Robotics may be the future. However, I do not believe it is the future of project management. So rest easy my colleagues. Or prove me wrong...
With all the talk about advances made in robotics lately and how many jobs may soon be lost to robots, I thought it might be interesting to consider why – at least from my humble perspective – robots will never manage projects. There are some jobs, maybe even some tech positions, that could be performed by robots. But I don't believe that the personal touch and interaction that is needed many times on project engagement will lend itself very well to being handled by the likes of robotics. If you have a strong opinion on this or are a robotics expert, please comment with your thoughts...could be an interesting discussion.
1. The customer needs the personal touch points.
I haven't managed a project yet where the customer didn't need the personal touch from the project manager. It may be they need someone to complain to, someone to negotiate with, someone to praise, someone to reap praise on them, or just someone to hear them out. But they have always needed the personal touch.
2. Project decisions are rarely black and white – and not always logical.
If you can't make decisions that are straightforward, with no emotion or negotiation involved, then I don't see how a robot could ever lead a project. I'd have to say that about 60-70% of project decisions I've had to make – the big ones anyway – are made with some logic tossed out the window, some emotion built into it and some other considerations that have to be based on logical or illogical assumptions that must be made by a human.
3. It's all about communication.
I've always said that communication is Job One for the project manager. There isn't a client alive that will take comfort in the non-personal type of communication they will get from a robot versus a living, breathing, project manager. There is also the non-verbal communication aspect, but I suspect robotics can eventually handle that fairly well.
4. No matter how remote, you have to jump on a plane from time to time and be face-to-face with the client.
If all project work was remote, then a robot could possibly handle a project and lead a project team. But the potential for travel and the personal face-to-face meeting needs that can come up to work through issues and conduct war room break/fix sessions prior to a go-live on a troubled technical project says to me that this will never happen. For this reason alone, I don't see how it could ever be a reality.
5. If a robot CAN do it, there won't be any need for someone to manage projects.
I feel that if projects became so straightforward that a robot could lead it, then there really wouldn't be any need for projects. Data and preferences would be loaded and the solution would come about quickly...in the form of a problem solved, not a real project. I think if it does come down to something robots can perform, then we aren't really talking about project management anymore...it would be dead. So robots would be creating solutions, but not leading projects.