Mimi Browning | Four generations = one silver bullet

IT Strategy'commentary: Need a silver bullet? Play to the generational strengths of your employees

Mimi Browning

Information technology program managers are always searching for the elusive silver bullet to ensure cost, schedule, performance and customer satisfaction.

But many need look no further than their own staff. It's not unusual to discover members of as many as four generations working together. Managers can apply the signature ' and, for our purposes here, generalized ' skills of the individuals in each of these generations to produce high-quality IT projects.

The Silent Generation (born 1925 to 1945) is adept at formulating and adhering to the rules of the game. They also value financial stability. These individuals are well-suited to developing a project's processes and procedures. Further, because they typically have the best relations with the organization's financial mandarins, they can make sure the project is fully funded and delivered without major cost overruns. Their love of the printed form enables Silent Generation individuals to craft persuasive paper project reports to send to members of Congress.

The Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are idealistic, work-driven and expert at relationship building. They are the perfect ones to imbue the IT project with meaning ' figure out the requirements. Boomers invented the 60-hour workweek, so at schedule crunch time, Boomer taskmasters will be the ones to ensure that tight deadlines are met. With their vast professional and personal networks, Boomers are the social glue in getting buy-in and support for the project from the various stakeholder groups.

Members of Generation X (born 1965 to 1984) are skeptical but pragmatic individuals who are masters at balancing work and life demands. Their practical nature ensures that realistic performance metrics are developed, and their independent, show-me attitude can be leveraged for project testing, independent verification and validation. Gen-Xers' attention to diversity should be tapped to help recruit and retain the best possible team for the project.

Most important, Gen-Xers tend to offer a critical counterbalance to any unnecessary Friday afternoon meetings the Boomers may schedule.

The Millennials (born 1985 to 2004) are just beginning to have an effect on the workforce. They are team-oriented and network-centric. Because the Millennials are naturally tethered to electronic devices, they can text message the paper reports the Silent Generation produces for members of Congress to congressional staffers.

Their communications style involves color, sound and humor, so when the IT project goes into its test or simulation phase, the Millennials can inject innovative, entertaining constructs into the deliverables. This ensures a high degree of customer satisfaction with the project.

Lastly, because Millennials are wizards at intertwining work, leisure and social activities, you should make sure they organize the celebration party when the project is successfully completed.

Mixing generational diversity ' and the strengths of each generation ' stands to enhance a project's success.

Boomers and the Silent Generation can best review project documentation for correct grammar, because they learned the art before the advent of computer software that ostensibly performs this task.

Gen-X and Millennial mentors can teach their Boomer and Silent Generation prot'g's how to play with the new IT toys.

And finally ' in the true spirit of generational stereotypes ' we should top this rich diversity with plenty of seasoned levity.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who now is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

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