"AI is a Team Sport: A Confluence of Diverse Technical and Soft Skills are Crucial for Success" by Exceptional PPM and PMO Solutions' Founder Scott M. Graffius
01 May 2023
This article covers the significance of well-rounded AI teams, including how both soft and technical skills are critical and fuel success. It’s informed by Exceptional PPM and PMO Solutions Founder Scott M. Graffius' work with AI teams as well as research and coverage from DARPA, IBM, IEEE, MIT, Microsoft, Software Engineering Institute, Stanford University, United States Artificial Intelligence Institute, and others (all listed in the bibliography section of this article). This story was first published at: https://ScottGraffius.com. Introduction
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a transformative force across a growing number of industries, revolutionizing how we live, work, and interact. From autonomous vehicles and virtual assistants to personalized recommendations and medical diagnoses, AI systems have become integral to our daily lives. Behind these cutting-edge, life-changing solutions are AI teams that possess a combination of soft skills—also known as core skills, interpersonal skills, people skills, power skills, transferable skills, or transversal skills—and technical expertise.
This article highlights the synergy between soft skills and technical skills in the world of AI. While technical skills provide the general foundation for AI development, it’s the soft skills that elevate AI projects to new heights. From effective communication and critical thinking to leadership and teamwork, soft skills play a pivotal role in translating technical knowledge and capabilities into real-world applications.
The thesis of this article is that the successful development and application of AI requires a combination of soft skills and technical expertise. Technical competencies alone are not enough. Rather, it’s the combination and integration of soft and technical skills that truly unlocks the power of AI.
Next, this article focuses on the importance of soft skills in the AI landscape, highlighting how they complement and enhance technical abilities. The collaboration between these skill sets drives AI innovation.
Understanding Soft Skills in AI Teams
In the realm of AI, technical expertise often takes center stage. However, soft skills advance the successful outcomes of AI projects, as they facilitate effective communication, foster collaboration, and promote critical thinking. Soft skills are powerful facilitators of success.
Soft skills encompass a range of interpersonal and cognitive abilities that enable teams to work harmoniously, adapt to evolving challenges, and solve complex problems. In the AI landscape, where multidisciplinary teams come together to create innovative solutions, these soft skills are essential.
Effective communication stands at the forefront of soft skills in AI. AI teams must articulate complex technical concepts in a manner that is understandable to diverse stakeholders, including non-technical staff and internal or external customers/users. Clear communication promotes collaboration and ensures alignment of purpose and objectives throughout the AI development lifecycle.
Soft skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking are vital as well. AI teams frequently encounter multifaceted challenges, and it is through these soft skills that teams can identify potential bottlenecks, navigate complexities, and devise innovative solutions. By leveraging critical thinking, AI team members can evaluate different approaches, consider ethical implications, and make informed decisions that shape the development and application of AI systems.
Leadership and teamwork skills are also paramount. AI projects involve team members from diverse backgrounds, including data scientists, engineers, domain experts, designers, and others. Effective leadership enables the coordination of efforts and guides the project towards success. Similarly, teamwork skills foster an environment of trust and respect, promoting synergy among team members and enhancing overall productivity.
Recognizing the importance of soft skills in AI is crucial for fostering a balanced and effective team dynamic. It ensures that AI teams possess the interpersonal and cognitive abilities necessary to bring AI projects to fruition. The integration of soft skills alongside technical expertise sets the stage for a cohesive team capable of tackling complex AI challenges with agility and innovation.
The role of technical skills—including how they intersect with soft skills to create a powerful combination that drives success—are covered next.
The Role of Technical Skills in AI Teams Technical skills provide the tools and knowledge required to design, build, and implement AI systems. This section explores the role that technical skills play in AI and their specific applications in various stages of AI projects.
Programming Languages and Algorithms: Proficiency in programming languages such as Python, Java, or R is essential. These languages enable team members to write efficient code, manipulate and analyze data, and implement machine learning algorithms. Understanding algorithms, from classic ones like linear regression to cutting-edge deep learning models, empowers AI professionals to leverage mathematical principles and statistical techniques to train and optimize AI systems.
Data Analysis and Management: AI relies on data, making data analysis and management skills crucial. AI team members need to be adept at collecting, cleaning, and preprocessing data, ensuring its quality and relevance. They must possess the knowledge of statistical methods, data visualization techniques, and data engineering practices to extract insights from complex datasets and prepare them for AI model training.
Machine Learning and Neural Networks: Technical skills in machine learning are at the heart of AI systems. Understanding machine learning algorithms, such as decision trees, support vector machines, or convolutional neural networks, enables AI team members to create models that can learn from data and make intelligent predictions or decisions. Expertise in neural networks and deep learning architectures equips professionals with the ability to develop complex models capable of handling tasks like image recognition, natural language processing, and reinforcement learning.
AI Frameworks and Tools: Proficiency in AI frameworks and tools (such as TensorFlow, Keras, PyTorch, Caffe, Scikit-learn, and others) are essential for building AI systems efficiently. These frameworks provide pre-built modules, libraries, and APIs that simplify the implementation of AI algorithms and models. Technical skills in utilizing these tools effectively enable AI team members to accelerate the development process, streamline model training, and optimize system performance.
Domain Knowledge and Application-Specific Skills: Technical skills also encompass domain knowledge and application-specific expertise. Understanding the nuances of the industry or problem domain in which AI is being applied allows professionals to tailor AI solutions to meet specific requirements. For example, healthcare-focused AI projects may require knowledge of medical terminologies and regulatory considerations, while AI solutions for financial services may demand expertise in risk assessment and fraud detection.
Technical skills are essential for AI projects. They enable team members to translate concepts, theories, and algorithms into practical applications. However, technical skills alone are not sufficient for success. The collaborative nature of AI development and the need for a well-rounded AI team—including the synergy between technical skills and soft skills—is covered next.
The Power of Synergy: Soft Skills and Technical Skills in AI Teams
The convergence of soft skills and technical skills is where true innovation and breakthroughs occur. The successful development and application of AI systems rely not only on technical expertise but also on the harmonious integration of soft skills. Here’s some examples of the power of synergy between these skill sets, including how they work together to drive AI advancement:
Effective Communication and Technical Expertise: Communication bridges the gap between AI professionals and others who may not possess technical backgrounds. AI experts with strong communication skills can articulate complex technical concepts in plain English, ensuring that everyone involved understands the goals, challenges, and progress of the project. By effectively conveying ideas, AI professionals foster collaboration, gather valuable insights, and create a shared vision for AI initiatives.
Collaboration and Problem-Solving: Collaboration is at the core of AI development, and soft skills such as teamwork, empathy, and active listening facilitate effective collaboration among diverse team members. AI teams with strong collaboration skills can effectively pool their technical expertise, brainstorm ideas, and solve complex problems together. By leveraging their collective intelligence and diverse perspectives, AI teams can overcome challenges, refine AI models, and optimize the performance of AI solutions.
Critical Thinking and Technical Innovation: Critical thinking, coupled with technical expertise, leads to innovative AI solutions. AI professionals with strong critical thinking skills can evaluate different approaches, challenge assumptions, and identify potential shortcomings or biases in AI models. They can think creatively to address issues such as data biases or fairness concerns, ensuring that AI systems are developed responsibly and ethically.
Leadership and Team Empowerment: Effective leadership in AI projects involves establishing and maintaining a collaborative and inclusive environment, empowering team members, and harnessing their full potential. AI leaders with exceptional interpersonal abilities can inspire and motivate their team, foster a culture of continuous learning, and provide guidance in navigating complex technical challenges. They encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, respect diverse perspectives, and drive the team towards achieving AI objectives.
The synergy between soft skills and technical skills is the catalyst that drives AI projects towards success. It enables AI teams to go beyond technical expertise and develop AI systems that address real-world problems effectively. By embracing a holistic approach that values both soft skills and technical skills, organizations can foster an environment where AI thrives, resulting in innovative solutions that have a positive impact on society.
Strategies for developing and nurturing soft skills are covered next.
Developing and Advancing Soft Skills in AI Teams
AI teams need soft skills to be successful. Organizations and teams should prioritize the development and advancement of these skills. Here are some strategies to enhance soft skills and foster a well-rounded AI workforce:
Training Programs and Workshops: Implement specialized training programs and workshops focused on enhancing soft skills. Offer courses in effective communication, leadership (including how to navigate the phases of team development), problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. These programs can provide AI professionals with the necessary tools and techniques to effectively apply soft skills in their work.
Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: Encourage interdisciplinary collaboration by creating opportunities for AI team members to work alongside experts from diverse fields such as psychology, design, ethics, and business. This collaboration allows for cross-pollination of ideas, encourages different perspectives, and broadens the skill set of AI teams. Foster a culture of knowledge sharing, where professionals can learn from each other and leverage their collective experiences and expertise.
Real-World Project Engagement: Provide AI team members with opportunities to work on (other) real-world projects, allowing them to apply their soft skills in practical scenarios. Engaging in projects that involve interaction with clients, end-users, and stakeholders helps AI team members develop effective communication, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.
Continuous Learning and Professional Development: Encourage AI team members to engage in continuous learning and professional development activities. This can include attending conferences, participating in webinars, reading industry publications, and pursuing certifications in relevant areas. Promote a growth mindset among AI team members, emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning and staying current with the latest developments in both technical and soft skills domains.
Mentorship and Coaching: Establish mentorship and coaching programs where experienced AI professionals guide and support individuals with less experience. Mentors can provide valuable insights, share their experiences, and offer guidance on developing skills. Regular feedback and coaching sessions help AI professionals identify areas for improvement and provide targeted development opportunities.
By implementing these strategies, organizations can cultivate a workforce that excels not only in technical skills but also in the essential soft skills required for AI success. Nurturing well-rounded AI professionals creates a collaborative and adaptive environment, where AI teams can effectively address complex challenges, drive innovation, and deliver impactful solutions.
The next section wraps up this exploration.
The successful development and application of AI systems rely on the synergy between soft skills and technical skills. While technical expertise forms the foundation, it's the integration of soft skills that elevates AI projects to new heights. Effective communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and leadership are among the key soft skills that enable AI teams to excel.
This article explored the significance of soft skills in AI, emphasizing their role in fostering effective teamwork, problem-solving, and innovation. It also acknowledged the indispensable role of technical skills in AI development, including programming languages, algorithms, data analysis, domain knowledge, and more.
Organizations can create well-rounded AI teams with a holistic set of abilities by embracing the power of synergy between soft skills and technical skills. AI team members with strong soft skills can effectively communicate their ideas, collaborate seamlessly, think critically, and provide leadership that empowers their teams.
To advance soft skills among AI professionals, organizations should invest in training programs, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, encourage continuous learning, and foster mentorship and coaching relationships. These efforts will help AI professionals develop the interpersonal and cognitive abilities necessary to thrive in the dynamic and collaborative AI landscape.
AI is a team sport that thrives on the confluence of soft skills and technical skills. By recognizing and embracing this synergy, organizations can unlock the full potential of AI, delivering innovative solutions that address real-world challenges and have a positive impact on the world.
All of the supplied links were functional when this article was published.
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Dolev, Niva, & Itzkovich, Yariv (2020). In the AI Era, Soft Skills are the New Hard Skills. In: Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Business, pp. 55-77. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Dzombak, Rachel, & Palat, Jay (2021, August 30). 5 Ways to Start Growing an AI-Ready Workforce. Pittsburgh, PA: Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University.
Elliott, Joshua (n.d.). Artificial Social Intelligence for Successful Teams (ASIST). Arlington, VA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Fountaine, Tim, McCarthy, Brian, & Saleh, Tamim (2019). Building the AI-Powered Organization. Harvard Business Review, 97 (4): 62–73.
Graffius, Scott M. (2023, May 1). Fueling the Development of Innovative and Life-Changing AI Solutions [Presentation]. Talk delivered to an audience of Technology professionals (including Data Scientists, Machine Learning Engineers, Data Engineers, AI Researchers, Project Managers, Business Analysts, UX Designers, Software Developers, Cloud Architects, Data Privacy and Security Specialists, and others involved or interested in AI) at a private event in Mountain View, California, United States. Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.13140/RG.2.2.27956.73601. DOI link: https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.27956.73601.
Graffius, Scott M. (2023, April 26). The Science of High-Performance Teams [Presentation]. Talk delivered at the DevOps Institute’s SKILup Day 2023 Conference. Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.13140/RG.2.2.15888.28169. DOI link: https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.15888.28169.
Graffius, Scott M. (2023, January 9). Use the Phases of Team Development (Based on Bruce W. Tuckman's Model of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning) to Help Teams Grow and Advance: 2023 Update. Available at: https://scottgraffius.com. Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.13140/RG.2.2.10720.35846. DOI link: https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.10720.35846.
