Project Management in the Digital Age: Is New Technology Enough to Make Anyone an Expert?

John F. Gravel

The term “we have an App for that” has become so common, that it would be reasonable to assume the human role in all functional aspects of everyday life and business can be “off-loaded” to a machine.

In certain cases such as with Google Maps, where drivers no longer must pull over to the side of a road and unfold the equivalent of an origami guide to chart their course, it is a fair statement. However, an assumption of minimal human involvement in all processes is a little overzealous.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer in technological advancement and its promise to allow humans to focus on more strategic pursuits by taking over repetitive and mundane tasks. However, there is a world of difference between a symbiotic leveraging of digital capabilities and a wholesale surrender of all functions to a machine.

In other words, while it’s fine to use tech to help you get from point A to point B, there are some things that we humans are better suited to handle. Especially given the challenges with moving from digital promise to digital realization.

Digital Heal Thyself

Despite the undeniable promise of emerging technologies in all areas of business, not just project management, digital transformation does not come easy.

According to one McKinsey global survey of 1,650 incumbent companies, just 23 percent have a digital reinvention strategy. Think about that for a moment and then reflect on a September 2019 European CEO article’s report that “Organisations are struggling to capture the value of new technologies and truly unleash their positive disruptive forces.”

For all it does and can do, emerging digital technology, including RPA and AI, requires human intervention and active involvement, especially in areas such as project management.

No Autopilot

In the same European CEO article – which is aptly titled “PMI: project managers are key to a successful digital transformation,” it states: “Bots are no substitute for creative leadership, essential problem-solving or decision-making, nor the innovative mindset that project managers bring to an organisation.”

I think we can, at times, forget the fact that digital technology is an extension of the human mind and not the other way around. Statements such as the one above should serve to remind us that as awesome as technology is and will continue to become, we (being humans) are the ones at the wheel for a reason.

Business and, more specifically, complex projects involving shifting variables and different personalities need an experienced human touch to stay on track. The role of technology is to augment the foundation of the project manager’s expertise and skillsets – which has, for some, been developed over many years, to achieve the desired outcomes.

Empowerment, Not Replacement

When everything is said and done, digital advancement is not going to make everyone a project management expert overnight.

Think of it like this: design technology and robotics are helping to make sailboats that can “blast across ocean waves with speed and efficiency.” But you still need someone – someone human with the experience to take the helm.

When it comes to project management, the same is true.

As project managers, we need to remind ourselves that technology and all its promise, enhances – not replaces our ability to manage our projects and achieve optimal results!