Episode 42 Transcript

AI Advancements and the Impact on Project Management w/ Peter Taylor

    Banoo Behboodi: Welcome to the Professional Services Pursuit of Podcast, featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. I'm Banoo, and today I'm joined by Peter Taylor. This is actually Peter's second time on the podcast; he was one of our very first guests on episode three. He's well known in the project management world as the author of the book, ‘The Lazy Project Manager,’ as well as being the VP of Global PMO and Methodology at Ceridian. Peter, welcome back to the show.

    Peter Taylor: Oh, thank you very much. It seems a long time ago, but yeah, I'm delighted to be back. Thank you for remembering me.

    Banoo Behboodi: Of course, who couldn't be? I'm really excited to talk to you about the potential impact of AI. It's a topic that's top of mind. Everyone is having conversations about it, causing mixed emotions: anxiety, excitement, anticipation. I'm looking forward to understanding what it means for project management from your perspective. Before that, tell us about what you've been up to since we last spoke.

    Peter Taylor: Yeah, I've continued my usual job and traveled to some nice places to speak. I'm looking for more opportunities. I've also been writing about AI and project management. It's a hot topic and I felt it wasn't being talked about enough, so I wrote a second book about team analytics and the future of high performing teams and project success. They go hand in hand and I've raised the conversation levels. It's great that AI is now getting more attention. People are talking about it, which is fantastic.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, that's great. To let the audience know, we have a little surprise at the end of the podcast for them on that topic. But let's start by talking a little bit about how the future of AI is driving the industry. What impact do you think it's going to have on project management?

    Peter Taylor: Yes. I think it's always hard to predict the future, but I think a lot of big declarative statements out there and the one that triggered for me was the Gartner statement that by 2030, 80% of what project managers do today will be done by AI. That's whoa, really? What does that mean for the industry? That, that started my investigation, if you like. My learning, I'm not an AI expert, I read a lot, I attended what presentations I could out there and did the whole Google World as well, and I recognize that actually it is going to bring about a change. It is going to bring about a shift in the project management world. And I think my gut feel for it is positive. I've run several sessions on this around the world and I typically run polls for people and people are generally open-minded about it. They might have some concerns, but they're thinking this could be good. And for me, I think the biggest impact it's going to have, which is why I touched on the team analytics and that kind of thing as well, is that it's going to free up project managers from that. And here I'll be a little bit quiet. It's going to free us up from all that boring stuff that we didn't like doing in the first place and it's going to allow us to focus on people, and that's an amazing thing. That's the high-level view anyway.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, and I think focusing on people and client service. Ultimately, the client experience can be improved with this movement.

    Peter Taylor: No, that's the hope. I think project managers are so busy that the battle is to deal with all their stakeholders in an appropriate and solid way. There's a lot of pressure to get things done, and they're working with virtual teams and clients, and in high-pressure situations. They're running teams around the world and all that, plus the demand for delivery faster. I think this is a brilliant time when real help through AI will be incredibly positive. Most project managers would welcome it.

    Banoo Behboodi: Part of, I think, what everyone is struggling with, Peter, is determining what is the proper and right application and what is not of AI. What are your thoughts in the context of project management and service delivery in terms of what are some of the right applications and what are some that are not?

    Peter Taylor: So, we have to step back. It's a huge subject. That's the biggest thing I found, and I'm only talking about one element of AI here. I mean, there's the sort of narrow AI world, but if it can be broken down, we've got process automation, chatbots, machine learning, and the autonomous project manager. We don't need people anymore; this is the world of Terminator that people are afraid of. But process automation has been around for quite a while; it's about streamlining processes for them to be effective and accurate and helpful. Chatbots, most of us know them if we've ever bought anything from Amazon and had a problem; chances are we haven't spoken to a human, we've dealt with a chatbot. In my own personal experience, it's been successful. The clever stuff comes in the world of machine learning; this is where the AI is really beginning to understand the data and what that data is predicting. And that's really where the big leap forward is going to come. Autonomous project management, that’s really a thing of science fiction and the future at this point in time. So, your question about where it can help - I think it can definitely help. Let's break it down this way: We're human and we have to track stuff, we have to register stuff, we have to make decisions based on it. And we have good days and we have bad days, and we get tired and overwhelmed, etc. But AI is truly never tiring, completely objective, and can be constantly scanning data, looking ahead for problems, challenges, issues, and so forth. And that's something that I think in the world of professional services and project delivery, that partner in the background, just looking out for you. I think that's a weird way of saying it, perhaps, because it's not real, it's not human - but effectively, that's what AI will be doing. It will be constantly tracking things and offering up guidance and advice. I think for me, that's where the really big step forward is going to come from.

    Banoo Behboodi: One of the trends we were talking about was predictive analytics and getting ahead of it. AI is a big enabler that will empower leading indicators and predictive analytics so that you can be proactive instead of reactive. I love that angle.

