How Product Managers Can Manage The Age Gap On Their Product Teams

by drjim on August 26, 2013

Product managers need to learn how to get different generations to work together

Product managers need to learn how to get different generations to work together
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Product managers often don’t manage any direct reports. However, in order to have a successful product, we always seem to find ourselves in charge of a sort of “virtual team” of people who are sprinkled throughout the company. It turns out that in order for our product to be a success, we need to do a good job of managing this virtual team. That means that we’ve got to find a way to deal with the age gap issue…

Where Did The Age Gap Come From?

Once you get done creating your product development definition, it’s time to manage the workers who make up your product’s virtual team. This won’t always be the case, but for right now we’ve got three different generations of workers that make up our teams. First off, there are the so called “Baby Boomers” who were born 1946-1964 – these are the older members of your team. Next comes the “Generation X” workers who were born between 1964 – 1980. Finally you have the newest set of workers who are called the Millennials and they were born between 1908-2000. Good luck getting all of them to work together to make your product a success!

The big problem for a product manager is that each one of these groups likes to communicate in a different way and they all respond to different types of motivations. Clearly, there is not one solution that is going to get them all on board when it comes to your product. If you can come up with a solution to this problem, then you’ll have something to add to your product manager resume.

How Should Product Managers Handle The Age Gap

The first issue that you are going to have to deal with as a product manager is uncovering how each generational group wants to be communicated with. The answer is going to depend on what communication tools they grew up with and are most comfortable using. The Baby Boomers like using both the telephone and face-to-face communication. The Gen X workers are more comfortable using email and instant messaging. Finally, the Millennials prefer to use their smart phones and communicate using social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter.

What each generation wants to get out of their job (and working on your product) will differ also. The older members of your virtual product team will have more work experience in more traditional hierarchical organizations. The younger members will be more familiar with flatter organizations where they believe that they can contribute and that their voices will be heard. Note that this can lead to clashes where your older workers believe that the right to be heard has to be earned over time.

As a product manager it’s going to be your responsibility to discover how each member of your product’s virtual team wants to communicate and what they want to get out of working on your product. This means that the burden of discovering this information is on you to find out. Once you have this information you can start to tailor how you communicate with the rest of the team in order to make sure that your message and your requests are being received and understood by the people that you need to take action.

What Does All Of This Mean For You

It would be a perfect world in if everyone that worked on your product’s “virtual team” was exactly the same. However, the world is not perfect and you’ve got three different generations of workers to deal with on your team even if that was never a part of your product manager job description.

The Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials all have different ways of communicating. Additionally, they are looking to get different things out of their jobs. As product manager you need to discover what these things are and then use them to connect with the members of your team.

It’s not going to be easy and there may be people who belong to one generation who like to do things the way that another generation does it. That’s ok. You need to take the time to find out how your product’s team wants to interact with you and then you need to use that information. Keep in mind that your product is only going to be as successful as the team that works on it is. Learn what they want, give it to them, and watch them work to make your product a success.

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of a single form of communication that would work with all 3 generations of workers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Pitty the poor product manager. There you are, sitting in the middle of the greatest social media revolution to ever happen and now you find yourself with too many choices. After you get done creating your product development definition, should you be spending your time on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or should you be off in a corner somewhere tweeting about why everyone should buy your product? Good news, I’ve got the answers and I’m going to share them with you…

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