Coming of Automation: Should project managers worry?

Automation means automatic control.

But control of what? The project? The manager? Or the entire system?


We are going to tackle the exact same issue in this article. We will deal with how automation can devour our jobs. Especially, the position of a Project Manager.

Automation is the way of the future. Or, so we have heard. There is now a growing fear that automation will replace a majority of jobs out there.  

A recent McKinsey Global Institute report stated that:

  1. Automation can take over 45% of the paid activities using the existing technologies.

  2. Automation can take over one-third of the work in about 60 occupations. 

So, how will automation impact Project Management jobs? 

Well, according to Wikipedia- Project Management is "the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria".

To put it in simpler words, it is leading a group towards a goal. 

There are some who argue that automation will not have a significant impact on managers. Apart from the processes, project management also involves a strong human element. This is the most important aspect of any project's success.

Automation has the capacity to take over certain repetitive tasks. But, machines cannot handle actions involving subjective emotions. For e.g. an application can show whether a certain team member met the deadline assigned or not. But what it cannot determine is the morale of the team member. 

More often than not, projects become more about managing people than anything else. This is why communication skills and diplomacy are important for a project manager.

Besides, the efficiency of machine must correlate to the skill level required for the job. There is a prominent notion that only the low skilled jobs are at a threat. Jobs involving complex and unpredictable variables are, for the moment, safe.

As project managers, do we need to worry about losing our jobs? 

Automation in project

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Yes, at our own risk.

Nobody can predict the future. But we can make an approximation observing the current trends. Technology has revolutionized the way we work in the last decade.
Going forward, automation will be prominent across all jobs including Project Management.

When taken in a good sense, automation can bring about a significant job improvement.

Below are 3 reasons why project managers should welcome automation with open arms.

#1 To communicate and coordinate better

Effective communication is the key to the success of the project. Managers spend majority of their time on communicating with the team members. In some cases, even with the stakeholders. Using certain gadgets, sharing information and tracking changes is possible in real-time. This, in turn, reduces the need for back and forth emails and improves accountability. 

In olden days, the managers controlled the ownership of information and imposed decisions. The leadership of the present encourages ideas and suggestions from the team members. Automation can make this collaboration much more effective.

#2  Focus more on value addition tasks

Automation can ease the workload of the manager by taking care of the monotonous tasks. This, in turn, allows him/her to focus on more important and productive work.

For e.g. Automating data collection, documentation etc. will free up the manager. Also, when there are  gadgets operating, the probability of committing a mistake is less. Thus, a project's success increases.

For the team members, the benefits are similar. They can use their spare time to improve their skills and expertise for more efficiency. Further, these members contribute better to create an impact on the project. This helps build a sense of ownership.

#3 Predict risks and problems

Imagine, a project manager has a list of delays, risks, and problems even before they occurred. Wouldn't it make the life of the project manager easier? Of course, yes!

Automation can mine through data and predict possible disruption to the flow of work. For e.g. the time spent on a certain task by a team member can determine whether that task will meet the deadline. 

If such information is available with the manager, he/she can make alternate plans. In cases where it is impossible to do so, neutralizing measures can reduce the impact of such hiccups.

Yet, there are reasons to worry.

Although the human element is important, sophisticated systems are now coming up.
They can study the patterns and predict the behavior of team members or stakeholders.

This means, in future a machine will take over the jobs which considered a human discretion with ease.

Automatioln in projects

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What does this point out to the project manager?

As the monotonous tasks get automated, the projects will become more complex.

Hence, the task of the project manager will also change according to the need.

Advanced skills like strategy, innovation, conflict resolution, advanced digital literacy etc, will be more valued than the traditional framework skills.

Thus, there is an urgent need for the project managers to upgrade their skills on a regular basis.

Our traditional MBA is not good enough anymore.

Hence, one should invest in learning the specific set of skills required with time. this is the key to a being a successful and efficient manager.

Technological changes are quick and dynamic. If we get caught napping, there is a heavy price to pay.

In all, you need not consider automation as a bane.

Instead of wondering where you fit in, embrace the change and build your skills to adapt to it.

This will prove to be much more productive.

You should look upon automation as an opportunity to learn, grow and be more productive.

Coming to the big question, will automation devour your job? 

Not if you are an efficient and effective project manager! And how to become more effective/ efficient, you ask? “Elementary, dear Watson.” - get trained and certified!

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