The Future of #AI Augmented Project Management is misguided #PMOT #Agile

robot

I haven’t read a Project Management article for a long time that spurred me to write a bog entry within 24 hours. I had that experience yesterday after reading The Augmented Project Manager by Treb Gatte. This article provided an introduction to the interesting application of Artificial Intelligence to the Project Management role.

Treb discussing the three areas of Project Management that could be affected by the application of Artificial Intelligence:

  • Planning
  • Resource Allocation
  • Tracking

Planning

Treb discuss the future of AI Augmented Project Planning:

“Imagine if your scheduling bot generates a proposed project plan, based on the aggregated and anonymized experiences of similar sized companies doing the same type of project. Today, we use tools like Monte Carlo to simulate this information. The bot could incorporate real world data, potentially yielding better results.”

Let that thought percolate while we moved onto Resource Allocation.

Resource Allocation

Treb then illustrates the possible future of Resource Allocation:

“For example, your resourcing bot determines that you need a social media expert on your project on April 5th for two days of work. It searches data sources like LinkedIn and your public cloud calendar to find a list of suitable and available candidates. Three are West Coast of the U.S., one is in Paris and one is in Sydney. It then automatically reaches out to these candidates with offers. If multiple people accept, it automatically manages the negotiation. Once complete, the planning bot is informed, a virtual desktop with requisite software is provisioned, user login credentials are generated and the specific task information is sent to them. When the job is complete and rated as satisfactory, the bot coordinates with your accounts payable system to pay the freelancer. The planning bot automatically updates the plan and pushes the data to the BI dashboards.”

I’m not sure this illustration involves much Artificial Intelligence as it really if just about integrating with existing technologies and platforms – but I digress.

Tracking

And then finally Treb discusses what the future of AI Augmented Project Tracking might look like:

“Project feedback loops on work are awful. The largest challenge is incomplete data, which results from increasingly fragmented work days, limits of the worker’s memory and tools that rely on human input. It is also incomplete as it serves little benefit to the person entering the data.

Workers are overwhelmed with tasks arriving via multiple communication channels and no consolidated view.

Imagine a world where the timesheet is antiquated. Today, we have systems such as Microsoft Delve that know what content you’ve touched. We have IP-based communication systems that know what collaborations you’ve conducted. We have machine learning capabilities that can determine what you’ve discussed and the content of the documents you’ve edited. This week, we have facial recognition capabilities and other features that can track and interpret your movements. Given all of this, why is a timesheet necessary?”

Opinion

Oh boy, where to start? It seems like most of focus of AI Augmented Project Management seems to be on the collection of data that will make the results better.

  • “If we have better historical data, we can plan better”
  • “If we have better, faster access to resources, we can complete tasks better and faster”
  • “If we have better real-time data on tasks, we can report status and adapt better”

The Problem

The problem was all of these perspectives is they seem to be promoting, advocating, and recommending less human interaction between Project Managers and their teams. If we only had AI augmented Project Management, we can go back to our closed doors and avoid the pesky human interactions. Agile Project Managers realize that human interaction is he crucible of project success – AI Augmented Project Management seems to have forgotten that.

Yes, planning is hard.

Yes, resourcing and building high-performing teams are hard.

Yes, tracking and adapting the project is difficult.

But the answer is more interaction, communication, coaching, caring, and collaboration. Not less.

I’ve even seen another article promoting that chatbots could help to get status updates from team members. Oh yeah, that will greatly improve communication of information. Developers will just love getting the impersonal 9:03 am greeting of “What are you planning to do today, what did you complete yesterday?”

Summary

I believe the idea of AI Augmented Project Management will end up on the trash heap with the CASE tools that were going to replace developers in the 80’s, Artificial Intelligence can assist augmenting individual competencies, but not replacing team communication, interaction, and problem solving. Perhaps, there is a role for Artificial Intelligence in reviewing plans and highlighting possible areas of concern regarding scheduling or estimation that a human can review. But the automated  creation of plans, resource allocation, task assignment, and task tracking is misguided.

The idea that worthy Project Manager work is stakeholder management,  but not team collaboration, engagement and communication is wrong.

