Last week, we covered a very popular topic of AI and its potential effect on jobs. We dove into what might put project managers at risk of being replaced by robots. If you haven't already read it yet, I recommend you go back and read the post "Will you lose your project manager job to an AI robot?".
We've witnessed robots do some pretty cool things already, and there's no question artificial intelligence is much better at certain things than us humans. However, I've noticed people feel rather powerless over the fact that AI will greatly alter our work and are afraid that these software robots will "take over". This fear, however, is often caused by misunderstanding.
Last week, we saw how it can be pretty useless to fight head-to-head with artificial intelligence. The saying "know your enemy" is quite fitting in this situation. If we understand AI's current shortcomings, we can then fill in those gaps.
The good news is that AI robots have a pretty big weakness that's unlikely to be solved in the near future. Simply put, artificial intelligence is just not human enough. At a very high level, what this means is that current AI technologies (which are ironically called weak AI) are designed to think in a logical algorithmic way. It's a simple If..., then... kind of thought process. But life in and of itself is not algorithmic! Our human brains can navigate through life with thousands of unknowns and irrational events, something current machine learning robots simply can't do.
There lies AI's Achilles heel: if you want to be the kind of project manager who is not replaceable by a robot, you need to learn how to use your human innovative and empathy strengths and reinvent how you provide value in your role. This can be done as a partnership with artificial intelligence.
Step 1: Reduce time spent on tracking and reports
If there's one thing you should remember from the last two posts, this is it. We've mentioned before that a project manager's role is so much more than doing these administrative tasks. And anyway, within the next few years, you may your own bot to do it for you. So if you're spending most of your time on tracking progress and reporting status - do yourself a favor and stop that now!
Here's the good news: while robots are good at crunching the data and making predictions, they have no understanding of what that data represents. Your human intuition and reasoning, thanks to in-depth practical knowledge, knows how to interpret issues or benefits and then communicate the important elements to the right people.
While you may not have a robot that helps you do this yet, it's a good idea to start moving away from those administrative tasks and practice being a better leader right now - that's a role AI won't be able to fill for a good number of years.
Step 2: Improve processes, rather than simply following them
When you get right down to it, machines excels at tasks that are repetitive and sequential. They need to be given a set of guidelines to then execute these processes. When we see robots do their thing, we think "Wow, it's got a mind of its own!". But that couldn't be further from the truth: it's not thinking, it's going through an algorithm that some human created for that specific situation.
Project management is itself a pre-defined process that we apply and combine with intuition and empathy. The difference between a good project manager and a great one is that the great one looks for ways to engage the team to improve and streamline the process. They do so by facilitating execution, removing obstacles, motivating their team and are capable of making decisions based on little to no data. Computers don't have these kinds of insights. If there are pain points in those processes, they will simply repeat them. In this case, additional value will only be created if humans and artificial intelligence work together. You might as well learn these new skills now before it's too late.
Step 3: Improve your EMPATHY-BASED Project skills
Robots are, well, robotic. They can't relate to human existence at interpersonal levels like empathy. Like we mentioned in the previous step, a big part of being a great project manager has to do with people. Sure, a computer will someday be able to assign tasks to certain individuals based on their predefined skillsets. However, you, as a human, will have insights that the computer doesn't have.
Real-world example: the computer sends out a notice to all team members because it flagged some kind of anomaly in the data and is predicting that the delivery date is at risk of being delayed by 3 months. A few team members realize that the problem is a simple fix that requires they help out a junior member who needs to reach out to a customer stakeholder for the solution. Without a leader who can fire up his or her team and encourage them to take action and help each other, a challenge may be overlooked or tossed aside and forgotten.
Learn how to engage your team members to be transparent with their progress. Engage them to ask for help when they need it and encourage those with more knowledge and experience to offer help even if the junior team members aren't asking. This is the human side of project management that requires empathy. Empathy-based project management will likely be a specialty only humans can truly excel at for a while. This is an easy way you can show additional value in your role with the contribution of a computer!
Step 4: Think outside the ROBOT box
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you needed a creative solution and spent hours thinking without any result? That's because creativity largely stems from our unconscious mind. You're more likely to get to these Aha! moments when you're not actively thinking about the situation. It's a beautiful concept that even animals can benefit from, but alas, our friends the robots are not so lucky.
AI software can indeed create something new. Some can compose new songs and create art. But, this takes a lot of computing power and still requires human input. And then is it really cohesive and pleasurable for our human reactions.
What is more common today is the use of conversation bots with unstructured natural language. However, someone still needs to set up the bots to consider a lot of different variations of user questions that are typed in the system.
You know how your phone can suggest words or responses to automatically complete the sentence you're writing? It does this by scrutinizing all the text messages and emails you write on a daily basis to analyzes and identifies patterns. If you type "What" on your phone right now, you'll see a suggestion of the word you use most after that word. You're basically training the AI every time you type.
Researchers used this same concept, but instead of having the computer analyze texts and emails, they fed it several dozen movie scripts and then asked it to write a whole script of its own. They then hired a crew to shoot the movie and here's the final result (it's worth the watch, even if just for the first few seconds):
It's basically gibberish. The words are English, the grammar and the syntax are correct but a lot of it doesn't mean anything in a cohesive fashion.
You can see that computers have a long way to go before they become innovators and that's where humans can continue to show their value. Project managers are forced to show creative problem solving consistently. The key here is to build a project culture that fosters idea thinking for both small and big innovation designed to make future projects much better. If you learn how to do this, you're sure to keep your job.
Step 5: Always be 3 steps ahead
Before I make my point, I need to clear something up: prediction and planning are two completely different things. Predictions are made based on past or present data (or trends) and present the likeliest outcome based on these events if nothing changes. Planning, however, is an account of what should be done in the future. You can plan an event based on past events, or choose to go in a completely different direction due to a multitude of external factors.
This is another area where project managers can benefit from AI to make better decisions and therefore provide more value. Computers fall short in the absence of information or when they must imitate human interaction. Planning ahead usually involves uncertainty, interpersonal skills, creativity as well as predictive analysis in order to ensure the best decision is made. Once again, the most value is provided by humans combining their ideas, empathy, judgement, and creativity with the AI robots.
As you can see, the arrival of AI in your workplace could be negative unless you are able to understand where AI compliments your intelligence rather than replaces it.
If you show leadership skills in your project management role, and your bosses see this, you'll most likely keep your job!
Photo by H Heyerlein