Gantt Chart

Management in Action: Project Management Across the Generations

Gantt ChartI am a project manager. Chances are, so are you.

Project Manager is not my title. I am not a member of PMI nor do I have a degree in business, engineering or computer science. I’ve never been a certified PMP. Yet the bulk of my time—as a marketing director and even as a blogger–is spent managing tasks that are aimed at achieving a specific goal, which is really the heart of project management. David Allen’s Getting Things Done system defines a project as “anything that needs more than one action for its achievement.” By that definition, that means pretty much everything we do from strategic planning to brushing our teeth can be considered project management.

But even if we narrow the meaning to the official PMI definition of project management, which is “…the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements”, that still makes a good portion of the modern workforce project managers. PMI breaks project management into five phases: initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing. Each phase requires specific strengths and skills to be effective. If we were to examine this through a generational lens, we could see how the generational competencies of Baby Boomers, GenX-ers and Millennials might make them well-suited for specific phases of project management:

Phase 1: Initiation

What it is: The first phase of the project lifecycle, defining the project at a broad level.
Skill set required: ability to get buy-in from stakeholders, collaborative spirit
Well-suited: Millennials
May need development: GenX, Baby Boomers

What? Trust the most important phase of PM to the Millennials? Well, yes—provided they are up for the task.  Let’s assume that the project in question is intended to benefit the organization in some way (a process improvement, a revenue-generating activity, an elevated customer experience, etc.). Millennials are driven by a sense of purpose and want to know that their work is making a positive impact on the organization. And if you’ve ever been the one to try and get a project off the ground, you know the heaviest lift is getting the right people to buy in. Millennials were raised as team players, and are ready, willing and able to collaborate.

Phase 2: Planning

What it is: Development of the project “roadmap”, goals, milestones and deadlines.
Skill set required: ability to envision a successful outcome while foreseeing risks and constraints in order to come up with a realistic action plan
Well-suited: Generation X
May need development: Millennials

Effective project planning requires a combination of 1) an understanding of the project’s pieces, parts and processes, 2) the ability to envision the ideal successful outcome, and 3) some level of foresight to anticipate potential roadblocks and their corrective actions. Generation X is well-known in the workplace for their pragmatic approach to “getting stuff done”. They are well-positioned to set achievable goals and timeframes. Their years in the workplace may give them a strong understanding of roles and responsibilities, and therefore have the ability to assign tasks that play to their teammates’ strengths and skills.

Phase 3/4: Execution/Monitoring

What it is: The stage at which deliverables are developed and completed. Monitoring, which is often identified as a separate phase, is ensuring deliverables are on time and on budget and that project milestones are being met.
Skill set required: attention to detail, ensuring tasks are completed, strong communication, analysis and reporting skills
Well-suited: Baby Boomers
May need development: Millennials, some GenX-ers

I’ve combined the execution and monitoring stages as they happen on parallel tracks and require similar skills, though many project management models show them broken out. Together or apart, this is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the true test of the project vision and planning. Process-driven Baby Boomers can provide great leadership at these stages. But don’t count out tech-savvy X-ers and Millennials. They may have knowledge of tech tools and systems that can easily and effectively track and monitor project progress.

Phase 5: Closing the project

What it is: The final stage, delivering the completed project to stakeholders.
Skill set required: organization, attention to detail, strong communication skills
Well-suited: Boomers and X-ers
May need development: Millennials

Exhale. You did it. The deliverables have been…well…delivered and you’re all good right? Not so fast. Closing a project is every bit as important as launching it, and it’s a phase that some organizations and teams give short shrift to as they move on to the next big thing. The generational competences of Boomers and GenX-ers can come in handy in the closure of a project. In addition to “post mortems” to discuss what was successful and what could be improved for next time, punch lists of any outstanding items need to be created (and action plans developed for them) as well as any final reports or documentation. And, of course, don’t forget to hand out the high-fives.

In today’s multi-generational workforce, it’s important for managers to recognize generational competencies while at the same time acknowledging that each person is unique. This is really about helping people play to their strengths–an important component when managing teams, and especially managing teams that manage projects.



  1. Dear Heidi, I admit I scanned this article quickly, but your steps are very similar to the Deming or Shukart cycles used in Quality. Plan, Do, Check, Act, or Plan, Do, Study, Act, are valuable concepts. Your generational approach is worthy of further study.

    1. Very similar. (I am a PDCA gal myself.) And it’s not to say that Millennials aren’t detail oriented or that GenX-ers can’t be visionary. Invidual strengths and weaknesses should always be considered before generational competencies. PS—give my regards to the Keystone state!

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