Do PMOs Need to Be Afraid of Generative AI?

In recent years, Project Management Offices (PMOs) have really taken off in the business world. Almost all organizations have one or more of these project-oriented units that support projects of all kinds and management in taking the appropriate decisions. Nonetheless, many PMO officers have often been concerned about the survival of their PMO in recent years. If, for example, the added value of a PMO could not be demonstrated to top management, the PMO often fell victim to a cost reduction program. Some PMOs also became too powerful for the line organization and lost out in the internal power struggle. Ultimately, the relative high costs also became the fate of the one or the other PMO and the tasks were shifted abroad within the scope of nearshoring or offshoring activities.

For a few years now, the rapid development in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has given rise to new concerns for PMOs. For example, a study conducted by the International Project Management Association (IPMA) together with PwC already found out in 2020 that the greatest impact is to be expected by PMOs. Thus, standard routine tasks in particular will be taken over by AI, which will require a change in thinking and re-learning for those working in this field. Employees will perform fewer of these tasks themselves but will use digital assistants to perform these tasks in an automated and synchronized manner. To do this, employees need profound technical knowledge in working with the digital assistants. In many PMOs, so-called ‘Citizen Developers’ move in who, with basic coding knowledge, create small support programs that facilitate project assignments or help to automatically fill dashboards.

Our experience in the automotive industry shows that it is possible to save an immense amount of personnel in the projects as well as in the PMOs. While previously 30 employees had to use Excel to create certain reports for the board of directors, nowadays with digital assistants it takes less than 10% of the time and personnel effort to create the same reports automatically. Moreover, it is hard to find anyone today who finds such simple tasks with Excel appealing. Working with digital assistants, on the other hand, is attractive, especially for young consultants who would like to be trained as Citizen Developers and then be able to work flexibly in digitizing project-related work.

A comparable effect will happen with ChatGPT or even more advanced Generative AI. ChatGPT itself tempers the question of whether PMOs should be afraid of ChatGPT: “No, Project Management Offices (PMOs) do not need to fear ChatGPT. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language model designed to assist with tasks such as answering questions, generating content, and completing other natural language processing tasks. While ChatGPT may be useful for certain aspects of project management, it is not a replacement for the knowledge, skills, and experience of a PMO. PMOs are responsible for managing projects, ensuring they are delivered on time, within budget, and meet the specified quality standards. They also oversee project portfolios and ensure that resources are used effectively. While ChatGPT may be able to assist with certain tasks related to project management, it cannot replace the expertise and knowledge of a PMO. In fact, PMOs can leverage ChatGPT’s capabilities to enhance their performance and improve their efficiency. By using ChatGPT to automate routine tasks and provide insights and recommendations, PMOs can free up their time to focus on more strategic activities, such as risk management, stakeholder engagement, and project planning. In conclusion, PMOs do not need to fear ChatGPT, but instead can use it as a tool to enhance their capabilities and improve their performance.”

However, ChatGPT is already capable of generating complex decision-making proposals for the steering committees or the board of directors in the organization, without the need for a great deal of staff. Again, all that is needed is tech-savvy Citizen Developers who are skilled at formulating the right questions to be asked of Generative AI, continually ‘training’ the responses, and thus continuously improving the quality of project reports, decision-making proposals, or reports. A nice side effect of using Generative AI is the avoidance of cognitive biases, which e.g., in large projects often lead to misjudgments due to “optimism bias”. Also, the “lessons learned” of past projects automatically flow into the analyses, without project staff having to be reminded over and over to retrieve them from previous projects and yet be sure to take them into account.

However, according to another research by PwC, we are still at the very beginning of a stormy development: “Looking behind the hype, the tangible impact of these ideas is still at a fairly low level. So far, the promises have failed to materialize – which is something we don’t expect to change in project management in the next few years.” Although the acceptance of ChatGPT has been met with great interest due to its release earlier this year, the application still stays in a playful way and does not yet meet the professional requirements of the project business sufficiently. As with the use of other technologies, it is therefore necessary to consider a strategy for dealing with Generative AI, to tackle the first applications as quickly as possible, and thus to gain experience for broader application in the project business. On the one hand, the use of AI promises advantages for the efficiency and effectiveness of the PMO work, yet possible disadvantages in terms of cyber security, etc. must also be considered. As with mobile communication, the train of progress is unstoppable and the sooner one adapts to the change, the easier it will be to cope with the changes – also for the PMO.