Can Project Management Be Automated?
Project management is the cog that ensures everything runs smoothly which is why the role is so vital. No matter how efficient each element is, without a good project manager, delivery can falter.
Many roles have been automated over the years to improve efficiency, so could project management be heading the same way?
We take a closer look at whether the personal touch really matters in project management or if a better job could be done by automation.
The mention of automation may bring to mind lines of androids mindlessly performing human jobs, but the reality is that automation has already become an integral part of everyday life.
From Siri and Alexa to smart devices around the home, the advancement of technology has brought enormous convenience and other benefits.
But automation isn’t just commonplace in the home, it’s now used widely in the workplace. Some of the most repetitive, mundane jobs have been automated to improve efficiency - the question now remains whether it’s possible to do the same with more complex tasks.
There’s no question that the role of project manager is demanding, with a need to actively deal with multiple streams simultaneously. This is particularly the case in complex technical industries such as software development, but does the relative difficulty of software project management make it even more suitable for automation?
The Case for Automation?
To be an efficient, forward-thinking company it’s essential to continuously challenge what you do, and how you do it. It’s tempting to keep things exactly the same because it’s familiar and comfortable but that could leave you trailing behind your competitors.
But even the mention of automation can make employees feel unhappy, due to the fear of their roles being made completely redundant.
The argument against complete automation is that while there are some advantages to be gained, automation is not able to competently handle everything that a human project manager could do.
To consider whether this is an accurate representation - or borne out of a desire to preserve jobs - we’re going to look at the benefits that automation could bring to software project management, and whether there are any areas of concern.
Automation has undoubtedly benefited many industries, and roles that were once laboriously completed manually have been made more efficient with the use of artificial intelligence. The benefits of automation are manifold and can be broken down as follows:
As every project manager will tell you, projects can quickly grow beyond their original plan with the scope expanding rapidly. This can make it difficult to deliver with the available resources as few projects have surplus capability built in.
With automation, there’s much more flexibility to scale up or down, with artificial intelligence being able to tackle a greater workload as required.
This can be achieved in a number of different ways, but improved productivity through greater efficiency is one of the most successful routes. Templates, pre-population and automation increases productivity, enhancing output without having to draw in extra resource.
Automation can also be helpful with being able to predict required resources and scalability, by being more redictable. Artificial intelligence performs at an unwavering rate, which makes it not just faster but easier to calculate productivity capacity moving forward.
Monitoring and optimisation
Artificial intelligence can now track precisely what each team member is working on, making it possible to quickly identify any work streams which are not on schedule or those which are going over budget.
Early identification is vital within project management and with a fully integrated system, automation can easily flag the slightest aberration from the plan.
Centralised reporting also makes it possible to identify areas which could be improved, or where essential time is lost. This can provide opportunities to tighten up processes in the future, improving efficiency and reducing cost.
Routine task management
This is possibly the greatest and most obvious application, as every project involves multiple tasks which could easily be managed more quickly if they were automated. There are many important yet arduous routine tasks that could be easily handled by project management software.
Examples of such tasks could include assigning new work as needed, with the next tickets lined up for automatic distribution, and issuing updates. Reminders and notifications work seamlessly with artificial intelligence and automation, while a smart workflow system can direct items to the right team member without manual intervention.
Software project management typically involves using multiple applications to manage the workstreams in a bid to effectively monitor what’s going on. However, the use of so many different tools may actually be counterproductive, even if it helps the project manager to stay organised.
Some reports suggest that project managers spend more time searching and collating information than being productive, which is where a centralised, automated system would be beneficial. Having an integrated system with the data automatically collated will save significant time, and also make it more accessible to anyone that needs it.
Projects can often be subject to bottlenecks and misunderstandings in communication. This can knock things off schedule and/or off budget. It may be that certain stakeholders aren’t aware that everyone is waiting for them to approve the next step, or there may be different versions being circulated as communications get muddled. Automation can be a huge asset to this process, organising information chronologically and sending reminders to stakeholders. The whole project can be streamlined with the use of automation, reducing the number of touches and speeding up the delivery at each stage.
Human error can wreak havoc on a project, and depending on the magnitude, it may even wipe out a budget if a large amount of work has to be redone. An automated system will be able to identify errors and omissions effectively and consistently, outperforming a human counterpart for accuracy every time.
