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Straight Talk on Project Management

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As AI does more heavy lifting, why IT PM’s soft EQ skills are becoming more important than ever.

The IT Project Management landscape is rapidly and constantly evolving, and with the increasing integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in IT projects, Project Managers are faced with new challenges but also new opportunities. Perhaps paradoxically, despite technical advancements, one “soft skill” in Project Management has felt more and more important in recent times – Emotional Intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ). 

With growing dependence on AI, as more aspects of projects become automated, will EQ be less or more relevant.

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (EQ)

Emotional Intelligence (EQ), refers to the ability to recognise, understand, manage, and effectively leverage emotions in both yourself and others, and it encompasses a range of skills, including empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, and social skills. In IT Project Management, where collaboration and communication are key, EQ plays a pivotal role in achieving success and despite advance and increased reliance on tech, this power skill has only grown in importance.

THE INCREASING ROLE OF AI IN IT PROJECT MANAGEMENT

As AI technologies have advanced, their application in IT Project Management has expanded exponentially. Our debate centred around how valuable people skills will be when the machines are doing more and more of the heavy lifting. 

As a quick aside, it was the Prince and Princess of Wales hiring a new CEO that became the unlikely spark for our debate. At Stoneseed we’re very big on EQ when we hire, so when Prince William’s Kensington Palace posted a newly created vacancy of Chief Executive Officer that specified candidate criteria like ‘emotionally intelligent’ and ‘low ego’, I joked that any one of our “as a Service” team members could walk into the gig. 

Stoneseed’s Project Managers, Business Analysts, and other project talent, accessed by our clients “as a Service” must, by the nature of the resourcing model, flex and fit into an organisation in a heartbeat. To hit the ground running when joining any new team, emotional intelligence is a huge strength. 

Our people have it in spades.

And, just in case William and Kate are reading this, they’re all very happy at Stoneseed! 

We were in the midst of a light-hearted “if it’s good enough for the future King, it’s good enough for us” chat when one of my colleagues asked, “but will it always be good enough for us?”. You don’t necessarily need empathy and social skills to interact with AI, and I write this as someone who regularly finds himself following a request to Alexa with “please”. The thing is though, Alexa’s “your wish is my command” approach is the same whether I ask in a gentle or a forceful tone of voice, and she certainly doesn’t get the grump if you don’t say “please” and “thank you”.

So, will AI be the death of EQ in IT Project Management?   

Our conclusion: That while AI can assist in project scheduling, risk analysis, resource allocation, and even decision-making, while it can enhance efficiency and productivity, it also brings with it a new set of unique challenges that require a human touch – EQ is going to be more valuable as an IT Project Management skill not less! In this blog, we will explore the importance of EQ in IT Project Management, especially in the context of the greater use of AI.

In a brilliant white paper on the subject, “Emotional Intelligence and The Project Manager”, the International Institute for Learning (IIL), comes the same conclusion. I’ll share a link at the end, but in the white paper’s abstract they write “…with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation in future organizational models, the relational side of Project Management gains enhanced value. Successful Project Managers and leaders must not only comprehend Emotional Intelligence (EQ) but actively demonstrate its application within their teams and in engaging stakeholders. As AI agents take over certain processes, forms, and checklists, the role of EQ in Project Management becomes even more critical.” Amen!

Furthermore, the white paper’s authors Harold Kerzner and Elissa Farrow, focus on Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness (putting yourself in others’ shoes) and Relationship Management as pillars of an IT Project Manager’s deployment of EQ, as we navigate the constant changes “from the ever-increasing VUCA environment (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity)”.  

Right now, VUCA feels like an understatement!

I canvassed some of my Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) colleagues, project talent who are out in the field fusing their “power skills” with advancements in AI, and they agreed, citing the following areas where EQ will become more valuable. 

1 – Enhanced Team Collaboration:

Effective collaboration is the cornerstone of successful IT Project Management. While AI tools can streamline communication and data sharing, EQ is essential for building strong team dynamics. Project Managers with high EQ understand the needs and concerns of team members and impact of AI upon them. They resolve conflicts and create a positive work environment. Remote and cross-functional teams are common, EQ can bridge the emotional gaps that often come with such geographical or competency distance.

2 – Stakeholder Management:

IT projects involve numerous stakeholders, there’s clients, sponsors, end-users, team members, etc and each stakeholder has their own distinct goals, expectations, and emotional investments in the project. EQ enables Project Managers to empathise with all stakeholders, manage their expectations, and foster trust. Our team members tell me that this becomes crucial when AI solutions do not align perfectly with stakeholder visions.

3 – Decision-Making:

AI can provide data-driven insights, but it’s often up to the project manager to make strategic decisions. EQ allows Project Managers to consider the emotional impact of decisions on team members and stakeholders. This can lead to more balanced choices that not only consider the technical aspects but also the human elements of the project.

4 – Risk Management:

AI is great for analysing data to identify potential risks, but EQ helps Project Managers assess the emotional factors associated with risks. Different risks may affect team morale, stakeholder relationships, and project timelines, EQ allows Project Managers to gauge this, and by addressing emotional concerns, proactively mitigate risks.

5 – Adaptability and Change Management:

The IT landscape is ever-changing, AI is allowing organisations to identify need for change and execute rapidly, and, as a result, projects often require adjustments. EQ enables Project Managers to navigate change effectively, understand and address resistance to change, and manage uncertainty. To guide the team through transitions, in an AI-driven environment, adaptability is crucial and having sufficient emotional intelligence even more so.

6 – Effective Communication:

AI has been revolutionary in automating communication, but often lacks the nuances of human interaction. “Machine learning doesn’t always equate to machine listening,” a PM told me, “EQ is the oil that greases the wheels and cogs and ensures that communication is as effective as it is efficient. EQ helps PMs to convey information clearly, to listening actively, and understand non-verbal cues, which is vital in resolving issues and making informed decisions, and so far beyond most AI!

7 – Managing Stress and Pressure:

IT Project Management can be very stressful. The pressure of meeting tight deadlines, resolving technical issues, and handling unexpected setbacks inevitably can take a toll on Project Managers. While AI is designed to take away some of these stresses by refining processes, etc, nothing beats a human touch at these times. High EQ individuals are better equipped to identify stress in colleagues, know what makes team members tick and manage their own stress and pressure effectively. They can remain calm under challenging circumstances, make rational decisions, and inspire their team to do the same. This emotional resilience is valuable in keeping a project on track, even in the face of adversity, no amount of AI will ever replace this.

Conclusion

OK, it’s an unlikely pub quiz question … but if you are ever asked:

What have The Prince and Princess of Wales and IT Project recruiters, in the age of AI, got in common? 

You now know the answer: They understand the value of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

In this era of increasing AI-driven IT Project Management, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is becoming a more vital factor for success. 

AI can handle the technical aspects, but EQ addresses the human and emotional dimensions of Project Management. Ours is still a people business. Project Managers with high EQ foster collaboration, manage stakeholders, make informed decisions, mitigate risks, adapt to changes, and communicate effectively.

As organisations rely more on AI in IT projects, it’s crucial that Project Managers maintain, develop, and harness their emotional intelligence. AI isn’t going anywhere and nor are we! The future of IT Project Management will, I think, evolve into a symbiotic relationship between artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence – technological success and the well-being of the people involved.

Embracing EQ is now more than just a choice; it’s vital for delivering IT Project Management excellence in the age of AI. If it’s good enough for the future King and Queen …

Sources:

https://www.iil.com/emotional-intelligence-and-the-project-manager/

https://fortune.com/2023/09/18/prince-william-kensington-palace-vacancy-chief-executive-officer-low-ego/