Digital natives – the end of project management?

Projects often take longer, they are too expensive or do not offer the promised quality. Young managers in particular, the so-called digital natives, have therefore said goodbye to traditional project management and are focusing on speed, networking and mobility. Digital natives are mostly those people who have been used to dealing with digital media since childhood. In the meantime, a large part of this generation is shaping today’s working world and demands a modernisation of traditional forms of work. The attitude to life often found among digital natives, preferring conventional status symbols such as their own home, cars, etc. to self-realisation that goes hand in hand with a high degree of flexibility and spontaneity, also give reason to question the model and concepts of the world of work with regard to their longevity. Furthermore, younger people are increasingly striving to separate their private lives and their work as little as possible in order to create the necessary freedom for a balanced everyday life that meets their wishes. The motto “Sharing is Caring” rounds off the attitude to life of many digital natives and is reinforced by the constant use of digital media. Looking at the effects of this generational shift in the context of projects, the question arises as to whether conventional, classic project management methods are appropriate for digital natives.

Flexible working methods meet rigid hierarchies

According to Hanisch (2011), the most common reasons for project failure include structural problems, power struggles, complexity, lack of resources, method fetishism, communication and leadership. Some of these causes may well be rooted in the way digital natives work. The conventional, classic project management method relies, among other things, on strong deadlines and cost agreements as well as rigid project organisation structures, which are not always compatible with the lifestyle of many digital natives. Few flexible structures, rigid hierarchies, a strongly method-driven project approach and a narrow management style contradict the open, flexible and spontaneous way of working of many digital natives. If we look at the working methods of digital natives in more detail, we can conclude that digital natives can definitely contribute to making projects fail less often in the future with their attitude to work. In particular, complex projects that are less time-driven and more driven by spontaneity and creativity could lead to greater success. There is also the assumption that project staff who work virtually at places and times that are suitable for them and for the success of the project can contribute to better project performance. Furthermore, open, honest and friendly interaction within the project team is elementary, as well as project leaders who ensure the necessary self-leadership and feedback opportunities for their team. This approach is not new and is already practised in numerous companies through the agile manifesto. This shows that project management as a method is not becoming superfluous, but must be adapted in essential parts to the modern zeitgeist in order to be able to lead projects successfully.

Further reading

Hanisch, Ronald: Das Ende des Projektmanagements: Wie die Digital Natives die Führung übernehmen und die Unternehmen verändern, 2016. Prensky, Marc: Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants University Press, 2001.

This article was written as part of Prof. Katinka Weissenfeld’s presentation at Connecta Bern 2019 and was first published by the Swiss Post.

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AUTHOR: Katinka Weissenfeld

Katinka Weissenfeld is a lecturer at the Institute Public Sector Transformation at BFH Wirtschaft.

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