How Project Management Roles Might Change in the Future

by Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington and Maria Romero / 2/1/2018 11:54:32 AM

How could project managers prepare for the apparent risk of being replaced by robots and AI?

Images of robot apocalypses have long been part of sci-fi novels and films. However, the scenes where the hero shouts ‘Lock up your knowledge and protect your job at all costs!’ seem unrealistic to say the least. Alarming headlines about artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and other disruptive technologies have started to flood the public agenda with warnings on mass technological unemployment.

On the other end of the spectrum, some sceptical dissenters expect no major changes, based on the theory that humanity has already successfully adapted to previous industrial revolutions. This group expects new jobs to fill any gaps created by the automation of existing ones. Some forecasts suggest that by 2030, up to half of all jobs could be replaced by robotic or AI workers.

Elon Musk—the real world ‘Tony Stark’ and technology entrepreneur behind Tesla, Hyperloop, and many other disruptive new ventures—believes that robots will outperform humans in every field of activity far faster than we can imagine. Others such as the OECD predict that for every new job created, three will disappear through automation.

No one really knows how quickly these technologies might eliminate jobs or what the employment needs will be of the future businesses and industries that have not yet been born. However, what we do know is that AI is one of the key exponentially improving technologies shaping both the workplace of the future and the roles that will be available for humans and machines.

In the meantime, project managers everywhere are stationed at the forefront of the planning and execution of intelligent technologies’ applications inside and out of the workplace. In this article we ask, what could the changes wrought by AI entail in terms of the project manager role?

Whilst the cataclysmic warnings may well be overstated in the short term, the pace of change will inevitably quicken—a number of job roles are already being transformed by AI technologies in the workplace.

Indeed, some jobs could be eliminated entirely while other new work roles will be created. Whether eliminated or transformed, one reasonable take-away remains: AI is recalibrating the division of labour between humans and technology.

To help put the potential changes in an everyday context, here are eight currently human job roles that could be transformed or eliminated completely by the use AI and robotics over the period from 2020 to 2030, and a few of the implications for project managers (PM) across industries:

  1. Doctors/Surgeons – Fully autonomous and remote controlled robotic surgeons will diagnose, treat, and operate on patients in areas where there are no physical human medics available. Humans might monitor or control these robo-docs via video from central hub hospital facilities in bigger towns and cities. New service propositions might emerge such as autonomous vehicle based mobile doctors' surgeries which visit the patient to enable remote diagnosis and conversation while the doctor remains in their office.

As hospitals and clinics’ processes get more complex through the ramification of their services to remote and off-sight areas, more coordination and planning would be required. Medical project managers would expand their jurisdiction to all the logistics behind mobile equipment and human support, ensuring optimal conditions for patients, doctors, and assisting robotics.

