Jan 18 2024

Just Say No to Push-Button Thinking

Project Leadership
3 minutes
Push Button Thinking

Last month, I offered some words of …. Well, if not wisdom, then at least caution … for adopters of AI in project management. Since then, we’ve been working on a research study, slated to launch at the end of January, which includes questions about how organizations are using AI in the project management realm. This study, which also revisits questions about agile project management and Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) that we researched in 2018 and 2021, takes its lead from some of PMI’s excellent materials on AI. We hope that you’ll sign up for research alerts in order to participate. The study is confidential, and participants receive a full-data version of the results as a thank-you.

Meanwhile, I’m also participating in AI research studies, one of which slides across my email inbox at least once a week it seems. And—continuing in my cautionary vein—what I am seeing looks all too familiar. Research results are only as good, as useful, as the questions they ask and once again, I think many organizations are asking the wrong questions. When the crux of a study is What tools are you using or do you plan to use? the researcher is on the wrong track.

We’ve seen this before. Organizations that focus on tools over people and process have fallen into the “low performing” category in our research on project management, portfolio management, strategy management, project management maturity, agile project management … you name it. Over the years we have come to understand that the value—the magic, really—of project management lies in the way project managers handle themselves, their teams, and their stakeholders. It’s in how well project teams think about the challenges and benefits of their projects, not how well they apply the tools. In fact, the tools can be a barrier to innovation when organizations have not done the work they need to do to answer the big questions: What are our goals, and how do we want to get there? What benefits do we want to deliver? Who are the stakeholders in our work?

The best software tools, even AI, cannot do our thinking for us. Push button answers to questions of values and vision will be illusory, at best. Presented with a choice of tools, therefore, circle back to the big questions. Who will be the arbiter of quality and value in any AI outputs? And have we developed the criteria that person(s) will need to judge? Is it all linked to benefits realization, and have we appropriately identified those benefits and the stakeholders they accrue to?

As the technology gets more sophisticated, its users will need to get smarter. Creativity and values-based judgement cannot be outsourced to technology.


Jeannette Cabanis-BrewinAbout the Author

Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin is Editor-in-Chief of PM Solutions Research, the content generation center of PM Solutions, Inc., a project management consulting and training firm based in Chadds Ford, PA. A frequent presenter on project management research topics, she is the author or editor of over 20 project management books, including two that have received the PMI Literature Award.  In 2007, she received a Distinguished Contribution Award from PMI. Jcabanis-brewin@pmsolutions.com

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