Quality is essential to good project management and knowing that even the smallest error will be identified and corrected is a big asset.
No matter how you feel about automation, there is no denying the fact that it can deliver many benefits. However, there are also some disadvantages which must be fully considered before deciding whether automation would be right for your project management.
Some of the biggest potential issues include:
In recent years there has been huge emphasis on data security, and there are now strong protective measures which can be implemented. However, if these aren’t properly set up in the first place, or there is a particularly determined hacker, an automated system can be more vulnerable to a security breach.
While no system is completely infallible, using complete automation for project management could be a higher risk for leaks and security compromises.
Lack of Flexibility
Although automation offers guarantees around quality, it lacks the critical thinking ability of a human. Artificial intelligence has not yet developed to the point where it can do more than follow the commands as described. In some cases, there needs to be an element of instinctive understanding where a slight deviation from standard protocols is necessary. This is impossible with a fully automated process, meaning a project may be forced to follow a more rigid path which doesn’t deliver the best results.
A simple example of this is spellcheck; it can be a useful tool to highlight potential errors and can pick up what the human eye has missed. But some of the suggestions are incorrect because subtle nuances have been missed. Of course, project management is more complex than a simple spellcheck which is why there may be times when it’s necessary to use a more creative approach to solve problems, and that’s something that artificial intelligence hasn’t yet evolved to be able to do.
Cost of Investment
For many companies, the sheer cost of effective automation can be a major stumbling block. It’s not cheap to introduce a system which is fully integrated, and the capital outlay might not be feasible despite the many potential benefits.
To create a fully automated system, there’s no benefit to going halfway. This means taking the plunge and investing in expensive systems, plus completely overhauling the way everyone works. This won’t be an option for every company and cost will be a significant barrier to many.
May complicate the process
Although the idea of automation is to make the process simpler, not all projects require complex and in-depth management. Smaller projects can be managed easily at a lower level and plugging into a system which is designed for large and complex projects may make things more difficult than they need to be. This could lead to delays and expense in projects which could otherwise be delivered quickly and easily by more traditional means.
A Balanced Solution
Considering all of the above, it may seem difficult to determine the best approach for project management. There are clear advantages to using automation within software development and project management, but cost may be prohibitive, or it may fail to deliver the best solution in every case.
We believe the way forward is a hybrid solution which draws upon the best of human project management and automation. Using apps doesn’t need to be complicated if you opt for a more streamlined approach and keep data in one place.
Repetitive tasks should be automated, with reports available whenever required. Reminders and notifications are also extremely valuable and can be a real asset to all involved in the project, at every level.
Automation can’t substitute for good project management. An intuitive, experienced project manager will be able to identify when a more creative approach is required, and when a fixed schedule needs to be adapted.
Communications are best managed by a project manager too; relying on automated notifications to get the necessary done will lead to delays and misunderstandings. Managing communications between stakeholders is a vital part of a project manager’s role and requires flexibility and an ability to respond intuitively that cannot be covered by artificial intelligence.
However, the need for human project managers doesn’t mean that processes and systems shouldn’t be reviewed, and changes implemented. There are now some extremely useful automated tools available which don’t require huge investment and could revolutionise the way a project runs. This might be as simple as a centralised work management tool or a more in-depth workflow system. There are many different options available and it’s about finding the right level for your projects, and your budget.
Using automation as part of the project management process will increase productivity for your project manager and provide more scalability for multiple software projects.
To be the best in your field, you should never consider any solution as final and fixed. Technology is advancing all of the time, and there may be subtle changes you can introduce in the future which help to enhance the workflow further. Remaining flexible and looking for ways to make your project manager work more effectively and efficiently, while improving quality should be your aims when assessing whether automation can help.
Become Your Best
Automation and artificial intelligence is something we’ve looked at closely, here at Outible, and it’s a subject that continues to be at the forefront of our industry. But as we’ve highlighted here, there’s no substitute for human knowledge, experience and intelligence - which we like to think we offer in bucketloads to all our customers.
If you’d like some exert advice on app development, infrastructure or web design, we’d love to talk. And we promise that if you get in touch, you’ll be talking to a real, live person so why not contact us today to find out more.