! I will answer your question directly but let me first give you some context. Remember that project management is about keeping projects on time, on task, and on budget. PM’s essentially manage the Triple Constraint Triangle we talked about last week - Time, Scope, Cost. A shift in one constraint impacts the others, effectively skewing the triangle in shape and form. Your job as a PM is to try to keep the triangle looking like a traditional triangle, and balancing the project constraints of scope, time, and cost. It’s not an easy job given the amount of inputs, data, change requests, work stoppages, and unforeseen circumstances that a PM faces. In fact, the realities of project success are astounding. According to Fauser, Schmidthuysen, and Scheffold, “over 60 percent of projects experience failure, resulting in higher costs, time overruns, or shortcomings in the desired outputs.” According to Deloitte,

  • 21% of projects were cancelled prior to being delivered or were never used;
  • Only 37% of all projects succeeded in delivering the required functionality on time and on budget;
  • 46% of projects were over budget ;
  • 63% of projects were either challenged or failed; and
  • 71% of projects were delivered late.

Why is this? I like to distill things down to their most primary functions. If you look at project management from a bird's eye view and distill it down, it's really about two things: 1) managing administrative functions (schedules, budgets, tasks, etc.), and 2) leading people. This second point is crucial to understand - motivating people, collaborating with teams, getting the most out of their efforts - this is a critically important part of a project manager's job. The human element of project management is just as, if not more, impactful than the administrative elements we're learning about so far in the course. Project managers are leaders and motivators, first and foremost.

We also know there are powerful tools that help project managers with administrative functions. Advanced project software and apps help today's project manager with most of them. But what if there was also a tool to help project managers run more agile, nimble, and innovative projects? What if they could gain more valuable insights into the work they're doing and the inputs they receive everyday? Most importantly, what if they could be freed up to focus more on team development and leadership? Artificial intelligence (AI) currently serves these purposes in limited capacities, and its role is projected to grow over the next decade. Studies have shown that project managers spend more than half of their time managing administrative functions such as check-ins and project updates. AI is capable of monitoring patterns and proactively assisting PMs with these functions. AI is also playing data capture and analysis functions for project stakeholders to make decisions from, and playing an important role with predictive analytics. I see this as a good thing because it frees up PM's to concentrate on more complex project activities like human relations, providing opportunities for higher customer value creating opportunities and stakeholder management, moving the project manager from the project execution table to the strategy development table.

Given this, and to answer your question, I don't see AI replacing the PM role. If anything it is currently, and will continue to, help the PM role evolve and shift its focus away from everyday tedium and toward strategy and innovation. It will also allow for more nimble and agile project execution and completion, and provide predictive analytics to allow for proactive decision making. Remember, nearly all businesses and organizations need to manage and complete projects; projects that are requested from, and lead and executed by people – a need that is not going away anytime soon.

Given this, do students still need to understand the fundamentals of project management? Yes. There will not be a day in the future where project managers will not need to understand how to put a schedule together or manage a budget. These are foundational to the profession. Do they also need to understand the role that artificial intelligence will play in project management, and how to utilize it for project success? Yes. You will not need to be an expert in AI, but you will need to understand how it works and how to utilize it effectively. The "human aspect" of project management is also not going away. In my view, if human beings continue to work on projects, there will be a need for another human to manage, lead, and motivate them toward successful project completion.

Insights like this are why academic programs like Champlain College Online’s Bachelor of Science in Business Management are so important. The program has a specialization in Project Management where we teach both project management fundamentals, and more advanced PM insights like Agile and the role of artificial intelligence. Students can also sign up for just the PM specialization and earn a stand-alone certificate if they already have a college degree, or want to explore project management specifically.

About the Author

Albert Orbinati

Albert Orbinati, PhD, is Assistant Professor and Program Director for the Business Management and Human Resource Management programs in the Division of Champlain College Online at Champlain College. His 20+ year career includes progressive leadership positions in secondary and post-secondary education, and the U.S. military. Dr. Orbinati holds a BA in Urban Planning from Binghamton University, an MBA from Champlain College, an MA in Adult Education from Central Michigan University, and a PhD in Adult Education from Capella University.

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