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Project Portfolio Management

Millennials and project management – a complex issue

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

Guest Post by James D. Burbank, BizzMarkBlog

Those who consider themselves voracious consumers of business-oriented publications and online articles have probably noticed an extraordinary amount of text being dedicated to millennials, their traits, their wishes and dreams, and their place in the modern world of business.

If we are being honest, one does not even have to be that voracious a consumer of business writing to notice this trend.

Millennials and project managementIt is not that hard to come up with several reasons as to why this is the case. For example, millennials are the biggest online demographic and it is only logical to produce content that will speak to them. Also, us humans have always liked those generational nomenclatures such as Baby Boomers or Generation X which directly preceded the millennials. Such generalizations make for a more weighty and, why not be honest, easier writing.

The Definition

The jury is still out on the one definitive definition of millennials and there are more than a few theories competing for supremacy. All of them, however, have to do with the birth years of millennials. For instance, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, who are generally credited with coining the term, consider the years 1982 and 2004 to be the starting and the last birth years for millennials. MetLife did a report in 2009 where it was suggested that those years be 1977 and 1994.

In general, people have sort of agreed on calling everyone born between 1980 and 2000 millennials.

But what do millennials have to do with project management, exactly?

The Mixed Bag

Everyone who reads the Planview AdaptiveWork blog understands very well how complex the field of project management is. We are talking all the different phases of the project management process, all its intricacies and idiosyncrasies that make it such a fascinating field. We are, of course, also talking all the people involved in project management, which brings us to the issue of millennials as part of the project management discipline.

Namely, there is no reason why a millennial would not fill any of the roles in the project management process and our goal today is to identify the traits of millennials that would make them more or less suitable for and successful at those different roles.

As a bit of a disclaimer, we should point out that this is going to involve quite a bit of generalization and that while they are based on research and cold, hard numbers, they are still generalizations.

Generation Me

When the aforementioned team of Strauss and Howe first wrote about millennials, they painted them as more-or-less saviors of the United States, involved, civically-minded and ready to make the world a better place. It took a while before Jean Twenge and her team dug a bit deeper to discover a much more narcissistic and self-involved group of young people – the Generation Me as opposed to Generation We. She writes about this in a great article from Atlantic.

This sort of narcissism will rarely be of help in the process of project management. If a particularly narcissistic person is the project leader, they will be much less likely to notice their own mistakes or acknowledge the input of others. If they are working on a project, their narcissism can easily become a problem for their managers whose every suggestion will be seen as an attack, a reason to quit or at least a cue to start a side gig, just in case.

The Tech Generation

Millennials grew up in a world saturated with computer technology and the internet. There used to be a time when this was not the norm and it is quite understandable that millennials have somewhat of an innate advantage in this field. According to a millennials study by Telefonica, between 80% and 90% of millennials believe they are in touch with new technologies. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management went even further, discovering that millennials expected to work with the latest technology in the workplace, including as part of project management.

One thing is for sure, millennials want to use the latest in project management technologies and they are not afraid to be introduced to even newer tech. This bodes well for projects they work on, either in the capacity of a leader or a team member, for obvious reasons.

The Trophy Kids Generation

Unless you are familiar with the work of Ron Aslop, the trophy from the subheading does not mean what you probably think it means. It does not stand for the generation worthy of trophies. Quite the contrary.

Aslop’s Trophy Kids are a description of millennials as individuals who have been immensely coddled during childhood and who got used to receiving trophies for simply taking part. This is something employers have been noticing for quite some time now and something that can drive project managers crazy.

Managing a project involving one extra unique and special snowflake after another can be a task of Herculean proportions, but there you have it. These great expectations will also result in many a millennial abandoning projects halfway through, because there is a better option somewhere on the horizon.

The Optimistic Generation

One of the millennials’ traits that will most benefit any project at hand has to be their optimism which seems ingrained in their view of the world, or at least in the United States. Both the aforementioned Telefonica study and the Pew Research Center study from 2014 speak of a generation that is optimistic about their future.

Whether they are heading a project or simply taking part, this optimism can be an energizing feature which makes a project more successful much quicker than years of experience and insane amounts of over analysis. Sometimes all it takes is someone’s drive that is, in turn, fueled by sheer optimism.

Closing Word

The millennial traits that were mentioned in this article are all backed with research and numbers. However, to illustrate why generalizations (especially about the younger generations) should never be taken at face value, there is no better quote than this:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

Believe it or not, this is one of Socrates’ quotes. Sure, Socrates was not the most easygoing person that ever lived, but that is not the point. The point is he said that almost 2,500 years ago.

Keep that in mind.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James D. Burbank is the editor-in-chief of a business blog called BizzMarkBlog. He is spending his time between Europe and Australia and he has spent more than 15 years in the trade show industry.

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork