Will automation replace Project Managers?

The role of artificial intelligence and how it can enhance Project Managers’ work

Automation is inevitable in many areas of business and of our daily lives, but it also poses certain uncertainty. The technological and digital transformation causes many to worry about losing their jobs, but why won’t the “new automation” replace Project Managers? Due to three human skills that artificial intelligence just does not have yet: emotional intelligence, reasoning, and adaptation.

Technology comes with opportunities and threats. The future of work has been one of the hottest topics in relation to automation for a few decades now. PwC report, Hopes and fears 2021 states that people are concerned about job security: 60% are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk. Additionally, OECD states that: “The risk of automation is real (...) 14% of jobs could be automated, with 32% likely to change significantly”. In Global Workforce Hopes & Fears 2022 survey, 30% of overall respondents answered that they are concerned that their role will be replaced by technology within the next three years. In the finance sector that fear is greatest due to the heavier use of new technology. Will automation replace Project Managers though, at least any time soon?

Automation trends

“Between 1995 and 2015 employment in the manufacturing sector went 20% down, while it went up by 27% in the service sector” states OECD in its 2019 Employment Outlook report. This is highly associated with the workforce automation trends in production and with the difficulty of replacing the unique human factor in the service sector.

A Project Manager’s work varies immensely depending on the people one works with, clients one works for, and projects one works on. Another PwC article: 50 shades of PMO underlines that there is no one true model of a PMO. Although there are responsibilities that automation cannot take away from PMs, there are things that technology can hugely improve, be that various processes, data work, or check-ups.

Tasks which artificial intelligence can make more efficient:

  • Standard project monitoring

  • Controlling and reporting

  • Holiday or training tracker

  • Updating data

  • Preparing aggregated information on the current status of work

  • Compliance checks

  • Checking for project overlaps

  • Suggesting edits

  • Data analysis

  • Spotting errors

  • Translating communications

Tasks which artificial intelligence cannot replace:

  • Active participation in meetings
  • Managing communication between the project team and external stakeholders
  • Managing interpersonal conflicts
  • Networking and collaborating with customers
  • Motivating the team
  • Creating authorial materials
  • Creating story-driven presentations
  • Deciding on suggested edits
  • Identifying main risks or issues that need to be addressed
  • Prioritisation of tasks
  • Coordinating the workload and negotiating
  • Identifying and implementing improvements
  • Risk management
  • Stakeholder management
  • Identifying dependencies



Artificial Intelligence

The Project Manager’s responsibilities mentioned above are just one of the perspectives of PMO work. Some of the tasks which artificial intelligence can or cannot replace come with no surprise. Using Docs, Sheets, or Slides, we often notice the artificial intelligence’s aid, for example while spotting errors or when suggesting edits. However, even such simple tasks such as accepting artificial intelligence’s suggestions require human touch. Artificial intelligence is more often than correct, but there are times when it cannot pick up the context and its suggestion does not match the writer’s intentions. This simple example highlights how artificial intelligence can help, but cannot substitute. Therefore artificial intelligence can not fully replace Project Managers, at least not in the nearest perspective.

The three human skills

Artificial intelligence can also be compared to a new employee. Artificial intelligence, just like a new person on the team, needs input to create output. However, the difference between the two lies in the potential for development and learning, namely a new employee can use not only the ‘input’ they will receive at the new place of work but also three human skills that artificial intelligence just does not have: emotional intelligence, reasoning, and the ability to adapt, e.g. based on previous experiences.

Reasoning skills

Artificial intelligence can monitor what changes a human hand is inputting in order to create output such as updating data. These activities could be automated. Artificial intelligence can show us particular trends from the data it analyses, but it cannot interpret this data. Humans possess reasoning and communication skills, hence can work as translators between the project team and external stakeholders. 

Additionally, on the one hand, artificial intelligence could check for project compliance and standards because there are rules provided on how such things are judged. On the other hand, artificial intelligence cannot judge if something is successful without the criteria provided. A human designs the success criteria and conducts the project assessment based on them. This is vital for responsibilities such as risk and stakeholder management, as well as for identifying dependencies. During the reflection stage, artificial intelligence can spot things that did not go according to assumptions. However, as PMO is an environment of change, sticking to the initial plan might not be the best option. Even when artificial intelligence recalls an error, it cannot reflect on an issue that is not quantitative but qualitative, especially with no understanding of the context. This brings us to the next point.

Adaptation skills

Project Managers need to be agile and invent new creative solutions to problems and are able to adapt to challenging tasks. Artificial intelligence cannot create anything original because everything it does is based on inputs it receives, and these inputs are based on someone else’s ideas. 

Adaptation skills are also necessary if changes need to be made due to a client’s request, unexpected challenges, or risks. Automation is created on the basis of linking inputs, therefore if one input suddenly changes, these links become disrupted. Responding to change and feedback is not something that can be organised and planned, thus not something that can be automated. As there are many moving parts involved, coordinating and negotiating are often more important than sticking to a firm plan.

Emotional intelligence

Humans can spot changes in someone’s behaviour, can adapt to the various clients’ and colleagues’ needs, and solve conflicts thanks to emotional intelligence. Although with artificial intelligence there is the advantage of not having any emotions at all, such as handling situations with no stress, emotions such as empathy, combined with emotional intelligence, make Project Managers and, more generally, humans irreplaceable in jobs where one works with people.

The role of technology in Project Manager’s work

Introducing a new technology at any company is a project which requires skilled project management. Projects of such type usually comprise not only a complicated stage of planning, collecting business requirements, adjusting to it, or developing needed applications but are also sensitive to every business stage of implementation, knowledge transfer, stabilisation, and adaptation to change. Artificial intelligence cannot introduce itself, therefore who would take care of such a task if not humans? 

Automation can help PMO enhance their work without replacing the unique skills the employees have. This opens the door to multiple opportunities which PMs should not be afraid of, but embrace. A PM’s job requires highly-skilled people with appropriate competencies: skills, attitudes, and behaviours, so investing in the development of a PMO team is important for organisational success. Since such investment sometimes requires significant resources, it might be a reasonable solution to hire a professional with expert knowledge and relevant competencies.

Technology plays one of the most significant role in our lives because we understand how it improves our work. With its help and with our specialist knowledge in the field of project management, we are able to implement business initiatives and transformations at the highest possible level using all available technological and digital improvements. We offer a wide range of PMO and project management services, and our team consists of experienced professionals, who can smoothly deliver the needed values to our Clients.

Contact us

Marysia Lachowicz

Marysia Lachowicz

Director, PwC Poland

Tel: +48 519 506 816

Natalia  Padalko

Natalia Padalko

Project Lead, PwC Poland

Tel: +48 519 507 405

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