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Does a project generation exist?

Project Management Generations

In this year's Project Management Census, we asked some new questions which focused on generations. This got everyone intrigued and we had a number of participants asking us why we had chosen these questions.We got interested in multi-generational workforces during 2012 and with a profession like project management we were intrigued to see if the materials about generation stood true for a practitioner grouping as all the studies seemed to be generic. The main question we have been asking ourselves is,

'Does a Generation Project exist?'

At the moment, the workforce has three potentially very different generations that maybe all working together – Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y (or Millenials). See the table below for characteristics of each of these.

Although not an exact science, generations are classified as 'age cohorts' in that they are grouped because it's deemed that they share a collective set of memories from their formative years. Through their shared memories of certain events that happened as they were growing up, the generations were classified in that they shared a "collective set of attitudes, behaviours, ideals, memories and life experiences that affect their work life." (Delcampo et al 2011)

Whilst age is the primary guideline used to define the generations, Delcampo (2011) believes the true classification lies in cultural differences. When considering cultural differences, there are common influences on a generation – parents, peers, media and popular culture. These common influences coupled with economic and political events that take place as an individual develops and grows can have a big effect on the way an individual views and carries out their employment during their working years.

The Project Management Benchmark Report will be released in February 2013, which takes a look at the impact of generations on the project management role. In anticipation of that report, in this month’s Tipoffs we take a look at the events that took place in the project management professionals' formative years.


Insights / Characteristics

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

  • Born after a large event/crisis
  • Overindulged by parents
  • Passionate about moral beliefs
  • Hold visions for the future
  • Future is about maintaining values
  • The largest generation that currently exists population-wise.
  • Dedicate their life to their job
  • Strengths in the workplace include:
    • Accountability
    • Adaptability
    • Communication
    • Initiative
    • Project Management
    • Problem Solving
    • Working Collaboratively
  • Weaknesses in the workplace include:
    • Seek instant gratification
    • Use of technology
    • Not valuing diversity

Generation X (1965-1980)

  • Place great value on liberty, survival and honour
  • Under protected by parents
  • Became adults through a time of crisis
  • No nonsense attitudes and a proactive work ethic
  • Influenced by workaholic divorced parents & political scandals
  • Self-centred and less loyal to employers
  • Desiring quicker achievements and a tendency to job hop
  • Strengths in the workplace include:
    • Adaptability
    • Initiative
    • Managing resources
    • Problem solving
    • Technology
    • Value diversity
    • Value training
  • Weaknesses in the workplace include:
    • Project Management
    • Working collaboratively
    • Loyalty to organisation

Generation Y (1981-2000s)

  • Born during a time of independence
  • Grew up in overprotective environments
  • Energetic, motivated people that value team work
  • 'Holier than thou' attitude with an overload of self-confidence (used to excessive praise)
  • Tend to emerge as leaders later in life
  • Influenced by community, affluence and technology
  • Strengths in the workplace include:
    • Accountability
    • Project Management
    • Technology
    • Valuing diversity
    • Working collaboratively
  • Weaknesses in the workplace include:
    • Communicating informally
    • Problem solving
    • Loyalty to the organisation
    • Overreliance on technology

Overview and Characteristics of Generations – taken from Delcampo (2011)


World Events and ‘The Project Generation’

WORDS: Dan Strayer

In studying the generational breakdowns of what kind of events shaped our original conscience, it quickly became apparent that there is a huge dilemma facing our workforce going forward. Robert G. DelCampo et al. deduced in 2011's Managing the Multi-Generational Workforce that "64 million Baby Boomers, who make up 40% of the workforce, will retire. Clearly, the business world will have to rely on the Millenial generation to fill the void left behind by retiring Traditionalists and Baby Boomers."

This is not something we are unfamiliar with. We addressed an ECITB study in a blog post two years ago on the need for qualified personnel and which generation those skilled workers would come from. So considering the need for the Millenial Age in our workforce going forward, it became intriguing to get an insight into what world events had potentially influenced this generation born between 1981 and 2002.

In the Project Management Census we asked the question, "Which world event forms your earliest memory?". There were a wide variety of answers across all generations so we categorized them into twelve groupings.


Specific Events Event Categories
Baby Boomer (1946-1964 births) project managers told us their first memories of events that shaped the world around them Baby Boomer (those born from 1946 to 1964) project managers have their event choices categorised


Specific Events Event Categories
Generation X (those born from 1965 to 1980) project managers identifying their first memorable event memories Generation X (those born between 1965-1980) project managers have their event memories categorised


Specific Events Event Categories
Generation Y (those born from 1981 to 2002) project managers reveal their earliest memories of events. Generation Y (those born from 1981 to 2002) project managers have the earliest memories of events categorised.

The category of events we remembered first, broken down by Generation.