    Peter Taylor: It's the same principle for the team analytics I was talking about. We do reviews, retrospectives, and feedback loops, but they are all lagging. Team analytics that look in the moment with pulse checks can offer a more valuable short-term future view.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, exactly. These are the types of projects; hey, this type of project, the last 10 projects of this type have faced this kind of risk. And these are the steps you can take to mitigate, which is going to empower the project manager to get in front of things and make sure there is a great customer experience. Yeah, no, I think it's all very exciting. So, what do you think then? On PMs and PMO teams, how do they need to evolve their skillsets to be prepared for this change? To capitalize on it, make sure it does lead to high-performance PM/PMO teams and also great experiences.

    Peter Taylor: Yeah, I think the first thing every project manager should do is learn about this stuff. Engage with it, think about it, and trial it out. My PMO is doing this now. I've raised the topic amongst my team and we are trialing a number of AI elements to try and demonstrate value and understand it. We haven't made a giant leap yet, but we are using a lot of niches, AI-driven technology pieces to make the life of our PMO project managers easier and track the work we are doing around the world. We're overseeing thousands of projects at any given time. So don't hide from it, embrace it, learn about it. It's not going to take over tomorrow but it will come at you in a year or two. The more you understand, the better you'll be able to deal with it. So the biggest piece of advice is to go out there and see what's there. Learn about it, trial it, test it, and find the value.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, new. That's great. It's happening whether you like it or not, so make sure you understand what's going on so you can adapt. Then, it's clear that you talked about machine learning and the AI effectiveness around the data that feeds it so it can learn and continuously improve. In that context, how do you think PSA and PM tools will play a role in this adoption?

    Peter Taylor: Yes, in fact, the foundation is critical. And when I speak to people, I use the example of the autonomous vehicle. So if the car you're sitting in, the one you're trusting your life with, doesn't operate, then you're in trouble. Secondly, if it doesn't have all the data it needs, like if it only has data from the front view or one of the side views, you're again in trouble. It's not gonna work. In the world of project management and professional services, you need a good tool to underlie this. On top of that, you need good data. There's a saying, "garbage in, garbage out." My fear with AI is that it would be, "garbage in faster, garbage out, more bolder garbage declarations and advice that will take people off track quickly." So, you need that foundation in place. Technology will provide that. A professional services automation tool will provide that, but then you need the data to support the productive use of AI, because it can only learn from the truth, if you like. That's important. We know many companies still struggle a little bit with the quality of their data.

    Banoo Behboodi: Obviously it's collective data, the more cross-pollination there is right across companies, across networks, the richer that data is, and the more learning is going to happen. But then everyone is holding on to their data, right? There are all the confidentiality constraints and everything else. So, how do you think all of that is going to play out?

    Peter Taylor: It's difficult because yes, my own world and what we do, our clients are very protective of their data. It doesn't flow freely across the world. Certain regions don't want their data to be installed in or shared with other regions. I think the starting point is, can you at least remove some of the silos inside your organization? I think it's going to be very difficult to go outside at this point in time. What is more commonly available is, how do you partner with AI and how do you use it in the project world? I think that's something that sits outside of organizations and something that the big project organizations should be looking at and hoping they are looking at, to take us to the next level. The existing bodies of knowledge are going to be significantly redundant in the very near future when AI really takes hold.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, that's very interesting. PMI and other bodies as such, what their role is going to be, in a world of AI, it's to be seen.

    Peter Taylor: Exactly that. As I said, that was always that bold declaration of 80% being paid done by AI. I don't particularly believe that it's not tracking towards that at this point in time. But even if half is done, then that does negate some of the certification and training standards that exist right now. They will have to adapt to the AI-supportive world for projects.

    Banoo Behboodi: I would love to be a fly on the wall to understand the conversations that are happening at PMI these days, to anticipate what's coming.

    Peter Taylor: Yeah. I certainly hope those conversations are happening and I'm happy to help out but, the way I present this, and I like it, the concept of the digital dance. And it is all about finding the right way to work with this technology. And the example I use is Dancing with the Stars or Strictly Come Dancing in the UK: you put a professional with an amateur, but eventually after a period of time, sometimes not always, but mostly some form of magic happens and they find a brilliant way to dance in partnership. And I think that's what we have to do in our worlds, is we have to find the right way to work with AI as a partner. And I think if you get that, that is going to be a huge advantage in the business, professional, and project worlds. And that's going to make some great leaps forward for some organizations if they get it right.

    Banoo Behboodi: I love that analogy, Peter. It would have been remiss of me not to ask ChatGPT, what it thinks about the future of AI and project management service delivery. So, you would be happy to know that it agrees with a lot of the points you brought up. It categorized the key areas where AI can help with project management into five areas: predictive analytics, which we talked about and touched on; virtual assistance, which can help project managers manage their tasks, schedule meetings, and answer common questions, allowing them to focus on more valuable tasks; automated project management, which can help with risk management and resource allocation; improved decision-making with better predictive information; and personalized services. I liked that one in particular because the market is moving towards more personalized services. As mundane work moves away, PMs can provide more personalized experiences for their clients and team. So, I particularly love that.

