Project Management & Planning Articles

Getting the 4 Ages of Project Teams to Collaborate

by Hadley Jones
Published on 14 August 2014

collaboration softwareIt has never happened before. It has taken centuries (in fact, millennia) for today's extraordinary situation to occur in the workplace. There are now no fewer than four identifiably different generations employed in enterprises and organizations around the world. That means that project teams may also now be composed of any mixture of representatives from these age ranges. What does that immediately spark as a thought - generation gaps? Project management application vendors like Clarizen, AtTask and Microsoft Project have studied the situation to find out more about the different work profiles of the '4 Ages.'

  • Traditionalists. Born between 1922 and 1945, these workers have not gone into retirement. That may be because of economic pressures (they cannot afford not to work). But it may also be because they want to leave a lasting legacy at work. A strong work ethic, aversion to risk, long-term focus and attention to detail are among their qualities.
  • Baby Boomers. Birth years between 1946 and 1964, they also want to put their stamp on their work, with an emphasis on career progression, relationship management, added value and involvement in decisions. A desire for personal growth is tempered by an orientation towards team-working.
  • Generation-X. Entering the world between 1965 and 1980, they are more concerned by their work-life balance, while paying attention to results and demonstrating greater individualism. Self-reliance and informality also come to the fore, as they leverage natural propensities towards use of technology, creativity and flexibility.
  • Millennials (also known as Generation-Y). Born in or after 1981, these workers could almost use computers before they could walk. They want meaning in their life and work, and cherish diversity, new skills and immediate access to information. Optimism, innovation, confidence and creativity underpin their activities.

See how different project management applications have developed functionality to address common requirements across all four generations, with a comparison between Clarizen and AtTask for example.

Impact of a 4 Generation Span on Project Management and PM Tools

Variety is the spice of life. It's also the potential source of conflict. People may not be able to relate to others who don't think the same way. Project management methods that suit one type of personality may grate with another. Anyone who has experience of team dynamics knows how much a balancing act can be involved in getting productivity to fire on all six cylinders. Traditionalists may be flabbergasted because they perceive Generation-X workers' informality as a lack of respect of authority. Millennials may be bemused by the insistence of Baby Boomers to proceed rigorously step by step instead of using a little productive multi-tasking.

Project management applications that are confined to waterfall-only or agile-only approaches may simply discourage half the team from using them. However, Clarizen founder Avinoam Nowogrodski notes that the '5 Ts' (transparency, teamwork, trust, tools and transformation) are necessary ingredients for good project interworking, whatever the age ranges involved. See how different applications address these critical elements in project management and as collaboration tools.

Fact or Fiction?

However, it's no use investing in project management tools only to satisfy myths either. For example, it would be a mistake to assume that older employees are less tech-savvy. Microsoft Project research showed that Baby Boomers for instance embraced technology just as readily as Echo Boomers (or Millennials, by their other name). And the traditionalist segment is one of the fastest growing in terms of technology take-up. Liquid Planner points out that Baby Boomers may be more possession (software license) oriented and Millennials more subscription (cloud computing) oriented, but that both categories aware of the advantages of appropriate technology to help them work better.

Collaboration instead of Imposition

Likewise, the concept of team members self-selecting tasks instead of having them imposed on them goes far beyond the independence attitude of Generation-X. Each generation can be just as willing to join in this process. The difference is rather in the type of tasks they select. More mature and experienced project team members may prefer tasks with a higher profile and longer duration, where younger employees possibly favor tasks that give results directly. AtTask facilitates task selection by team members for this reason. Task management apps also have their own ways of accommodating different attitudes in different age groups.

Mindsets for Good Generation PM Management

Jen Howard of Clarizen suggests that three mindsets can help managers get the most out of a quadri-generational situation:

  1. Head to the Cloud. This immediately opens the door to a shared platform for enhanced cooperation and collaboration. The advantage thereafter is also of yielding better results with fewer resources.
  2. Use transparency for a unified way forward. Generations often agree readily on what to do; the differences of opinion are rather in how to do it. Technology that lets individual members as well as the whole team see what's going on and how their contribution is helping can accommodate different styles without compromising end-results.
  3. Liberate through technology. Or in other words, make technology serve your goals of a cohesive, productive product team, not the other way round. And in doing so, leave flexibility in the equation, so that team members can be as 'plugged in' or 'unplugged' as they want, as long as the overall result is improved.

Getting Generations to Work Together Today

Whether or not each member wants a positive collaboration is unlikely to be a function of their age group. What is likely to change between generations however is the time each one is prepared to allow for such a relationship to form. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers may be more generous, and Gen-Xers and Millennials less patient. See how you can now keep the different communications channels open through collaborative project management applications to help each project team member to reach his or her own collaboration Nirvana.

And remember! Free PM software trials are available for many of these apps to try before you buy.


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