Home assistants are becoming increasingly popular. Amazon’s Alexa device was the top selling gift last Christmas.

While she might still be seen as a novelty by some, there are those who can see the potential of Alexa and how, perhaps in 30 years’ time, we won’t remember a time without her.

TV adverts show Alexa taking control of everyday tasks, controlling a smart vacuum, calling relatives and making purchases. But how does Alexa fare in the workplace, and can we trust her to manage our projects?

The hypothesis

We’re predicting a future where Alexa (and other voice assistants) becomes the number one tool for productivity management in the workplace. Not only can she keep track of tasks and remind us about meetings, but she’s great to have around for team morale.

The method

Using IFTTT, we’re going to programme Alexa to manage an internal project for us and measure her competency in project management.

IFTTT is a free service that connects devices and apps, enabling them to interact with each other. IFTTT allows us to connect Alexa to online web services, social media accounts and your smart home devices.

To measure Alexa’s success in her new role, we have defined five key areas of expertise where we would expect a project manager to excel. These are:

  • initiating,
  • planning,
  • executing,
  • monitoring
  • and closing a project.

Initiating is the first part of the process and involves scoping and costing projects. Next is planning where the focus turns to timekeeping and deadline management. Executing pertains to quality control and  monitoring ensures that delivery teams remain on course to deliver efficiently. At closing, the project manager is expected to evaluate the success of the project, identify valuable learnings and share key takeaways.

To  initiate  our project we tasked Alexa with calculating budgets and team capacity with some simple maths questions. We used “skills” to  plan  deadlines in GMail and set up reminders for each task and set their due dates in Trello. Additionally we requested regular progress updates by setting project milestones daily.

We created applets within IFTTT that granted Alexa the custom functionality we needed to keep the team organised and on track. Applets included asking Alexa to add tasks to our team GMail calendar and Trello board.

Other applets were set to email the relevant team members when we asked Alexa what was on the project to-do list, or when something was added to the Trello board. This meant we would have an automated tasklist in our inbox ready to work through every day.

And importantly, we’re using Alexa as an office speaker to appease the many different music tastes in the office. With access to a collaborative Spotify playlist, we think Alexa will make quite the office DJ.

alexa

The results

Alexa didn’t get off to a great start. One major downfall we discovered was that Alexa could not recognise our multiple clients and projects. A huge pitfall when looking for alternative project management methods. This meant that we had to base the rest of the experiment on one internal project. Far from ideal.

Next we asked Alexa to book in a kick-off meeting for our project. The meeting was successfully added to our team calendar, but unfortunately Alexa could not add our individual GMail addresses to calendar events. This meant that we had no visibility of when the meeting was taking place in our GMail calendars.

After a nightmare first day, we asked Alexa to help with basic maths for our project costings, such as multiplying our day rates by the number of people in the project, and multiplying that result by the number of days estimated for the project. We were very surprised that she couldn’t complete the sum, but she could divide Pi by three.

The connection between IFTTT and Trello was far more complex than we had anticipated. Disjointed formatting and duplicate entries left our Trello board in an unusable mess. Alexa also struggled to understand the context of our commands. Whilst SEOs are obsessed with voice search becoming the next big thing, we couldn’t get Alexa to even spell SEO. An SEO audit turned out to be an ‘esio’ audit. Not helpful.

We asked Alexa to remind us about impending deadlines in advance of their due date. However, Alexa managed to make this simple act counter-intuitive as the reminder had to be added to our to-do list where we were managing the project. Simply infuriating. It would be handy if Alexa could remind us about calendar events 2 hours, 1 hour or 30 minutes before the deadline without cluttering our already busy Trello boards and calendars.

For time-keeping, we used Alexa’s Pomodoro ‘tomato timer’ to ensure our breakouts and creative sessions wouldn’t overrun. The meetings were far more productive when we had a clear agenda and a 25 minute time limit to keep to!

Based on her unsteady performance so far, we weren’t surprised that Alexa couldn’t evaluate any qualitative measures, or identify any potential efficiencies in our process. She did however order us pizza, and turned on the party lights so we could celebrate the project’s completion in style.

Conclusion:

Alexa might not be a great candidate for a project manager yet, but as a team member she’s worth her weight in gold. Team morale boosted significantly, often at the expense of Alexa’s limited intuition – leading to some very funny moments in the office.

“Alexa, play Roll Deep…”

“Playing Foo Fighters – Monkey Wrench.”

As a result, the team bonded. Sharing laughs, learning each other’s music tastes and playing trivia games at lunch.

In a work environment, Alexa is productivity’s kryptonite. Every task takes twice as long as it should and we can’t see that changing anytime soon without some significant updates. But what Alexa lacks in productivity, she makes up for in personality. Witty, knowledgeable and a good listener (at times), Alexa won us over by bringing our team closer together.

Scores:

Accuracy: 1 out of 5. Alexa displayed minimal accuracy when planning. There was no use of initiative, and listening/understanding skills were somewhat lacking.

Efficiency: 3 out of 5. Alexa demonstrated efficiency when prompted and her ability to recall learned information was on point. Her ability to fully understand the context of certain questions let her down in the end.

Experience: 1 out of 5. Alexa’s experience in project management was minimal. She displayed basic understanding of our tools and duties, making it difficult to fully integrate her into our workflow. It’s clear, however, that with a little tweaking and a few more third party “skills”, Alexa has the potential to become a productivity powerhouse.

If you’re interested in learning more about voice assistants or voice seearch, why not head to the AI & Tech Innovation stage at the Festival of Marketing 2018, October 10-11 in London.