Graffius, Scott M. (2022, May 13). Want Happier and More Productive DevOps Teams? [Presentation]. Talk delivered at DevOpsDays Geneva, Switzerland 2022 Conference. Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.13140/RG.2.2.22252.85127. DOI link: https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.22252.85127.
Graffius, Scott M. (2021, October 5). Navigate the Phases of Team Development with Speed and Agility for Happier and More Productive Teams [Presentation]. Talk delivered at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers IEEE Day 2021 Conference. Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.13140/RG.2.2.20055.19365. DOI link: https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.20055.19365.
Graffius, Scott M. (2021, February 20). But First, the Team! [Presentation]. Talk delivered at the Brno, Czech Republic DevConf.CZ 2021 Conference. Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.13140/RG.2.2.29016.72964. DOI link: https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.29016.72964.
McNeese, Nathan J., Demir, Mustafa, Chiou, Erin K., & Cooke, Nancy J. (2021). Trust and Team Performance in Human–Autonomy Teaming. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 25 (1): 51–72. DOI: 10.1080/10864415.2021.1846854.
About Scott M. Graffius Scott M. Graffius, PMP, SA, CSP-SM, CSP-PO, CSM, CSPO, SFE, ITIL, LSSGB is an agile project management practitioner, consultant, multi-award-winning author, and international keynote speaker. He is the Founder of Exceptional PPM and PMO Solutions™ and subsidiary Exceptional Agility™. He has generated over $1.9 billion of business value in aggregate for Global Fortune 500 businesses and other organizations he has served. Graffius and content from his books (Agile Scrum: Your Quick Start Guide with Step-by-Step Instructions and Agile Transformation: A Brief Story of How an Entertainment Company Developed New Capabilities and Unlocked Business Agility to Thrive in an Era of Rapid Change), talks, workshops, and more have been featured and used by businesses, professional associations, governments, and universities. Examples include Microsoft, Oracle, Broadcom, Cisco, Gartner, Project Management Institute, IEEE, Qantas, National Academy of Sciences, United States Department of Energy, New Zealand Ministry of Education, Yale University, Tufts University, and others. He has delighted audiences with dynamic and engaging talks and workshops on agile, project management, and technology leadership at 85 conferences and other events across 25 countries. His full bio is available at https://Exceptional-PMO.com. Connect with Scott on:
About Agile Scrum: Your Quick Start Guide with Step-by-Step Instructions
Shifting customer needs are common in today's marketplace. Businesses must be adaptive and responsive to change while delivering an exceptional customer experience to be competitive.
There are a variety of frameworks supporting the development of products and services, and most approaches fall into one of two broad categories: traditional or agile. Traditional practices such as waterfall engage sequential development, while agile involves iterative and incremental deliverables. Organizations are increasingly embracing agile to manage projects, and best meet their business needs of rapid response to change, fast delivery speed, and more.
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Winner of 17 first place awards.
Agile Scrum: Your Quick Start Guide with Step-by-Step Instructionsis available in paperback and ebook/Kindle worldwide. Some links by country follow.
About Agile Transformation: A Brief Story of How an Entertainment Company Developed New Capabilities and Unlocked Business Agility to Thrive in an Era of Rapid Change
Thriving in today's marketplace frequently depends on making a transformation to become more agile. Those successful in the transition enjoy faster delivery speed and ROI, higher satisfaction, continuous improvement, and additional benefits.
Based on actual events, Agile Transformation: A Brief Story of How an Entertainment Company Developed New Capabilities and Unlocked Business Agility to Thrive in an Era of Rapid Change provides a quick (60-90 minute) read about a successful agile transformation at a multinational entertainment and media company, told from the author's perspective as an agile coach.
The award-winning book by Scott M. Graffius is available in paperback and ebook/Kindle worldwide. Some links by country follow.
About Exceptional PPM and PMO Solutions Exceptional PPM and PMO Solutions™ and our Exceptional Agility™ subsidiary provides client organizations with advisory, training, speaking, embedded talent, and facilitative consulting services to help them advance their agile project, program, portfolio, and PMO management capabilities to best realize their strategic objectives and business initiatives, making them more competitive and valuable. Our seven core values are integrity, objectivity, collaboration, persistence, innovation, continuous learning and improvement, and exceptional results. We confidently provide a Delighted Client Guarantee™. To learn more, visit https://Exceptional-PMO.com.