To reach a global audience of project professionals, Voices on Project Management presents a blog post every month translated into Brazilian Portuguese, Simplified Chinese and Spanish.
This month's post features how to capture lessons learned in a collaborative manner to engage Gen Y team members.
Read it in your language of preference and share your thoughts in the comments box below.
A few years ago, after I finished a presentation about multigenerational and multicultural teams in Mexico City, Mexico, someone in the audience asked me what kicked off my interest in these topics, which have become a bigger trend in the past decade. The first thing that came to mind was a proverb that my late father used to say to my brother and me: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. He wanted to remind us that we need to adapt to the conditions of our environment.
My father was a member of the Silent Generation. He faced many challenges during his childhood and adolescence, but he was able to adapt to every circumstance and went on to explore opportunities in many fields: factory worker, amateur sportsman, mechanic, and opera and popular music singer. Through his interest in opera, he taught himself foreign languages -- he wanted to know what he was singing so he could add emotion to his act. Later, when he explored popular music, he learned to play guitar and created his own performance style. This is how he adapted to different environments -- by learning constantly and proactively.
Despite being from the Silent Generation, my father was an extrovert in his own way, which led him to be a great relationship builder. During our Sunday strolls in Mexico City, he always looked for tourists who needed directions and took the opportunity to practice the languages he had learned and ask questions about their culture. Adapting is as much pushing yourself to learn on your own as it is learning from others.
And while my father and that good old proverb inspired my interest in these topics, here's one piece of advice I can give you from personal experience: To master multicultural and multigenerational issues, it's pivotal to keep a positive attitude and accept the challenges that different environments offer.
What sparked your interest in multicultural and multigenerational teams? Was it second nature, or did you need to do so for a project?
Communication is a core competency that significantly impacts the outcome of a project. But mastering communication skills has been one of the toughest tasks I have faced as a project practitioner because those skills have evolved and grown along with the fast pace of technology in multigenerational project environments.
Some of us may be used to more traditional ways of communicating (as I discussed in a recent blog post), such as an in-person meeting or a telephone call. But these methods may not be effective with the newer generation of project practitioners. The generation gap may be a source of conflict or a barrier to defining common ground, since communication that may seem negative to one person may be the norm for others. For example, I remember one time when a younger team member sat three cubicles away from a senior (and older) team member, and would ask him questions via instant message. The senior team member considered this rude, since those questions could easily be asked face to face. Meanwhile, the younger team member thought he was being more productive in multi-tasking mode, asking questions via IM and emailing about project tasks.
To break down these types of barriers and diminish miscommunications, you will first need to identify the communication preferences of all project team members or stakeholders, and share them with the team. I typically meet with each team member individually, and then create a matrix listing all members and specific communication preferences for each.
When you meet with Gen Y team members to understand their preferences, use the time as an opportunity to learn about new collaboration tools that you can apply to the project as well. For me, this is how I learned about instant message chat lingo and how to share my computer desktop with others while on a video conference call. It is also during these meetings that I share with the Gen Y team members my project experience, exposing them to real-life project situations.
Finally, be aware of pushback following any kind of changes to project communications that may disturb already established practices. If you introduce too many new technologies, they may not be welcome. The best way to make sure the team adopts new forms of communication is by proposing, not imposing.
How do you ensure your project team and stakeholders adopt new communications tools?
Read more about effective communications in PMI's Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report, The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications.
Any project manager or team member can appreciate the value of historical data to learn from previous project experiences and reduce associated project risks. But have you considered whether it's available in a format that appeals to Gen Y team members?
The traditional way of capturing lessons learned is by using a template to record the lesson and saving it in a repository. But given their collaborative nature, Gen Y team members may perceive this as a limited source of information, based on the experience of a single individual.
Instead, many Gen Y team members are pushing for a more collaborative approach, in which all project documents can be classified under categories, linked to wikis, referenced in blogs and be shared via micro-blogging or clouds. The goal is to prevent having valuable project documents stuck in one person's hard drive.
This new approach stands in contrast to the traditional view of knowledge as a finite asset, living and managed inside the organization's boundaries. With a more collaborative approach, it doesn't matter if the author of the lesson learned left the company, because the organization still "keeps" that employee's knowledge when she or he is gone.
One happy medium is to limit the collaboration environment to the employees in the organization and restricted to the project team until the project is completed. The adoption of this new way of managing organizational process assets will require the endorsement of senior management. You will also need to implement a strategy that's attractive to all team members for full adoption of a new collaboration approach to lessons learned. To do so, introduce a collaborative approach that best suits your project environment. Perhaps task the Gen Y team members to present this new method and highlight its benefits to the project during a team meeting. Finally, remember that individuals take time to accept new practices, so have patience.
How easy or difficult would it be for you to embrace a collaboration approach for lessons learned? What are the benefits for your team and your organization?
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.