Can robots manage projects?

Nov 21, 2017 | agile, government, lean, logistics, nhs trusts

by Steve Tofts

Last week Radio 4’s PM programme ran a series of reports looking at the impact of machines on human jobs. The series examined the retail industry, healthcare, construction and logistics. So what about  project management?

The series concluded that any job that involved repetitive procedures could be done by a robot. The final report included a discussion by a panel of experts. This focused on the skills that people need to work side by side with machines.  It included a surprising number of terms that are commonly used in the project management community: transformational change; body of knowledge; framework of control; and, finally, agile. The panel were particularly keen on agility. In answer to the question “what should schools be teaching young people?” the government minister for digital stressed the importance of preparing young people to be agile on the job market. The other panel members agreed. Young people need a set of skills that will allow them to be flexible and able to change jobs.

Flexible occupation

Project management is certainly a flexible occupation. It’s relevant to any business sector and offers career opportunities in all kinds of organisations across the globe. So should it be taught in schools? Well in most countries the school curriculum is already under pressure to deliver core skills such as language and STEM. But there’s a strong argument that every university or college student could benefit from a basic understanding of project management.

People, not processes

The danger is in treating project management as a procedural, process-driven occupation. The more rigid the process model, the easier it will be to capture in an algorithm. Fortunately, projects are really about people, not processes. Project management education needs to include the skills that put human judgement at the centre of the process. The more human, the more empathetic the job, the harder it will be to replace.  

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