  1. Teachers – A combination of technology advances, changing societal expectations, evolving business needs, and new educational insights mean we can anticipate deep transformations of the overall educational system and curriculum. As a result, teachers could find their roles being redefined on a regular basis. So, while AI might be in charge of imparting most of the technical skills and information required by learners, educators would focus on developing human-to-human social skills. Life-long learning journeys would also require more insightful and sensitive mentoring capabilities. Alongside the nurturing role of teachers, project managers in the education field would help individuals define life goals and objectives, and create a roadmap for their development based on the data provided by teachers and AI. Besides providing a continuous underlying structure, PMs could also use AI’s input to pre-emptively coordinate additional assistance during stressful situations.
  1. Journalists – AI tools are already being used to gather, sort, analyse, interpret, and write the resulting reports and articles for online news sites and investment banks. This will extend to drone based robo-journos sent in to capture and report on the most dangerous situations around the world and to cover a far wider range of situations at far lower cost than dispatching humans to every ‘news scene’. Following the implementation of robo-journos, a project manager could administer these resources and integrate their contribution to the editor’s vision. An increase in content inflow might also involve PMs creating a pipeline according to AI’s suggestions on optimal information rhythm to avoid the audience’s saturation.
  1. Lawyers – A range of search, analysis, and contract drafting tasks are already being automated. The use of AI across sectors might challenge existing regulations and lead to a whole raft of new legal precedent work requiring expert input. However, the elimination of the potential for human error would decrease the number of legal disputes—as might be expected from the advent of self-driving cars reducing the number of human drivers. Robot-lawyers are already overturning parking tickets in the UK and US. Additionally, smart policing devices and an expanding blanket of sensors will feed into AI judges where there would be little to no room for debate. Moral and ethical issues related to technology advances may become the next legal growth arena. Legal project managers could be affected in dramatic ways, from the interaction with clients and lawyers to the planning of court strategies and outcomes, which we have described in an article for Legal Project Management.
  1. Construction Workers – Robotic excavators could undertake trenching work for new construction projects, while increasingly sophisticated 3D printing coupled with drones and robotic workers could replace many construction jobs. These might include demolition, bricklaying, plastering, plumbing, cabling, and carpentry. Provision could be made in the 3D printed construction process for the different properties and materials required—including external weather proofing, preparing internal surfaces for bespoke decoration and finishing which may be completed by robots, and installation of utilities. New materials used in the construction could include ‘self-healing’ properties and further reduce the reliance on human labour for repair and maintenance throughout the building's life. Construction project management could evolve into a role working with AI on a number of objectives, with AI providing the scope for autonomous construction with minimum human supervision.
  1. Entrepreneurs/Leaders ­– Instead of looking for human partners and employees, entrepreneurs might increasingly scout for the combination of AI systems that would match his/her personality profile and range of business needs better. One-person businesses could be more common as artificial general intelligence materializes, enabling the growth of fully automated decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) which have literally no employees. Project management for entrepreneurs might take on an increasingly autonomous role, with the AI system making decisions independently. This would be an ideal area for the concept of digital twins to gain prominence. A digital twin is an AI that can perform certain digital tasks, like respond to emails and accept meeting requests based on your calendar. Could the hallmarks of entrepreneurial leadership (characteristics such as grit, intuition, and gut feelings) ever possibly be conveyed by an AI replica of oneself, perhaps acting in a PM role?
  1. Research and Development – From pharmaceuticals to new materials and electronic devices, AI software is increasingly being used to conduct more and more of the R&D value chain. The use of AI helps compress the iterative innovation process of trial-and-error experimentation. This involves doing more trials faster and comparing real-time data with historic and predictive consumer profiles to better target the solutions. Tailoring products and services using AI might lead organically to the creation of new and better offerings. The ability to manage R&D projects alongside AI may become a specialty in those sectors where AI is already making huge gains, like pharmaceuticals.
  1. Marketing Researchers and Strategists – The data shared by consumers would be automatically analysed by AI in real time. This feedback loop would create dynamic marketing campaigns able to optimize themselves based on each response. Offers would be tailored to the individual according to both the preference and the time of day when they are most likely to make a purchase. Project managers in an AI-enabled marketing industry may benefit greatly from the numerous sources of customer data made available by the observational and interpretive abilities of AI. One source of discord in the future of marketing projects could involve heightened concerns for customer privacy. Customer preferences around AI that looks, listens, and learns may dictate to what extent market research can use information. Could customers actually adopt ways of using AI against marketers to protect their own privacy and personal data, or perhaps to prevent others from profiting from their data?

There are numerous ways we might anticipate project management jobs to evolve in the AI-enabled future of business. Ultimately, today’s business leaders acknowledge that the robots are coming; it is just that we don’t know where they may have their biggest impacts.

Productivity is expected to rise, but what will it mean for actual employee performance, satisfaction, and engagement? How will customer service be different in the AI-powered workforce of the future? What is the role of education and job training in a world with constant fluctuations in business models? Will robots take, make, or reboot the project management profession in the future? Stay tuned to find out.

Which aspects of the project management profession require the most human touch?

How could a combination of software and hardware replace the PM role? In which industries does this seem most likely to occur?

The eight examples are just a start—what other sectors of PM work might AI encroach upon?

About the Authors

The authors are futurists with Fast Future - a professional foresight firm specializing in delivering keynote speeches, executive education, research, and consulting on the emerging future and the impacts of change for global clients.

Fast Future publishes books from leading future thinkers around the world, exploring how developments such as AI, robotics, exponential technologies, and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, societies, businesses, and governments and create the trillion-dollar sectors of the future. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future. See:  @fastfuture

Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, award-winning keynote speaker, author, and the CEO of Fast Future. His prime focus is on helping clients understand and shape the emerging future by putting people at the center of the agenda. Rohit is the co-author of Designing Your Future, lead editor and a contributing author for The Future of Business, and editor of Technology vs. Humanity. He is a co-editor and contributor for the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, and three forthcoming books -Future Transformations – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business, Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business, and 50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.

Steve Wells is an experienced strategist, keynote speaker, futures analyst, partnership working practitioner, and the COO of Fast Future. He has a particular interest in helping clients anticipate and respond to the disruptive bursts of technological possibility that are shaping the emerging future. Steve is a contributor to the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, and co-editor of The Future of Business and Technology vs. Humanity. He is a co-editor and contributor to two forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business, and 50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years

Alexandra Whittington is a futurist, writer, Foresight Director of Fast Future, and a faculty member on the Futures program at the University of Houston. She has a particular expertise in future visioning and scenario planning. Alexandra is a contributor to The Future of Business and the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity. She is also a co-editor and contributor for forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business, and 50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.

Maria Romero is a futurist and foresight researcher at Fast Future. She has worked on a range of foresight initiatives including a project for NASA's Langley Research Center and the publication of "The Future of Student Life: Living" in On the Horizon. Maria is a co-editor and contributor for the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity and of the forthcoming book Future Transformations – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. She is also a contributor to Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business.



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