Empowering Project Management with Artificial Intelligence

By Greencastle Consulting

Machine learning software, commonly referred to as artificial intelligence (AI), has made its arrival in virtually every industry. The world of project management is no exception. From instant project scheduling to automated project team communications, there are seemingly endless opportunities for artificial intelligence to impact the way project managers operate.

It’s important to note that these tools do not replace the need for project managers. Instead, they offer an opportunity to optimize how project managers spend their time. While we’re a long way from full-blown Skynet, current AI capabilities do offer tremendous opportunities to improve how businesses operate.

Organizations and project managers that understand these capabilities and how to employ them will stand to benefit the most. We’d like to highlight three key areas where project managers can leverage AI to their and their client’s advantage.

1. Scheduling

Project managers spend a huge amount of time developing and maintaining project schedules. A well-developed schedule relies on correctly identifying activities and accurately estimating their duration.

As projects increase in complexity, the time spent developing a schedule increases exponentially. AI tools can help project managers streamline this process in the following ways:

  • Suggest tasks and activities that may have been overlooked in planning
  • Automatically forecast activity durations based on scope and historical completion times
  • Build schedules based on activity dependencies and duration

Project managers can currently leverage tools like ChatGPT to quickly build a high-level project timeline with just a simple prompt.

These tools are currently reliant on open-source information to generate responses. Said another way, they lack the enterprise-specific knowledge to develop a more refined schedule for an individual business’s needs.

In November 2023 OpenAI announced the launch of custom versions of ChatGPT – called GPTs. Access to custom GPTs is currently limited to paid ChatGPT users, but the ability to load enterprise-specific information represents a major step forward in the level of customization these tools will provide to a project manager in the near future.

Employing AI in support of project scheduling can save valuable hours during project planning. This time savings enables project managers to better invest their time in other aspects of the project.


 

2. Chatbot Assistants for Administrative Tasks

Chatbots are far from new to the world of business. For years, companies have employed basic chatbots to address commonly asked questions and issues. While these chatbots have shown value in accomplishing basic tasks, they generally lack the ability to answer more complicated user questions or perform dynamic tasks.

The latest generation of chatbots, enabled by Large Language Models (LLMs), offer significantly more functionality that project managers can employ. Whether it be summarizing key trends from large data sets or quickly referencing a specific corporate policy, chatbots offer project managers an opportunity to significantly reduce time spent on administrative tasks. Examples of this include:

  • Routinely generate and distribute reports for project deliverable statuses
  • Prompting a chatbot to email meeting minutes to a project team following a call
  • Automatically adding project team members to a meeting invite, reserving a room, and suggesting an agenda

Administrative tasks of this nature are absolutely essential to the day-to-day operations of a project, but they don’t require a project manager’s expertise to be completed. Chatbots are not only capable of accomplishing these tasks, but they can also do them faster and more precisely than their human counterparts.

Microsoft Copilot is one tool aimed at doing exactly this. Copilot has been designed by Microsoft to seamlessly integrate across all Microsoft 365 apps and services. It allows users to quickly prompt the chatbot to summarize meetings, analyze Excel data, and draft email responses among a host of other capabilities.

At the time of Copilot’s release in November 2023, a per-user monthly fee of $30 and a 300-user minimum are required to access the full suite of AI tools it offers.

3. Resource Planning and Management

It’s not enough for a project manager to simply plan and schedule what activities must be completed for a project. Just as important as identifying activities is managing the people who will work to complete them. Resources must be identified and assigned to each task.

What appears simple at face value is, in reality, a complex exercise of balancing workloads, skillsets, and external factors like PTO and unplanned work. Effective resource management can very easily make or break the success of a project. Project managers can now leverage artificial intelligence platforms in the following ways:

  • Instantly assign and prioritize tasks based on resource availability
  • Automatically forecast resourcing requirements based on current team member workloads
  • Immediately update resource plans in response to changes in resource availability

Microsoft Project offers project managers the ability to input resources from their organization’s address book and active directories, perform time-tracking, and generate reports to identify overallocated resources.

Microsoft Copilot will only further enhance these capabilities by offering the ability to instantly query across connected Microsoft apps to suggest resources based on task type, duration, and availability.  

Resource planning is a critical but extremely time-consuming component of project management. Machine learning tools offer the ability to manage resources more effectively while also being faster than their human counterparts. This translates to time and energy that a project manager can instead focus on managing the strategic needs of a project.

The Bottom Line

Project managers should not view artificial intelligence as an existential threat to their profession. Instead, AI should be seen as an emerging tool for project managers to leverage in support of their clients.

As with any emerging technology, there are limitations to the current capabilities of artificial intelligence that must be addressed before widespread adoption in the workplace occurs. As an example, emails written by a chatbot still require human proofreading due to limitations in existing language models. Furthermore, the quality of information produced by machine-learning tools is also heavily reliant on the specificity of human prompts.

A recent study led by several top research institutions in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group found that when artificial intelligence is applied within the boundaries of its current capabilities, it can improve worker productivity by as much as 40%. In contrast, the study found that over-reliance on AI tools, especially outside those boundaries, can create a performance drop of 19%.

Despite these shortcomings, the use case for artificial intelligence has been clearly validated, and the benefits to businesses are clear. It’s no longer a question of if, but when these tools become standard in businesses across the globe.  

Much like knowing when to utilize various project management methodologies or existing technology, artificial intelligence is no different. Project managers should feel a professional responsibility to become experts on how and when to best employ AI to drive increased project efficiency.