Trans-Generational Project Management, Part 1

I'm not a big fan of the generational labels (baby boomer, X, Millennial, etc.). There is some truth, however, to the observation that people of different ages do have different expectations when it comes to project best practices.
Projects are, at their core, about communications and collaboration. Ensuring your team understands what must be done by when and by whom is the very definition of project management. As a communication enabler, each successive generation of technology has shaped people’s views of "proper" communications and collaboration. To this end, I tend to mentally group people into two categories -- those who came of age before the Internet and those who came of age after it.

People who came of age before the Internet were weaned on communication technologies such as radio, television and printed newspapers. All share the same characteristics: they are pre-packaged, non-customized and one-way only. Options were limited and flexibility is nill. From a project perspective, an excellent example of what I’m talking about is the “classic” formal project report. It looks and feel a lot like a mini-newspaper. It comes out at the same time and contains the same basic updated set of information. It’s fairly static and is authored to appeal to the widest audience possible. In short, it’s an effective, but blunt instrument.

As a project manager working with team members who share these expectations I’ve found it is generally a good idea to respect and maintain a distinct distance between author and audience with all communications, be it formal reports or informal project discussions. Place a higher emphasis on rigorous pre-planning (to help overcome the lack of real-time communications) and always observe the chain of command. Anybody who remembers watching Howdy Doody on a black and white television will thank you for it.

Next up I’ll tackle how I see the Internet has shaped the project management expectations of post-Internet folks.

This is the first of two posts from John as he discusses the differences and challenges in managing technical projects with a team comprised of people from different generational, and as a result technological, perspectives. Part 2 can be found here.

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