Software Development is a team sport, and requires collaboration, communication, and engagement to plan, resource, and adjust. The idea that you can broadcast the skills you need and just drop a resource in to do a task and not worry about culture, fit, team dynamics, and personalities is pure hubris. These are people working on complex, nasty problems. They need time to gel, bond, and collaborate.

Sports is frequently identified as an area Artificial Intelligence has helped. Absolutely. Artificial Intelligence can refine skills like throwing a football and shooting a puck. Assisting in team dynamics and planning remains elusive. Coaches still call the plays and adjust plans. Even coaches that leverage technology realize that…

 

#PMO Visual Management Tools #PMOT #Agile

I have now been the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University for Manitoba for over two years. One of the first items I struggled with was trying to determine how to visually communicate the status of the portfolio of projects in a visual, intuitive way. I was a huge proponent of visual reporting and communication from my days as an Agile consultant. A textual or tabular report of the portfolio of projects just doesn’t inform stakeholders easily as to the breadth, depth, and status of the portfolio of projects.

Epiphany

Late one day, I had a discussion with our CIO in regards to how he had seen a radar diagram used as a means to communicate the life-cycle of Infrastructure within an environment. After a short discussion, we had formulated a plan as to how it could be used to display the portfolios of our projects.

We had devised a template to show the following:

  • Separate portfolio sections with
    • Projects represented by coloured circles of different sizes
    • Status of projects indicated by circle colour
    • Projects on hold indicated by a diamond
    • New projects shown by a distinct circle icon
    • Size of project indicated by size of circle
    • Indication of a project being over budget by a halo around the circle
    • Project phase indicated by the circle’s proximity to center of the radar
    • Project’s progress indicated by the circle’s overlay to show percentage complete

Results

The Portfolio Radar diagram has been refined over the months. but it is probably the most requested document the Project Management Office produces.

Recently, I have created a personal radar that I use to track my to-do items. Like a lot of managers, I usually have 10-20 items on the go that need periodic attention. These items can usually be categorized into 3-4 “portfolios”. The radar template is much more appropriate than the standard kanban board used for projects as the items can be recurring and of extended duration. Some of them can be standing items which are never really done. The “Personal Radar” is a great diagram for showing which items need to have attention paid to them next week and which ones can wait.

Like the Portfolio Radar, the Personal Radar indicates:

  • Separate portfolio sections with
    • Items represented by stickies
    • Urgency of attention indicated by stickie colour
    • Stickie phase indicated by the Stickie’s proximity to center of the radar

This “Personal Radar” for the PMO Manager has been a great assistance to stay of top of multitude of items required in the PMO. The Personal Radar gets reviewed at the start of the week to plan the week and at the end of the week to ensure the items received the attention they deserved.

So far, this is becoming a key deliverable to stay on top of items. An example of the Personal Radar is show below:

Summary

The Portfolio Radar and Personal Radar have been excellent diagrams to use for communication of project status and task management. I’d love to hear your experiences with other means of visual methods for Project Management and personal management.

Is my #PMO #Agile?

I recently presented on Agile Project Management Offices at Canheit 2018 at the lovely Simon Fraser University Campus in Burnaby. The conference was extremely well-organized and had many great sessions. The only complaint I have is that there was no bacon, but that is a small point. 🙂

In putting together my presentation, I had a to think about what makes a PMO Agile? We all know what makes a Project Agile, but how did that translate to the PMO? To further complicate the matter there are different types of PMOs. There are PMOs that deliver templates, those that dictate a methodology, those that provide a Career Centre for wayward Project Managers, and others that try to do all of these things.

I’ve always felt that an Agile Project at its heart does three things:

  1. Provides Brutal Visibility
  2. Minimizes Inventory
  3. Uses the Brutal Visibility and Minimize Inventory to deliver more value

Agile PMO

On first blush, those factors translated pretty well to an Agile PMO. But I still had to ask myself how did the Agile PMO deliver more value? I looked at Agile Projects again and how do they deliver more value? The one word that kept popping in my mind was that Agile Projects use Brutal Visibility and Minimal Inventory to Pivot or change the direction of the project. More important than that, the Brutal Visibility and Minimal Inventory allow the Pivot to be done in ‘an informed manner with limited waste’.

So ultimately I felt Agile Projects or Agile PMOs do three things:

  1. Provide Brutal Visibility
  2. Minimize Inventory
  3. Pivot in an Informed Manner with Minimal Waste

Summary

So for projects, this means Pivoting to allow the scheduling/trading/exchanging of features to deliver the most value.

For a Project Management Office, these means Pivotting to allow for the scheduling/trading/exchanging of projects to deliver the most value. And for Project Management Offices this means understanding the best way to allocate people and budget to the work required. In my expeience, budget is far easier to allocate than people with the team dynamics and role mixtures that are required on a project.

Sadly, most Project Management Offices struggle with Resource Management and manage resources in a series of Excel Spreadsheets that are usually out of date by at least a couple of months. When Project pivot decisions are required, the Project Management Office is guessing at people’s true allocation. More importantly, the Resource Management system usually doesn’t track actual hours that would indicate the leading edge of problems on projects.

To be a true Agile PMO, a Resource Management system must be used where your Resource allocation is current and the ability to Pivot exists every day. We recently implemented a Resource Management solution and the data being generated/captured is just showing how impactful it can be.

Now how many of our Project Management Offices could be considered truly Agile?

My #Agile Breakup

So it has been 11 months now since I’ve seen Agile. How has it been? To be honest, I haven’t missed her. I really haven’t. What has been made clear is what Agile is and what she isn’t.

First Date

I guess Agile and I started dating in 2006. We both were interested in each other and then I was able to arrange for Yves Hanoulle to be the keynote at the Software Development and Evolution Conference I was helping to organize in 2011. Yves had a great presentation on the Agile Mindset that was brilliant. I must admit I only realized how brilliant in the last few months. I think I did what many people have done when they encounter an attractive person coming out of a bad relationship. I moved too fast and fell too hard after being with Waterfall for too long.

The Agile I met was a collection of interesting, valuable methods. There was the concept of the Agile Mindset that Yves and others were promoting with wisdom. But I fell into the same trap as many others. I was going to propose to Agile and she would be the only methodology for me. All projects would be Agile. If clients didn’t like my new girlfriend, then they could go elsewhere.

Agile was a Methodology. I was sure of it. I would exclude using all other methodologies while Agile and I were serious. I would create an Agile Methodology by combining methods and practices. I would read and author Agile papers and presentations where we routinely challenged and chastised each other for not being ‘Agile enough’. I looked for the Agile complement for all waterfall or traditional methods. No matter the project, I promoted the Agile method.

For those of you keeping score at home, the PMBOK isn’t a methodology as well. Similar to Agile, it is a listing of processes, procedures, and knowledge that can be applied. But it is not prescriptive and does not provide governance on how to apply the methods and practices. Many companies take the PMBOK components and create their own methodology from it though.

But what about Scrum you ask? I’d say Scrum is an incomplete methodology. Although it does provide a methodology for the iterations on a project, it does lack guidance and governance in relations to the business case and pre-project intake process. Scrum also lacks guidance for the larger portfolio and enterprise governance concerns.

My Agile Mindset

My mistake was trying to take a collection of methods and assume a methodology exists. A larger mistake was then losing my Agile Mindset of constantly questioning the Agile methodology for value. That is my biggest complaint about Agile now. Many proponents seem to have lost the Agile Mindset of constantly questioning the best method to use on each project. Everyone is just promoting more and more ‘Agile’ methods without confirming that the method returns the most value for the clients. See the No Estimates discussion for this. To blindly promote no estimates for all clients does not represent an Agile Mindset.

I was going to say I’m just as Agile now and I was before, but that statement shows a non-Agile mindset – Agile is not a methodology to achieve. Let’s just say, I feel my projects achieve the maximum amount of value for client by using the Prince2 Methodology using Agile methods and practices were appropriate. Everyone I’ve worked with sees the value in Agile methods and are eager to work with them. The concept that you have to buy the entire Agile Methodology to use an Agile practice is misguided.

I mention Prince2 because that is what we use at the University of Manitoba. You could replace it with whatever you use at your company and then search where you could use Agile methods to return more value. The more I use Prince2, the most I think it is one of the best methodologies I have used though. Highly recommended.

Use an Agile Mindset, Agile isn’t about the Methodology it is about getting better little by little.