CXO

How millennials are changing project management

Millennials are laying new groundwork for how business will be conducted going forward, and project management is no exception.

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Image: iStock/julief514

While there are tried, tested, and true aspects of project management, millennials are bringing fresh perspectives — leveraging technological advancements and placing additional focus in areas like economic, ecological, and social factors.

Alex Shootman, CEO at Workfront, a cloud-based enterprise work and project management solution provider, said learning to work with millennials is key since "digital natives now rule, and will increase in power and influence over the next several years."

"Just like any immigrant and native in a society, there are differences, and those differences will change the workplace," said Shootman. "Differences include that digital natives view the workplace as egalitarian vs. hierarchical, they prefer telecommuting and flexible hours and the opportunity to make up work remotely, (i.e., from a café on a weekend or while on vacation)."

"Natives like multitasking or task switching and prefer to learn 'just-in-time' and only what is minimally necessary." Shootman said millennials "interact and network simultaneously with many, even hundreds of others. Egalitarian, flexible, task switching, just-in-time skills and highly networked. This is not the current work environment."

SEE: Millennials are twice as bored at work as baby boomers, report says

Why the focus on the role of millennials in projects?

"By 2020, millennials will make up half the global labor force, and by 2030, they'll account for 75%. Millennials' aversion to hidden agendas, rigid corporate structures and information silos coupled with a willingness to explore new opportunities will fundamentally change the nature of work or severely cost businesses," said Eric Bergman, vice president of product management at Changepoint, a professional services automation company. "Gallup estimates millennial turnover costs the US economy $30.5 billion annually." Bergman believes organizations will focus more extensively on employees and their needs in order to address the negative impact of churn on productivity, quality, and service.

What does this mean for project activities that support business goals?

Bergman said that last year, businesses realized their survival hinged on embracing digital transformation. Now, adapting to shifting expectations means delivering IT capabilities that complement business priorities. Even the most agile, tech-forward businesses are rewriting their playbook in the face of evolving expectations."

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Marianne Crann, director, human resources at Changepoint adds "Millennials are disrupting traditional business models. We've seen this in HR for years. But now, everyday processes must be updated to accommodate new generations of talent. They work differently and have different expectations. Businesses that find that sweet spot—the one that attracts talent without detracting from the success of the business—will gain happier staff and happier stakeholders, regardless of the generation." Changepoint has even gone into greater detail on millennials and project management in their new 2017 trends report.

At GlassSKY, a company dedicated to the empowerment and advancement of women, founder Robyn Tingley believes millennials differ in their approach to timelines, collaboration, and communication. "Millennials have a far better sense of work/life balance than Gen Xers," she said. "This doesn't mean that they won't put in extra time when the situation demands it, or respond to correspondence after hours, but they will most certainly expect that to be the exception." Tingley said that more so than other generations, millennials are drawing boundaries more clearly and that this new way of thinking is at odds with the old 'all nighter' mentality of project management deadlines. "It's making project leaders rethink deadlines, how to schedule work and wins, key milestones and what is truly realistic and achievable when your key players clock out earlier than the leader, and earlier than anyone in the older generations expect," said Tingley. "It also means decision making needs to be put on steroids...if your team members are going to be productive for just 8 hours, you can't have them spending 2-3 of those each day in meetings presenting powerpoints and flow charts to get consensus around change requests and scope adjustments."

When it comes down to collaboration Tingley said millennials excel: "They are true team players and like to solicit inputs and views and are natural connectors." And they expect tools to keep pace. "Static whiteboards that can't be seen unless you take a snapshot, SharePoint sites, Excel spreadsheets, and companies that don't have adequate video conference solutions are dinosaurs in their eyes," said Tingley. "Project managers need to embrace and support modernized software that can handle collaborative brainstorming, real-time updates, multiples readers and users, integrated video, voice and more."

Regarding communication, Tingley said millennials are "the true tech generation; gadget-friendly, always on, highly responsive tech connoisseurs, and they communicate in short bursts of emojis and splintered spelling. Email just won't work to align teams, manage inputs, and drive performance." With the rise of virtual workers and geographically-distanced teams, Tingley predicted that project management apps will become the new norm. "The future just may entail millennials working at the local coffee shop, uploading a visual chart they just drew or a photo they snapped of something inspirational, and the entire team can see it and build on it, click to vote yes/no, drag it to the next two-quarters out for a future phase, etc," she said.

SEE: Rise of the digital nomad: Why working remotely could draw more millennials to the tech industry

How do millennials see their role in projects and impact on business goals?

"The millennial generation has been dubbed the 'selfie generation,'" said Daniel Malak, who works for Motionloft, a provider of hyperlocal pedestrian and vehicle traffic sensors. "I like to think it's more the 'self-starter' generation. Young professionals realize that in paying off student loans, advancing in their career, and establishing relevant experiences for growth requires a decisive attitude towards taking on and leading new projects."

Malack, a millennial, believes his generation has an interest in not just meeting expectations of a project, but exceeding them as well. "Millennials are nimble and can adapt faster to changes better than others," he said. "Younger associates can oftentimes be more determined to deliver, and that presents an interesting situation in which projects become opportunities rather than hurdles...deadlines are managed through the implementation of new communication methods, which can both expedite the project and boost the bottom line at the same time."

What should companies take away from this?

  • Millennials are the future, bringing newer perspectives and more innovative approaches. Companies need to harness their contributions and recognize the true potential they possess.
  • Technology is almost wired into the DNA of this tech savvy group in ways the previous generations may not fully understand and appreciate. This makes millennials a hybrid solution in of themselves and a powerful resource for projects.
  • Millennials shouldn't be automatically mistaken as 'not as experienced', or unaware. They've come up through a business climate that is more diverse, complex, dynamic, and yes, more stressful than other generations. This makes their experiences and contributions highly valuable. Project teams should leverage their varied insights for improved outcomes.
  • When companies can harness the full combined potential of previous generations and millennials, the end result can offer a far more sustainable solution than relying on only one or the other.
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About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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