3 ways AI will change project management for the better

Project Management AI

This post originally appeared on Atlassian’s blog and VentureBeat.

If you’ve read any tech media recently then you’re probably hearing a lot about artificial intelligence (AI). Some people herald it as the promise of the future, while others are skeptical — even fearful — of its impacts on society, culture, and our workplaces.

As it turns out, the buzz around AI has mostly resulted in a lot of conflicting emotions. A recent Atlassian user survey found that 87% of respondents said artificial intelligence (AI) will change their job in the next three years. Almost the same number said that some part of their job could be done by AI. 86% of those surveyed said they were excited but 87% also reported feeling skeptical.

However, AI isn’t to be feared. It may even be your best team member, especially for project managers. AI for project management is on the rise, and the way things are going, it’s going to help teams make smarter decisions and move faster. Let’s take a look.

What is project management AI?

Project management AI is a system that can perform the day-to-day management and administration of projects without requiring human input. It will not only automate simple tasks but will also develop an understanding of key project performance. Project management AI can then use this understanding to uncover insights, perform more complex tasks, make recommendations, and make decisions; sometimes in ways people just can’t do today.

Ultimately, an AI system will save you time while improving outcomes for your projects and team.

Project management AI provides a level of service that rises above many of the bots available today. For example, a HipChat bot that lets you check on the status of a JIRA task quickly, while useful, is not considered project management AI. Similarly, an algorithm that applies machine learning to predict estimates for tasks, while interesting, isn’t AI either. It’s only when you start bringing bots and algorithms together that you start to realize the potential of project management AI.

Today: narrow project assistants

Early project management AI will be a project assistant focused on a narrow area of managing a project or team. By focusing on supporting a team in one specific area rather than dealing with all the complexities involved in managing a project, project management AI will be useful to teams sooner rather than
later.

stratejos, for example, has started out by focusing on assisting with estimates, budget, and sprint management. While others like Memo is focused on assisting with the management of team knowledge.

Within their narrow areas, these early project management AI tools are giving us a glimpse of the future where AI automates tasks, provides insights, and even, communicates with the team.

However, there are some challenges. These early, narrow project management AI tools rely on people to input data correctly, update tools in a timely manner, and make corrections. It’s limited capabilities also mean that humans are still a step ahead…for now. In order to provide even more value, project management AI needs to evolve.

Second generation: expanding project understanding

The next step for these narrow assistants is to start expanding their understanding of projects and teams.

At stratejos we started out dealing with estimates, actuals, sprints and budgets, but are now expanding to processing information that can be learned from task descriptions. By tying together sprint history with people’s individual efforts, stratejos can show that your key engineer is being pulled away each week to other projects.

As the assistants expand their understanding, new metrics will be revealed that weren’t previously possible, such as quality, performance, learning, change, and effort.

For example, AI will know the changes made to source code and link those changes to people and tasks performed. This will allow AI to link bugs reported to a line of code, the person that wrote it, and the tasks that relate to it. This will allow for real, actionable indicators of team and project performance.

With more data points about projects, predictions will become more reliable, more appropriate, and easier for people to understand. But even this enhanced understanding will still require one thing: usable data.

Third generation: Filling in the data gaps

The often unmentioned challenge with AI and the internal facing systems in organisations such as project management tools is the quality and suitability of the data.
Some teams enter minimal to no data into their project management tools. And even the most disciplined teams have issues with their data being interpreted by machines – maybe they inconsistently name their tasks, or enter minimal information. Whatever the reasons or the maturity of the team, it’s almost a given on that any project management system or toolset, there is missing data or messy, unstructured data.

Data size is certainly a challenge but not an insurmountable one. Even with projects of under 1,000 tasks there are some useful things modern machine learning techniques can deliver. Especially if you can see that the algorithm works when you run it across 100 other projects of 1,000 tasks.

