Five Ways Gen Y Will Alter Project Management

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Categories: Generational PM, IT

The future of organizations is in the hands of Gen Y. Most Gen X-ers are probably now in senior management positions or a few may even be retired. So the real execution champions of the future are in Gen Y — the age group that, in the context of business, I consider to be 20- to 35-year-olds.

The fundamental difference between Gen Y and Gen X is that members of the former have had easy, ready-access to technology for much of their lives. This significantly influenced and changed the generation's behavior, needs and expectations. It follows that project management in the era of Gen Y will also undergo significant changes. 

Here are five ways I think the Gen Y workforce will change project management:

1. Make it lean. Gen Y does not read large volumes of manuals. After careful observation, I have found that any information taking more than 15 minutes to find, read, understand and analyze makes Gen Y project managers impatient. The change I foresee is a tremendous re-engineering of project management processes to make them simple and lean. And of course, technology will play a key role. 

2. Make it digital. By "digitization," I mean embedding technologies like mobile, social and analytics into processes. Project management with digital capabilities will increasingly allow Gen Y — or any generation — to perform work from anywhere, anytime and connect with mentors, experts and colleagues in real-time through collaboration networks. 

Digitization will also continue fulfill the generation's expectations for high predictability (through analytics) and inclination to push information to a project team proactively. 

3. Make it emotional. From my experience, Gen Y likes to hear real-life project experiences and stories from seniors, mentors and coaches. They do not like to hear lectures and speeches. Therefore, storytelling in projects will become necessary to keep Gen Y engaged and motivated. This significantly impacts the leadership style of managers, who will need to move beyond how-to lessons and speak of past experiences "in the trenches."

4. Make it enjoyable. Gen Y expects transparency and immediate recognition for work via technology. Any existing project management process that includes performance assessments that are partly objective, highly subjective and human-dependent will fail to meet the speed and needs of the new project teams. I predict gamification mechanics, such as points, badges, leader boards and levels, will become a part of many a project management system.

5. Make it flat. Gen Y doesn't like to work in strict hierarchical structures or environment. Organizations will have to revisit their project structures and change their leadership styles to be more engaging, collaborative and approachable. If not, Gen Y won't hesitate to leave an organization if the environment does not suit their expectations or mindset.

What other changes do you think a digital-savvy Gen Y will bring to the profession? 

Learn about the benefits of mentoring younger project practitioners at PMI's Career Central.

Posted by V. Srinivasa Rao on: March 15, 2013 12:06 PM | Permalink


Will Lester
As a 26 year old PMP (as of March 1), I certainly relate to the Gen Y crowd. Thank you for posting your insights. I find myself pushing for digitization as a key part of my workflow and continuous improvement through lean approaches is a hallmark of my approach. However, I would caution against the observation made by "prior" generations regarding the limited attention span of the latter (kids these days...). Attention is a fixed resource for all knowledge workers. I believe the appropriate application of attention requires more skill now than ever before - evidenced by the proliferation of methodologies like Getting Things Done (David Allen).

Margarita Matos
I'm a 32 year old technical project manager. I like your suggestions, particularly the part about simplification. I think that culturally our collective attention span has dropped significantly. We need to put processes together that are simpler, more streamlined and that require less time and human involvement. This is not necessary because of Gen Y culture, but because corporations are throwing multiple projects at resources and the overhead of managing multiple processes or projects can be significant.

Steve Dawes
with the digital age I see a lot more transparancy in record keeping and project controls - making people more accountable and providing more visibility. I would expect project processes and controls to change to make use of this.

Rama Kizhakkencherry
A good article. Agree with all of it, except for point 3 (make it emotional).. I don't necessarily find all youngsters interested in storytelling nowadays. Infact, I find it opposite - they do not have the mindset or patience to hear historical experiences or story. It should be short and quick for them (I say them, because I am 40+, so Gen X in your list !).
Other observations I may add here -

1. Gen Y are less respectable of experience, but more attracted to qualifications (degrees).. so we may find more advanced degrees in Project Management common with Gen Y's. (BTW, I have a MS in Project Management specialization).
2, Gen Y's are not used to sitting in long meetings and discussions, so we will see more of standup 'agile style' meetings where team meets for 15 to 30 mins, discuss the points quickly and leave.
3. With globalization becoming rampant, we will see Gen Y PM's with wider knowledge and experience across cultures and languages.

Ramky Kizhakkencherry.

Julian Bradder
Interesting set of arguments although I rather feel that some arguments suggest that Gen Y are a collection who have no attention span and who need "immediate recognition" could be typecasting an entire generation as a bunch of spoiled brats - which might be a little unfair. I still don't think the choice between lean and heavyweight project management is necessarily a choice of generations, but rather more a choice of what is most appropriate for the task in hand. Line of business transactional systems in large banks for example a far more likely to demand a heavy weight, heavily documented approach. Software that runs on the web or within call centres with a good deal of human interaction may better be served by a more iterative approach - but try getting some clients to buy into that. They like the paperwork! I agree with regards to the use of social technologies as part of workflow and not just in software and web development but also as part of marketing project management.

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