It is history and popular culture events that are said to influence us the most in our formative years. Prehaps it is no surprise then that the Silent Generation’s collective memories of war were prominent due to the Second World War. Meanwhile the Baby Boomers remembered the Moon Landings above all else. Generation X lived through the first televised war in their front rooms with the Falklands defining that generation and finally the fall of the Berlin Wall impacted the Millenials the most.

All four generations remember tragic world events although the nature of these events does vary. The JFK Shooting was the most cited world event amongst the Baby Boomers and the John Lennon assassination in 1980 had a big influence on Generation X. For Generation Y there is little mention of an assassination event in comparison with the two succeeding generations however the events in New York in 2001 was their war memory – the war on terroism.

Millenials remembered disasters more than any other generation, Hillborough, Challenger and Lockerbie were all notable. Generation X cited Challenger, African Famine and Chernobyl whereas Baby Boomers remembered Munch Air Disaster, Aberfan and Biafra.

And here’s the biggest difference from times past: 22% of Millenials (Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela & Apartheid, Communist Bloc Fall) noted a clearly political event. The other two groups fell short of 10% (Gen X - Berlin Wall, Thatcher & Reagan) and 3% (Baby Boomers - Breakup of British Empire, Muhammad Ali’s defiance to Vietnam), respectively

For more positive memories of world events it is the Baby Boomers and Millenials that lead the way. Achievements in engineering and science were remembered the most by the Boomers whilst the Millenials lived through a time of royal marriages, major televised sporting events and the celebrations that followed the collapse of the communist Eastern Bloc.

Research from the University of Minnesota in 2008 into the generational differences in the workplace made some general observations about how world events have possibly shaped us. The Baby Boomers living in a time of political and social unrest (assasinations, political scandals, Vietnam War etc) would mistrust authority in their later years and would be more likely to protest against power. Would we see differences in say leadership qualities because of these types of influences in project managers? It is difficult to say but fascinating nevertheless. Generation X growing up through a great period of technological change are considered to be the most technical savvy in the workplace. This generation were also the first generation to witness world events firsthand through television which might contribute to the possible notion that it is this generation who wanted to change and stop injustices. The Millenials, the most privileged and protected generation by their parents are a generation that are most likely to not show loyalty to their employers. They have grown up through recessions, cutbacks and corporate fraud scandals, bombarded with a media culture and lived life with the internet.

The Confident Generation?

We were also interested to see if there were any differences between the generations of project management professionals in how they grew up. Here at Arras People we have often talked about the childhood experiences of 'playing out' so we asked the question, "Thinking back to when you were 10 years old, where were you allowed to play out unsupervised by a responsible adult?"

Perhaps unsurprisely the Millenials were asked to play closer to home. Whilst Baby Boomers played wherever they liked without supervision (70%), time and invested parenting have brought the children of the Millenial age into a tighter bubble, with only 25% playing wherever they wanted to. With more constaints and less freedom to roam, it will be interesting to see if a protective childhood has any bearing in later years. Del Campo believes that the Millenials generation is the most confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change of all generations, prehaps surprising if they are indeed the most protected in their formative years. Millenials may seem to benefit from having two generations involved in their upbringing and cite a closeness to parents and grandparents that preceding generations did not have. The Millenials in their connected, although virtual communities through technology use are able to bring their families and friends closer.

Where we played - without supervision - as kids, broken down by generation

The Millenial's self-confidence is the most crucial point DelCampo et al. made in Managing the Multi-Generational Workforce. It's a generation that’s aware both socially and politically, have great self-esteem, come with the collaborative and accountability skills, with project management & leadership skills, high diversity tolerance and the best capacity to take companies into the social media realm to boot.

Here's another important consideration. With such confidence comes great leadership, and - get this - project management. DelCampo classifies Millenials as Heroes, born during a time of independence. He added that Heroes "develop into energetic and motivated people that value team work. These groups tend to emerge as leaders later in life."

Indeed, the Clinton/Major-Blair Years were the most peaceful times in Western Society since the 1920s. Millenials are informed in increasingly different ways, and though they're certainly were more walled in, they were also products of the voluntary movement toward social mobility of a previous generation, one that grew up to coach youth teams and take us to and taught us art, drama, dance and other-group-related extracurricular activities. In these group settings & seemingly controlled levels of growth and development, it would surprise many people to realise that team work & collaboration skills have been enhanced from a young age and remain through time with Millenials. In turn, Millenials give of their time and place increased trust & belief in their institutions (a combination of Baby Boomer and Traditionalist ideals), which can drive civil service recruitment.

DelCampo adds that after Generation X's struggles in the field of organisation/project management, "Millenials are noted as a group that embraces accountability, organization/project management, technology, valuing diversity and working collaboratively."

So, to review: Confident, collaborative, capable of leading and holding the qualities of a good project manager? With all this potentially going for them, it stands to reason that project management in the next 20 years is hopefully going to have a good flock of personnel to choose from in the Millenial group.