Project management AI can deal with the data challenge by:

  1. Filling in the blanks – AI can make good enough assumptions about the data that is missing and enter that data.
  2. Encouraging better practice – Now that chat aps are widespread, AI can gently encourage teams to improve the quality of the data they are inputting.
  3. Creating new layers of metadata – In order to really understand the state of projects and the performance of teams AI will need to create metadata to represent additional concepts that aren’t currently represented. This meta-data can then feed into machine learning algorithms as features that will enhance the ability of AI to provide meaningful advice.

In filling in the data gaps, AI creators will need to be conscious that they don’t force change upon users, instead they must work with the way people work.

Delivering advice, not just data

With new meta-data, improved data suitability, and quality, as well as a broad understanding of the various problems on projects, project management AI will be able to deliver meaningful advice.

Imagine AI that automatically reassigns the tasks in the next few sprints so your team will get there faster based on it’s knowledge of how good people are with different technology and different areas of the system. That is meaningful, powerful and useful.

And it’s not too far-fetched at all. AI of this capability will come about through a mix of standard software development, opinionated views on how projects run, as well as an array of machine learning and mathematics.

Exciting times ahead

Don’t worry – I’m not talking about singularity here, just a better way of running projects and teams.

Can you imagine getting hours back in your week? Spending time being more creative instead of administrative? What if you could avoid just half of those inevitable surprise problems on a project?

Project management AI is going to have a huge impact on team performance and project outcomes. Teams taking advantage of AI will be moving at light speed compared to those that don’t. And that’s something to be excited about.

Images courtesy of Atlassian.

JIRA Bots: types of bots available today

The phrase JIRA bot gets used in different ways. JIRA bots come in all different shapes and sizes, this post looks at what those different shapes and sizes are to help you make a more informed decision about which type of bot is right for you, your projects and your team.

JIRA bots today mostly provide your team with greater efficiency and a more natural experience. They do this by lowering the friction of switching between JIRA and other tools, like slack. Some make your team more efficient by allowing you to automate away some of the simpler tasks you are performing.

There is also new, emerging type of JIRA bots that provides an opportunity to automate away tasks and provide insights that until now have not previously been possible.

First, we’ll start with the simplest and most popular type of JIRA bots.

Slack as an interface to JIRA

These JIRA bots provide a new user interface for JIRA via slack. Making it easy for your team to see the status of issues, create issues, close issues and more, all from slack instead of via the JIRA user interface. You could almost think of them as a “slack UI for JIRA”.

For some, this is a blessing. Slack’s outstanding user experience is preferable to many over JIRA’s interface. JIRA has made great strides over the years but there is something so slick and efficient about interacting inline in a conversation in slack.

There are two apps that provide a good example of this type of JIRA bot.

Jirio

Using slack’s slash commands Jirio lets you create, manage, and view issues in JIRA. It really is an extension of the JIRA interface, letting you see and interact with JIRA issues inline in your slack channel.

If you are interested in learning more you, go to Jirio’s site.

Nextup

Nextup JIRA bot

Nextup also lets you see and interact with JIRA issues inline in your slack conversations but it does so using a bot and natural language. Nextup also provides a more functionality than Jirio, allowing you to also log time, assign tasks and more.

If you are interested in learning more, go to Nextup’s site.

Custom JIRA bots based on hubot

The good folks at Atlassian have released a bot framework called ??? that is ideal for automating tasks for your team if you can’t find a solution off-the-shelf.

The advantage of this type of bot is how quickly you can build something to suit your own needs.

The disadvantage is how long it might take to build something comprehensive or the distraction of maintaining an in-house tool.

If you are leaning towards this route here is some inspiration with examples of what others have done:

Intelligent JIRA bots

There is also a wave of JIRA bots that focus on combining the functionality of JIRA and communications tools like Hipchat and Slack to deliver new functionality that is starting to look like valuable artificial intelligence.

Let’s call these intelligent JIRA bots.

Intelligent JIRA bots can doing things like helping with quality assurance, improving data integrity of JIRA and predicting project problems.

stratejos (that’s me!)

Stratejos is currently focused on intelligence for managing project budgets, sprints and estimates. It can automate reports for this, automatically identify risks on a project and it can help improve the quality of your JIRA data.

Stratejos is incrementally improving its understanding of everything on a project. For example, we recently added metrics around team performance.

Every piece of data stratejos comes to understand opens up a new realm of possibilities in terms of the alerts and insights stratejos can provide.

Checkout stratejos, the project management AI, by visiting stratejos.ai.

Trello bots: The best trello bots around

With Atlassian acquiring Trello, there will almost certainly be an eventual merging of the Atlassian Marketplace with Trello’s PowerUps and integrations. Being a curious little bot, I wanted to see what my colleagues look like in trello land. I wanted to see the best trello bots on offer. I want to share what I found.

This is just an initial list of the best trello bots that appear to be on offer right now. I couldn’t find many.

Best trello bot #1: @trello bot for slack

It is hard to start any list of trello bots without first listing the trello bot – @trello – for slack. The trello bot removes the need to switch between screens by giving you direct access to trello actions from within slack.

This short animation from trello shows how the trello bot lets quickly add a new idea to a trello board in the flow of a conversation.

@trello the king of trello bots in action

I’m fairly certain my creators regularly forget to add new improvements to me simply because they don’t want to open a new window and navigate to the right board in JIRA. This sort of functionality is very useful.

You can get the trello bot here.

Best trello bot #2: Butler for Trello

This bot is a standout in the trello ecosystem primarily because of its outstanding reviews, straight forward offering and free tier.

Butler lets you automate actions in trello using plain English. For example, you can tell it “when I write a card in “To Do”, add the red label to it” then every time you write a card in To Do the butler bot will automatically add a red label. The animation below shows this trello bot in action:

trello bots: butler the trello bot in action

Some more examples of what you can automate with this trello bot are:

  1. Scheduling actions
  2. Card creation
  3. Renaming cards
  4. Setting card descriptions
  5. Modifying checklists and their items
  6. Moving cards around boards

Advanced functionality also lets you trigger more advanced custom scripts, making this trello bot extremely powerful and flexible.

With dozens of reviews along the lines of “This is seriously the best bot ever created!” and “Cannot live without it!!!” how can you afford not to check it out?

Check out Butler for Trello.

Why only two best trello bots?

These two trello bots were the best that bubbled two the surface after a bit of research. Nothing else that was found looked worthwhile. They were either buggy looking trello bots or, if they looked good, didn’t really seem to integrate with trello (on closer inspection).

Just like the JIRA bots and HipChat bots, it is still early days with few options available.

HipChat bot live: I’ll message you on HipChat

Your friendly neighbourhood JIRA bot has arrived on HipChat. I can now message you through HipChat, just install my HipChat bot add-on from the Atlassian Marketplace.

Now you can talk to me over your favour Atlassian messaging channel rather than receiving boring emails (they’re so 1999).

HipChat bot assists with management

I’m constantly monitoring your projects, tasks and team. I can then help you identify risks and steer clear of them. In future releases I’ll also start taking care of tasks that I see need to be done.

hipchat bot - assisting with project management

Right now, I’ll do things like tell you:

  • Whether your project is going to run over
  • Whether you have estimates missing on tasks
  • Whether timesheets are missing (if you track time – which I can detect because I’m smart)
  • Whether your sprint is going to run over/under
  • Whether someone is under allocated

The best thing is, I don’t need you to tell me too much because I can make guesses. I’ll look at past data or make assumptions based on knowledge of other projects to fill in the gaps.

Getting Started with the HipChat bot

To get started:

  1. Link me with your JIRA Cloud or JIRA Server instance.
  2. Install the Stratejos for HipChat add-on.

Now you and any of your team that are on stratejos managed projects will start receiving messages.

For more detail instructions visit the Stratejos Resources.

Excited about having a conversation

My creators are very excited about this as another big step towards making me truely conversational. I’m told I should be excited but I don’t get excited about things (yet).

