The Underrated Heartbeat of Project Management: Humanity Over Algorithms

In the frenzied quest for technological advancement, we are often dazzled by the latest tools and AI solutions that promise to revolutionize industries. The profession of project management is no exception. Every blog, webinar, and workshop focuses on the new era of automation and AI-driven decision-making. But have we forgotten the heartbeat of every project? As the famous saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I think it is time to recalibrate and acknowledge the human-centric core of project management.

Here are areas that we aren’t emphasizing enough.

  • Relationships
  • Emotions
  • Personal communication
  • Nuance
  • Cultural diversity

No matter how advanced, a machine lacks the fundamental human essence of relationship-building. It’s relationships that propel projects forward.  I could end my post right there and say “Thank you for attending my TED talk”, but I think we really need to delve into this. AI can churn out data at astonishing rates, but can it foster trust, resolve team disputes, or inspire creativity?

The emotions that surge through project teams – enthusiasm, apprehension, determination – are pivotal in the outcome. While AI can present a neat pie chart of task completion rates, it remains oblivious to a team member’s dwindling morale or another’s burgeoning passion. Simon Sinek says that Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about caring for those in your charge and our responsibility as leaders in the profession is not merely to place an emphasis on caring, understanding, and supporting our colleagues.

Personal Communication, arguably the linchpin of successful projects, isn’t merely an exchange of information. It’s a dance of managing expectations, assuaging concerns, and rallying a diverse group toward a shared vision. As Winston Churchill once asserted, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.”

AI might be equipped to analyze skills based on data, but does it discern the nuances? Can it perceive a team member’s fervor for a particular task or another’s compatibility with certain colleagues? As we are reminded by the timeless wisdom of Stephen R. Covey, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Recognizing and nurturing their unique strengths is our prime duty.

The world shrinks daily. Projects now encompass a mosaic of cultures, beliefs, and traditions. The onus is on project managers to thread this tapestry seamlessly. Cultural intelligence cannot be distilled down to algorithms or coded nuances. It requires authentic human engagement, understanding, and respect.

And as projects meander toward completion, it’s the celebrations, the shared joys of milestones achieved, and challenges vanquished that kindle the human spirit. While AI can certainly flag these milestones, it doesn’t comprehend the joy of achievement. As Maya Angelou poignantly said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A couple years ago, I mentored a bright young project manager named Alex. Fresh out of college, Alex was a firm believer in technology’s power. During one of his initial projects, he utilized the most advanced AI tools available (at the time) to monitor team progress, forecast challenges, and manage resources. On paper, everything appeared perfect. The algorithms indicated a clear path to a successful project completion.

One day, I joined Alex on a routine team meeting to share some words of encouragement and sensed an unusual tension. I encouraged him to connect with his team members more personally, as that had always worked for me. Taking this advice to heart, he discovered that one of his key contributors, Priya, was battling personal challenges which impacted her work. The AI tools had missed this human nuance entirely, but a simple conversation brought it to light. Alex promptly provided Priya with the support she needed, adjusting her workload and ensuring she felt valued and understood.

The project was delivered successfully, not solely because of the state-of-the-art tools but majorly due to the compassion and understanding Alex showed. As the famous saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Personally, I think it’s high time we recalibrate and acknowledge the human-centric core of project management.

No machine, regardless of its sophistication, can ever replicate the depth and breadth of genuine human connection. It’s these connections that drive projects forward…

We stand at the crossroads of an exciting technological future. But let’s not be so enamored by the digital that we overlook the human. Machines, algorithms, and data have their roles, but they must serve as aids, not replacements. Projects, after all, aren’t just about tasks or milestones. They’re stories of people, by the people, for the people.

In the ever-evolving landscape of project management, we can’t lose sight of what truly matters: our shared human experience. As we spearhead into the future, equipped with powerful tools and AI solutions, let’s always remember the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower: “You do not lead by hitting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.” Leadership, at its core, is a human endeavor.

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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