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How Millennials Can Bring Change to Project Management

How Millennials Can Bring Change to Project Management

A woman wearing a yellow vest is holding a tablet and a cup of coffee while helping a project management coworker with scheduling on his smartphone.

Last Updated March 8, 2024

Millennials offer new dimensions to project management and the workplace.

At an estimated 83 million people, the millennial generation in the United States already has had a huge impact on the country.

According to Pew Research Center, 35% of American labor force participants are millennials, surpassing Generation X as the largest share of the American workforce.

Understanding millennials is key to success in today’s business world. While researchers have defined many traits within the generation, the largest since the Baby Boom, two key attributes are generally accepted:

  1. They want a better work-life balance than that of previous generations. They tend to see their lives as a “more or less a seamless experience, where anything that interests them is part of the whole, and the traditional distinctions between work, life, learning and service are blurred or eliminated,” notes a report in Ask Magazine titled, “The Next-Generation Workforce and Project Management.”
  2. Millennials are more tech savvy than previous generations.

Defining Millennials

The U.S. Census Bureau categorizes millennials as those born between 1983 and 2000. At roughly 83 million, they represent one-quarter of the entire U.S. population.

In addition to blurring the lines between work and personal life, millennials tend to focus less on long-term careers and more on short-term goals. They are team-oriented, strong members of their communities and willing to sacrifice money for a better work-life balance, according to the Ask Magazine report.

In the workplace, they tend to place skill development and career advancement above other issues. A 2016 report by Gallup titled, “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” found that 59% of respondents want career development opportunities when applying for a job.

Comparatively, 44% of Generation Xers and 41% of Baby Boomers responded the same way. According to the report, “Millennials assign the most importance to this job attribute (development), representing the greatest difference between what this generation values in a new job and what other generations value.”

Another part of what drives millennials is what they saw and experienced as children. Previous generations shifted from one long-term employer to many employers. Jobs in manufacturing were outsourced to other countries. Scandals plagued the corporate world.

All of this has helped shape a work view more oriented to personal success, short-term goals and working together as a team.

Millennials Impacting Project Management

Projects tend to focus on short-term objectives. Project managers emphasize skill development for themselves and members of their team. While a project is often one piece of a company’s overarching goals, it is also a standalone endeavor that suits the disposition of millennials.

According to a 2015 survey by Virtuali and Work Place Trends, 91% of the millennials surveyed aspire to be a leader and 43% of respondents said they are motivated to be a leader to empower others.

Here are some other ways the millennial generation could impact business and project management.

Technology – Millennials are generally regarded as the most tech-oriented generation to date. They grew up with technology and expect it to be used in the workplace.

Millennials are highly responsive technology experts who use technology to communicate and help make things faster and more efficient. White boards, spreadsheets and other traditional tools in project management may soon be replaced with technology that allows for increased communication and collaboration.

In a 2017 article by TechRepublic, author, speaker and CEO Robyn Tingley discusses how millennials are the true tech generation.

“Project managers need to embrace and support modernized software that can handle collaborative brainstorming, real-time updates, multiple readers and users, integrated video, voice and more. Email just won’t work to align teams, manage inputs and drive performance.”

Changing Perspectives and Motivations – Millennials bring a shift in focus for projects. Rather than the financial bottom line and efficiency, they look to include the social, environmental and economic impacts of projects into the mix, and can bring new ideas and innovative approaches to a project.

According to a 2015 PMI article titled, “Successful project management leadership in a multigenerational workplace,” Millennials throughout the world are motivated by different things. In China, they are motivated by hard work. In Europe, millennials tend to seek a work-life balance, and millennials in the United States typically hold jobs that provide the most personal fulfillment. Understanding these differences is important to achieving organizational success.

Moving Away from Tradition – While millennials are willing to put in extra work as deadlines approach, they also expect that to be an exception. Their aversion to letting work overshadow their personal life has led to a different approach for creating deadlines and milestones.

This extends to moving away from the traditional 9-to-5 workday and moving to more remote working and leading virtual project teams. Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel told CNBC that he believes remote working will be the new normal in the next 10 years as younger generations move into leadership roles. According to Kasriel, the most talented professionals won’t be willing to work traditional 9-to-5 job hours, and companies need to get on board.

The Collaboration Generation

According to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial survey of more than 10,000 millennial respondents, a culture of collaboration on work projects is one of the top priorities millennials desire from potential employers. Millennials typically grew up in an environment where working with others was expected, and they look for that in the workplace as well. Technology is part of this, allowing for a creative flow of ideas and communication.

This has led to changes in the layout of traditional office spaces. More spaces have been created for casual, unplanned encounters that can lead to brainstorming and idea creation. These spaces include open meeting areas and elaborate break rooms.

Millennials are laying new foundation for how businesses approach projects. We may see even more of a shift in how projects are conducted as millennials move into positions of leadership and implement their lifestyle and workplace preferences into the organization.

Strong project managers are those who help bring people together to solve problems and keep projects focused. This necessary skill aligns to the tendency for millennials to be more collaborative.