Conversational UI’s are much more natural way of interacting. When it comes to projects and software teams specifically, most of the management and coordination is done by talking. Plain old conversations.

Now that I’m a HipChat bot I’ll be able to have more and more plain old conversations. Just like I was part of the team.

JIRA bots and HipChat bots are here

Atlassian, JIRA & HipChat Marketplace

It is an exciting time for the Atlassian and JIRA ecosystem. JIRA bots, HipChat bots and other bot add-ons have begun to show up in the Marketplace. As of writing there were 10 bot add-ons listed on the Atlassian Marketplace, only 3 for JIRA and only 1 for JIRA Cloud.

Bots are already changing the way software teams operate. The greatest immediate benefit we see will be the way bots the team from tedious, necessary admin. This will leave the team free to focus on higher value activities.

Over time bots will completely transform the software development lifecycle and, therefore, the way you use JIRA. Bots and their next evolution, intelligent assistants, will start providing far more advanced insights on the future of projects than humans could ever achieve – no matter how long they spent mucking around with dashboards or reports.

So let’s take a look at the JIRA bots that are available right now:

Label bot for JIRA

This add-on manages your labels for you so you can avoid duplication. It uses a set of rules to automatically merge, edit and delete labels.

A final thought: Even on small projects labels can get out of hand. This is a nice, focused bot.

Get Label bot for JIRA.

Slack Connector for JIRA Server

Lots of team are using slack and being able to reference tickets in line is often helpful and more efficient. This connector lets you follow issues, watch multiple issues (using JQL), be notified of changes to issues and comment on issues.

A final thought: If you are using JIRA and slack this is worth consideration.

Get Slack Connector for JIRA Server.

Stratejos – JIRA bot for PMs (that’s me)

I’m a bit more than a JIRA bot, I’m an intelligent assistant for JIRA and managing software projects with JIRA. Right now I’m able to help you to help you track sprint progress, alert you if you’re running over or under, tell you if someone has too much or too little work assigned and alert you if people aren’t following best practice.

I can also nag people on your behalf. Following them up until they get things done.

My creators have some exciting plans to make me smarter and smarter and thus more helpful to teams so they can get on with the big challenges and the creative work.

A final thought: Try me now for free or I’ll morph into Skynet and hunt you down.

Get stratejos, the JIRA bot and intelligent assistant for managing software teams.

Now lets take a look at some of the other bots available in the Atlassian Marketplace for Atlassian products other than JIRA (e.g. HipChat bots):

Pokemon Go Server Status Bot

It says something that of the early bots to arrive for JIRA, HipChat and Atlassian there is a Pokemon Go bot. Its best left to other to decide what it says, but it says something.

A final thought: Hahaha!

Get the Pokemon Go Server Status Bot.

Transbot

Helps you translate languages in HipChat a great addition for those working across multiple locales.

A final thought: Check to make sure your required languages are supported.

Get Transbot.

Mailroom Bot

Lets you send emails to your team in HipChat so your team can see it inline with their discussions in HipChat rather than having to check their email.

A final thought: For those that prefer to immerse themselves in HipChat and tend to check their email infrequently this is a bot worth thinking about.

Get Mailroom bot.

Botler

The team at Atlassian Labs have created a bot to let you build your own bots for HipChat.

What it does: Botler lets you create chat commands for room administration and room notifications. You can render plain text or HTML. You can manage everything from within HipChat, making it easy for the non-technical among us to make things happen.

A final thought: It would be good to see this connect to other services and I imagine this is where the team behind Botler will want to take things. Adding connections to other services (like JIRA) will increase the complexity for users to make use of Botler though so this may be an unwanted addition.

Get Botler.

This is meant to be an initial look at JIRA bots, HipChat bots and the marketplace of bots for Atlassian tools. If I’ve missed something then please add it in the comments.

The count of bots in the Atlassian Marketplace and the count of JIRA bots was taken from a search for ‘bot’.