    Peter Taylor: Yeah, that's a good one. There's a risk there and I hope this risk is avoided by organizations. If we get to a point where you in an organization have adopted AI and you are freeing your project managers up, please don't just give them three times as many projects to run because you're losing that opportunity exactly as you spoke there. But this is an opportunity to really go back to the people side of projects, which really is what makes projects successful and offering up that personalized service. I worry about that, the commercial driven world will say, "That's great. Of course, you've got AI now, so you can, here's 10 more projects." Hopefully not, hopefully they will take the opportunity to actually improve things in the people world.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah. And you'd be happy to know and the audience would be for those who have anxiety about what this means for their jobs, that Chad JPT agrees with you again, that it is important to note that AI is not a replacement for human expertise and judgment. Rather, it should be seen as a tool that can help professionals make better decisions and improve their workflows.

    Peter Taylor: Oh, absolutely. The phrase I quite like was, "You won't be replaced by AI, but you may well be replaced by a project manager who understands and can work with AI." So that's the risk.So, get to know it.Get to know it soon.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, that's great. Peter, one of the things I'm excited about personally is to see how some of this automation, the AI and the assistance, will free up PMs to be more effective managing their teams, the team experience, and team outputs and outcomes. What are your thoughts around that? What are your thoughts on team analytics?

    Peter Taylor: Sure, I think everyone knows the Bruce Tuckman model of, you put a team together, there's forming, storming, norming, and performing—a very common model we talk about. My angle on this is that teams are just different, and I came up with another phase of this which is disrupting. The reason I say that is I never run a project—I don't think anyone else does either—where you get all your resources on day one and they stay with you for the entire length of the project. You as a project manager are trying to build that team, move them to a high level of performance to deliver project success. But people are constantly coming in and going from that team, which is disrupting and impacts what you're trying to do. This makes projects different, and therefore the challenge for project managers is very different. One of the things that can really help is to have those in-the-moment, short nudge feedback loops that can feed team analytics and give some kind of support to project managers in the moment. What's the sentiment of the group? How are they feeling? We've moved significantly away from having face-to-face meetings, so it makes it harder to judge how people really are feeling. You can mask a lot through a Teams call or a Zoom call. That's why the parallel interest around team analytics and artificial intelligence is so important—the two together can provide more guidance for project managers about what their teams are feeling, so they can step in and do the human-to-human bit.

    Banoo Behboodi: Yeah, it's going to be interesting to see how the momentum and movement towards surveys impacts clients, customers, and employees. I know Kantata is constantly surveying us on how we feel. I wonder how collected information can be used to meet the right outcome and provide actionable insights. What are your thoughts on the role of surveys in the future?

    Peter Taylor: Everybody suffers from survey fatigue and, in fact, my own organization started doing a survey of all our project managers but we were getting such low response rates, not because they didn't care but because they were busy and being hit by other surveys from other parts of the organization. So, we switched back to a program we call one-to-one with everyone. That means twice a year we will have a direct conversation with every single project manager, and someone on my team will gain their true feelings, hopefully. I do think there's a place for what's known as micro surveys, which is literally asking a question at a moment in time relevant to the project. You've just reached a milestone, left a meeting, submitted some information, or some part of delivery, and in that moment, you are asked just a pertinent question and you will more than likely answer it honestly. That can provide powerful analytics to project managers and business in general about how people are truly feeling.

    Banoo Behboodi: Okay, so to wrap up, I always like to come to a more personal question. I wanted to ask you today if you can share with the audience if you've had a mentor that's been very effective and an influencer that's influenced your career and where you are today.

    Peter Taylor: I think there's a couple of answers to that. I'm gonna go back to a gentleman way back in my early career. The best piece of advice he gave me was, "Look, whatever you do in life and business, no surprises - if there are surprises, we have a problem." He said, "If you have a problem, come and talk to me about it and we can help solve it together. If you are surprised about something, you're not in control of it." That's always stuck with me in my life.One gentleman in particular has been a great mentor to me over the years.I dedicated the "Lazy Project Manager" to him, David, as he allowed me the freedom to be me, to talk and present and manage things in the style that I've become famous for - the kind of productive, lazy way. That's incredibly empowering for someone to be given the opportunity to work in a very natural way that they find effective, but I also believe is generally effective.Yep, I'll do a call out to David.

    Banoo Behboodi: That's great. So, Peter, now back to the surprise I had promised. From what I understand, you have a couple of your books, AI and the Project Manager: How the Rise of Artificial Intelligence Will Change Your World, to give away to the first two individuals who connect with you via LinkedIn.

    Peter Taylor: Reach out to me on LinkedIn. If you're already connected, send me a message. If you're not, connect to me and send a message. I'll send a copy of the books to each of them. We'll connect and contact you and find out their addresses to get them shipped out.

    Banoo Behboodi: Peter, I think we should have a session in a year to see where things have taken us with AI. It'll be interesting to regroup again.

    Peter Taylor: Yeah. I'm encouraged by the conversations. I was fortunate enough to present at the PMI Global Conference on this subject and the room was full. In fact, people were being turned away. It's interesting to see people learning more about it. I'm generally encouraged. I think it's gonna be okay.

    Banoo Behboodi: Great. Appreciate your time, Peter, and to the audience, thank you for listening today. Feel free to reach out to us at podcast@kantata.com with any follow-up questions. We'd love to hear from you.