Artificial intelligence for mega projects

Jun 26, 2020

Artificial intelligence for mega projects

AI is still in its infancy but has the potential to become an integral part of megaproject management methodologies and frameworks, says Lloyd Skinner

In these times, where the world is at our fingertips, technology is taking over every aspect of human life. Like other professional entities, project management is deploying emerging innovative technology, which is likely to change project management in years to come. Given these astonishing advancements, it is increasingly becoming clear that there will be an increasing reliance on artificial intelligence.

Open secrets of mega projects:

Projects that involve a minimum budget of one billion US dollars and last several years, definitely involve a great amount of risk. Undoubtedly, megaprojects involve huge stakes and resources, which on most occasions becomes difficult for local decision makers. There are certain reasons that make them challenging which include complexity, size, financial encumbrance, etc. Nevertheless, public projects contribute towards the wealth of that nation but they can turn into disasters.

The importance of mega projects in the context of the global economy is undeniable. According to a study by Professor Bent Flyvbjerg (University of Oxford’s Said Business School), megaprojects cover around eight per cent of the total global GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Not only this but Thomas Frey, Senior futurist at the Da Vinci Institute, predicted in 2017 that this contribution will increase to 24 per cent of the global GDP in the next 10 years. On this basis, it is apparent that megaprojects will share a major proportion of global finances, and failures in monetary or time overrun of these projects will impact the global economy as well.

McKinsey (Garemo, Matzinger, and Palter) quotes Flyvbjerg that 90 per cent of megaprojects go over budget. In different research, the founder of Thinking Business, David Taylor concludes that around 65% of the megaprojects fail to attain the desired results. Since megaprojects involve such high levels of investment and are subject to high levels of risk, it is imperative to add value to megaproject processes and make them more efficient.

Why artificial intelligence?

Megaprojects involve huge resources and bigger risks. Therefore, their failure may cause a great loss to the stakeholders. Statistics shows that one of the primary causes of project failure lies in scheduling and budgeting. So, to minimise failures, it is essential to control the time and budget as this will impact on project success rate.

Controlling project duration for megaprojects is not easy as multiple professions and workstreams are involved at different stages of the project. Many of them are interdependent and syncing them in a timely manner is often an uphill task for the project team. This causes delays and ultimately impacts on project cost. Current project management frameworks may creek when controlling multitasking during the project life cycle. So, technological involvement can augment project managers to effectively handle these matters and improve coordination among various stakeholders for megaproject management.

Söderlund, Sankaran and Biesenthal emphasise in their research for the PMI, published in January 2018, that researchers and practitioners need to revisit the tools and techniques to better cope with the failures of megaprojects. They press upon the application of innovative technology to improve project performance and curtail the risks involved in the failure.  

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionising thinking technology. Even though embryonic in its development, AI dilutes the myth that it can merely perform repetitive tasks and procedures. With its application in diverse businesses, AI flattens incredibly complex issues and plays a significant role in their success. Dmytro Bogdanov, a regular professional project management author, said earlier this year that with the availability of big data and strong processing power, AI can act as a thinking processor. Keeping in view these surprising results, why not utilise AI tools and techniques to handle complexities during different stages of megaprojects and not only make them achieve desired results but also add more value to the stakeholders.

AI for mega project management

Ron Schmelzer (2019), in his article for Forbes, says that AI is increasingly making its way into project management tools and methodologies. He adds that AI is efficiently handling project management process cycles to analyse the patterns of a working team and offering suggestions. These amplified tools make AI an obvious benefit to project managers moving ahead.

AI systems can effectively handle scheduling, reminders, and follow-ups to eliminate the need for human input. This is one of many effective ways that these systems are capable of saving human effort and time by making sure that nothing is overlooked.

AI can monitor working patterns which helps in future trends and provides complex analytics that predict the future based upon trending data. These predicting capabilities will help project managers as they engage in multiple administrative activities. As AI systems are capable of handling administrative tasks including management of updates, follow-ups, etc., this can relieve project managers to work on strategic decision-making and buy considerable time to focus on other project complexities.

A further important aspect of AI application to projects is risk identification, evaluation, and mitigation. Megaprojects encounter greater risks and uncertainties throughout the life cycle. And project teams need to be vigilant to identify and manage risks based upon current knowledge and resources. Intelligent and self-learning systems can predict, analyze, and mitigate risks that are occasionally unforeseen. These systems use project data to identify risks and notify vulnerabilities.

Organisations involved in megaprojects create and store a substantial amount of structured and unstructured data. This data is a great source for artificially intelligent systems to learn from and can predict potential impacts for the future stages of the projects. Organisations not only prior phase data but data from previous projects which is also available to expound future stages. These intelligent systems help in developing realistic estimates and deliverables of megaprojects.

AI as a project manager’s assistant

AI can be used throughout the project life cycle to assist project managers. Project managers are often immense pressure from the sheer volume of data and they could benefit from additional technological support to assist in team management. AI is also able to assist project managers at different stages of the project life cycle.

Planning:

Project planning is critical and it requires detailed exercises and strategy development to smartly utilise available resources. AI application can support these exercises to optimise planning processes. Timelines, budget estimation and other dependencies can be tackled and continuously monitored. AI can highlight vulnerabilities which may otherwise be ignored using traditional means. AI can foresee upcoming requirements with the help of the data provided, in a more efficient wat compared to traditional tools and techniques.

Execution:

In this phase project are set into motion, so there is greater risk of a project going off course. McKinsey (Garemo, Matzinger, and Palter) found that due to poor execution, 73per cent of the megaprojects go over time and budget

AI tools can assist project managers to keep up the track of the project performance by generating status reports and can suggest an intervention if a deviation is noticed. AI systems optimise decision making for diverse segments including workloads, staffing levels, and strategies for minimising inefficiencies.

Final thoughts

Going through different professional and academic material, one thing seems to be clear is that Artificial Intelligence can be used to increase likelihood of megaproject success. It can control megaprojects to be more effective and add value for the end-users. However, AI is not widely utilised, it is in its infancy but the potential will become an integral part of megaproject management methodologies and frameworks.

By Lloyd Skinner

Lloyd Skinner has 25 plus years of project experience working in multiple sectors in both support and delivery roles. He has managed major transformations programmes underpinned by infrastructure refresh.  For the last two years he has lead Greyfly who are preferred suppliers to the BBC for programme management and have been developing services regarding AI in project management that tackle the real project delivery problem.


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