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AI and Machine Learning (AI/ML) are now a substantial part of new products across industries – yes including those outside of the consumer internet. AI/ML is helping startups and established firms alike create new product categories. But it is equally helpful on the process side, enhancing program management, while enabling team efficiency and creativity.

An executive I talked to said in her company ‘every company must be looking at [AI/ML] for product and process – it is the new normal.’ The future lies in distinguishing how AI/ML can a) enhance products in ways customers can recognize and b) help developers innovate and perform tasks better and faster. This is where Lean comes in.

AI/ML has helped established firms enhance existing offerings in surprising ways. For example, John Deere acquired a start-up that created machine learning systems that deliver a targeted blast of pesticides only where and when crops required it. Robots “see” pests, allowing farmers to spray only where pests are likely to cause damage, reducing costs for farmers, while managing risks for consumers and the environment. This innovation required rethinking something very old – keeping bugs off the crops – in terms of new technologies.

Other companies are using applications of AI/ML to improve the efficiency of product development, providing Program Management Consulting by directly helping out project managers.

For example, there are Program Management software packages (Planisware) that leverage historical data from prior projects to help predict risk areas and improve schedule reliability. Stratejos.ai is a startup that uses clustering to monitor project discussions and identify areas that are program hotspots. From their website: “Now we're on a mission to create artificial intelligence that advances the state of managing software teams. From automating the routine work through to providing concrete, data-driven ways to improve team performance.”

While companies like John Deere and its peers are larger, with money to invest, smaller companies are also using AI/ML technology to disrupt the advantages of scale enjoyed by larger firms. Large or small, it is inexcusable for any company today to ignore the potential of AI/ML for both products and processes.

AI/ML represents a new opportunity to enhance core offerings and create products and services adjacent to a core offering, delighting customers. It’s a new weapon in the arsenal of Lean product development and no company can afford to ignore it.

The author of this piece, John Carter was a speaker at LPPDE North America 2018 and is author of "Innovate Products Faster".

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