World Events by Category of Achievement, broken down by Generation

Dan Strayer is the Marketing/PR Coordinator for Arras People, serving as the editor of Project Management Tipoffs and How to Manage a Camel, and host of the Arras People Project Management Podcast. Keeping with the revelations of social media above, follow this Millenial on Twitter @PM_StrayDogg, on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Innovations and Generation Project

WORDS: Lindsay Scott

In classifying generations, the social sciences look at the common influences or shared memories that a generation grouping might have. Research into how these collective memories go onto influence us later in life – such as career choices and working style will always be ongoing as newer generations are created.

We took a look at the innovations that our project management participants remembered in their formative years as part of a group of questions about generations in the Project Management Census.

The question, "Which innovation forms your earliest memory?" led to a wide ranging number of innovations across the years. To help us classify them we grouped answers into one of eleven categories. The results are shown below.


Specific Innovations Innovation Categories
Baby Boomer (1946-1964 births) project managers told us their first memories of innovation Baby Boomers


Specific Innovations Innovation Categories
Generation X (those born from 1965 to 1980) project managers identifying their first memorable innovation memories Generation X (those born between 1965-1980) project managers have their innovation memories categorised


Specific Innovations Innovation Categories
Generation Y (those born from 1981 to 2002) project managers reveal their earliest memories of innovation. Baby Boomer (those born from 1946 to 1964) project managers have their innovation choices categorised


We categorised innovation choices from respondents to the PM Census, then figured out how it broke down by Generation.

Looking closely at the three main generation groups that are potentially working today; Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millenials, there are spikes of collective memories of certain innovations. For the Baby Boomers, it’s the television, computing, engineering and interestingly, the calculator! For Generation X, the computer dominates with ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s and BBC Computers. For the Millenials it’s all about games consoles, computers, the internet and mobile phones.

It has often been said that the Baby Boomer generation were a generation of marketers, managers and salespeople. They took the legacy of the previous generation that was responsible for a lot of engineering and scientific discovery and found a way to make money from it. If the Baby Boomer generation were all about management and the bottom line, Generation X were possibly the next generation of engineers and problem solvers.

It was Generation X, with the large influence of home computers, that would make technological advantages in computer technology and biotechnology. This generation that would create sophisticated designs and programming that would provide the platforms for the kind of online world we live in now. Was this the generation that valued problem solving in their day to day work lives over that of management like the Baby Boomers?

The Millenials are often regarded as the media generation. If Generation X were readers of content online, it is the Millenials who create it. The Millenials are much more interested in the communication aspects of technology rather than the technical. They have grown up during an era where the internet has always existed, where connections and communications are instant through text messaging, IM and social networking.

Computer technology features heavily with all generations of project professionals' collective memories. Research by The Barna Group sheds further light on the generation gaps between the three in relation to technology. The Boomers and Gen X, because of the sheer population number of these two groups, are the biggest users of computers. The Millenials may believe they are the 'Net Generation'; however it is the Boomers and Gen X that blog the most, spend the most online and use social networks the most. What differentiates these groups are what they classify as mainstream computer/online activity. Boomers see email and internet searches as essentials; Gen X adds text messaging, too. Millenials, on the other hand, see their essentials as all these plus instant messaging, downloading music, streaming videos, blogging and hosting websites. The Millenials' use of technology is speeding up fast and it is this pace of change that could lead to a deeper generation gap.

With technology playing a large part in the world of work and of course within project management as new projects deliver further technological advances it raises many questions about how all these generations will work together in the future. If we are to believe that Gen X are not strong at project management skills – preferring a more insular type of working that allows them to get on with problem solving – what will become of the leadership required to manage a team? How will Millenials fare in a formal business environment that currently doesn’t use technology well enough to communicate better or bring groups together virtually? Or is the presence of the Baby Boomers who are work addicts and who refuse to retire just getting in the way of Gen X and the Millenials forging a new work environment and working style?

We will be looking deeper into the generations of project management professionals in the Project Management Benchmark Report which is due out in February 2013. You can still take part in the Census yourself and receive a free copy of the report when it is released.

Lindsay Scott is co-director of Arras People, the project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay was recently voted by her peers as the No. 1 social influencer in project management. Feel that influence by following Lindsay on Twitter @projectmgmt & also read more of her work on the Arras People blog, How to Manage a Camel.

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When your project is in trouble, you need to call THE PM TEAM!

As we've said goodbye to Ten in Ten in December, we'll use today's blog post at How to Manage a Camel to have fun with the most enjoyable survey we put together of any of the 10 months we offered a giveaway.

In the latest post for our company blog, Lindsay Scott offers the results on the most "important" question in the survey: Which personality of the A-Team does your project management style suit the best? Watch the plan come together today!

Other Generation Tests & Links

Interested in the discussion of generations? You can also take part in some other online resources:


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