A project is a coherent set of tasks with start and stop times which collectively deliver a desired result. Effective project management is critical to this process because of the realities of entropy, distraction, and friction at both the individual and organizational level. As Mark Horstman says, “No project is on autopilot.”
The next twenty years will bring hard-to-imagine technological changes in our lives. The exponential advancements of computing, material science, next-gen manufacturing, robotics, sensors, and biotech are doubling our capability each year. So, in twenty years you would have about one million times more sophistication than we do today. In rough terms, that’s the technological distance between the bronze age and the year 2017. In fairness, this technology won’t be evenly distributed globally.
Will we still need project managers?
Yes. Here’s a hint: All that technological capability won’t eliminate entropy, distraction and friction. The specific challenges may evolve but entropy, distraction, and friction are a component of all systems. Major advancements in technology won’t eliminate human weaknesses and interpersonal challenges.
Will project managers do things the same way?
Principles survive, but a subset of tasks people do today will be automated or handled by specialized AI. Some of the drudgery factor of project management will disappear. For example, much less time will be required to collect status updates and consolidate them, or provide overviews to key stakeholders.
Will we still need humans to be project managers?
There is so much project management history that we can expect to be able to train specialized AI to spot common patterns and recommend solutions. We can to a more limited degree develop decision algorithms which optimize choices to get to a desired outcome (within a project, or within a portfolio). Humans will continue to excel at sensing/discerning and handling subjective input which is difficult to quantify. Human-to-human support systems to facilitate changed behavior will continue to be important. I suspect humans will still serve as project managers in 2037 in large, messy projects and working across project portfolios, gratefully using help from automation systems every step of the way.
What implications does this have for you?
- Learn principles and successful practices, because they endure even as tools improve.
- Aim to excel in the skills which support human-to-human interaction.
- Evaluate and use tools to the extent they are helpful.
- Be extremely wary of tools which purport to “eliminate” the need for good project management.
- Remember that entropy, distraction, and friction are always factors.