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Why We Need Cross-Generational Tools

I spoke at a conference recently, sharing tips on how to do project management better. One of the delegates told me she had 5 different generations in her workplace, and asked for advice on managing project communications with such a varied group.

I told her that the normal approach project managers follow is to tailor communication to the needs of the stakeholders, explaining how for some of my stakeholders I’ll create a formal report while others just get a text message.

When I tell people this, I often get the same response. But that’s so much work!

Yes. Yes, it is.

Creating bespoke communications for individual stakeholders, based on how they want to communicate is a ton of extra work for you, the project manager.

And it’s not just communication. The whole pattern of doing the work seems to fall apart because of the diversity of preferences and styles between colleagues.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for diversity. Studies show that diverse teams make better decisions. There are many known benefits from creating diverse workplaces, not least improved financial results for your business. (Don’t believe me? Read Why Women Mean Business by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland, and you’ll soon see.)

But the more work preferences there are in the team, the more busy work a project manager has to do to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

Meeting the needs of cross-generational teams

Boomers. Gen X. Millennials. Gen Z. Xennials. I didn’t even know that generation existed until last week when someone told me on Twitter they were part of the Xennial generation – the group sandwiched between Gen X and Millennials!

No one seems to know how to work together anymore. Not in a way that feels effortless and easy. My life is one constant round of tailoring to help my team do their best work.

It shouldn’t be like that. We should be able to find ways to work together, across generational and departmental divisions. We’re all in it for the same reason, after all. To deliver whatever projects help get our organizations that next step forward. Everyone can buy into that, so we need tools to help support the way we all want to work.


Work has fundamentally changed

The challenge is that the work itself has fundamentally changed. Our digital revolution has pushed more and more work online, and our organization’s customers and clients are online too. Response times are shorter than ever. Delivery dates for projects are constantly brought forward to meet competitive pressure and consumer demand.

Honestly, working like this is fun. I love blending online and offline tools to work with colleagues to deliver our strategy. It’s fast-paced. It’s interesting. But my goodness, I don’t want to be on track for burnout in a few years. We’re crying out for systems that help us do projects in a faster, slicker, more collaborative way, and juggle all the BAU stuff too.

The switch to Work Operating Systems

One of the biggest challenges I have is that I run projects, but also have non-project work. All my project team colleagues have the same issue. They act as subject matter experts and team members for other projects. They also have day job responsibilities.

It’s tough to track your personal To Do list when you’ve got three different project managers and your boss asking you for status updates.

My notebook has a To Do list page for each category of work I do, and what tends to happen is whatever page I open it at in the morning is where I spend most of that day. It doesn’t help me prioritize my workload, interact with the people who are important today or stay on top of the important tasks that I really should be doing.

But there is another way. Work operating systems like work across generations, and across the BAU/project divide. Regardless of your approach to work, tools can close the generation gap because they bring people together. A work OS lets you work the way you want to and get to know the work preferences of your colleagues. Oversight into everyone’s work provides the immediate feedback some team mates will crave, and yet provides autonomy for the team to make their own decisions. The more different generations understand each other, the more we can break down preconceptions of what it means to be a boomer or a millennial.

They help manage workflows, keep your boss in the loop, and liberate teams from mundane tasks.

They work on mobile devices, and have a virtually non-existent learning curve that means even the most tech-phobic person in the team can use them.

Work operating systems plan, run, and track everyday work as well as the things we think of as projects. So they suit teams that have hybrid responsibilities. All your stuff is in one place.

Automate routine work

Built in workflows make it easy for task handoffs, and by standardizing the way work moves through the project team, we can create repeatable processes.

I love the idea of reliable repeatability because it means I don’t have to think about the next step: the process guides me through it, every time.

If the out-of-the-box workflows don’t do it for you, a good work operating system will let you create your own. The more you can automate, the more time you can spend on the tasks where you really add value, like the face-to-face interaction with key stakeholders or customers.

Built-in tailoring

Work operating systems are different from project management tools in that they do more than simply help you plan project tasks. This is great, because even as a project manager, I have stuff to do that isn’t on my project plan, like process reviews for the PMO, ad hoc reports for my manager, mentoring other project managers and then following up, even organizing the occasional team social event.

The flexibility of a work operating system means you can tailor how you use it to the work you do. It also means that any data in the system can become part of a report. Result! We all know how much project executives love to have tailored dashboards. The more you can make it easy for everyone to see their own metrics – the things that matter to them – the fewer ad hoc requests you’ll get for project reporting.

group using computer

Transparency by default

The other thing I love about the idea of work operating systems is that the transparency is there. When your team use it for everything, there is nowhere to hide. When your colleague tells you they haven’t done a project task because BAU work took precedent, you can ask them to show you… and find out what they’ve really been working on! (Note: only do this if the trust levels in your team leave something to be desired, otherwise you’ll jeopardise the working relationship you have with your colleagues by coming across as an annoying micromanager – there are quite a few generations who won’t appreciate that.)

You can easily see the outcomes of the project team’s work – and so can everyone else (within their designated security permissions, of course). This approach takes away a lot of the nervousness I sometimes see in project teams, when they think they aren’t being give the whole picture. I’m a big fan of transparency, and in a work operating system, it’s all laid out for you. Whatever metrics you track can be played back, so you get a single version of the truth at all times.

It is possible to work smarter, provide tailored solutions to the people who want them and meet the needs of a diverse project team. You just need tools that support the complexities of the modern, virtual, cross-generational workplace. Try a work operating system and put your tools to work for you.

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Harrin from

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