Youth in Agile, Part 4: Are Milliennials More Agile?

I have had a sneaking suspicion for a while now that the answer to this question is yes. Yes, Millennials are more Agile. Duh. But, though I felt this to be true anecdotally, I wanted to see if my gut was right. After all, data of all types is constantly available to us in this day and age of easy-access technology–and how might that have affected those of us born between 1980 and 2000? Remember when Saturday morning cartoons were choppy and laboriously hand-drawn? I get nostalgic thinking about programs like Thundercats and Transformers, and yet I can’t even make it through a sitting today. Meanwhile, the “classics” are being reinvented with technology that no one could have dreamed up before. How much has technology–not to mention the scientific advances that prop it up–shaped Millennials, their expectations, their worldview?

Entertainment is one thing, but what about the work place? In our Youth in Agile series, we set out to hear from some young voices, voices that will one day shape the future. As of 2015, Millennials are officially the largest workforce, and that is imperative to keep in mind for several key reasons.

Millennials in the US are:

  • Digital Natives: Having grown up in the age of computers, Millennials have technology hard-wired into their brains and bodies to the extent currently possible.
  • Frugal: With education comes debt, and Millennials are suffering under a debt of historical proportions. Paired with their value system and technology, frugality is one reason why Millennials are much more biased towards affordable (often free) and/or open-source mobile applications than previous generations.

“25 years from now, car sharing will be the norm and car ownership an anomaly.”

Jeremy Rifkin, Author and Economist
  • Communal: If frugality is a value, then sharing is one way to make sure money goes far. Millennials are much more likely to value shared resources (think: Uber, shared living arrangements, open source tech of any kind) than scrape together their precious pennies to buy the “essentials” that previous generations prized (think: car, house, etc.). As this article puts it: “Many young Americans choose to call up a ride when and where they need it, saving on monthly car payments, insurance, and gas.”
  • Entrepreneurial: Whether you call it naivete, optimism, narcissism or something else, Millennials are certainly independent. They are grounded in their own values and opinionated but also generally informed. That means they also have an entrepreneurial streak that GenXers would envy.
  • Postponing Marriage/Children: Finally, Millennials tend to marry later and have children later in life. Many also feel that marriage is no longer a rite of passage that all must pass through. And kids, well, they can wait until later, when the career is where Millennials want it to be after working so hard to get degrees–and incurring so much debt in the process!

Here’s what I think all that means:

Millennials have completely different motivations from previous generations. They don’t care about cars or houses or your six-figure salary–or at least not as much as their parents did. They also don’t care about the issues that divided the country before, things like race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and even some harder hitting issues. What they do care about is the commoditization of their time by others, especially people from previous generations who put up with such sordid things as waiting in lines to cash a check at the bank, showing up to meetings that have nothing to do with you, kissing @$$ because that’s how you get ahead, buying brands that other people buy. The list goes on, but the main point is that Millennials in some ways have figured out that time and money are real scarce, so they don’t want to waste any of theirs just because you say so.

So, are Millennials more Agile? Yes!

Agile is all about minimizing waste, getting more value quicker and essentially figuring out how not to leak money and time like a sieve because that’s always how it has been done before (whatever it happens to be). For Millennials the concept of Agile is moot; it’s just common sense. However, if you need further evidence in Agile terms, Millennials are:

  • Collaborative: Despite what people think, today’s global economy requires Millennials to band together and pool resources to deal with the increasingly taxing demands of present day society. Heard of the “Sharing Economy”?
  • Transparent: If Millennials are selfish or self-centered, it’s not because they didn’t tell you. Today’s youth are likely to tell you more than you’d care to know, because in the Selfie Age it’s perfectly acceptable and expected to share sordid details with those you trust. That includes weaknesses and areas for growth, which is more than can be said for those of us who think that hiding a weakness is the same as not having it.
  • Feedback-driven: Millennials can be perhaps a little too feedback-driven in my opinion. Living for Facebook likes or friend adds is shallow, don’t get me wrong, but recognizing that results can be achieved by making small changes that are sometimes just perceptual–that’s a capability everyone could benefit from.

 “Millennials think they can go in on the first day and talk to the CEO about what’s on their mind. The Generation X manager thinks, ‘What are you doing??’”

Shara Senderoff, CEO of Intern Sushi, in this Forbes article
  • Continuously learning: In 2003, Apple ran an ad with the tagline, “There’s an app for that.” And in general, that’s true. And hey, if the app doesn’t exist, you can always hire a freelance developer to make it for you. The learning curve for some applications is pretty steep, but in general today is the age of self-education, where knowledge and information are literally waiting for your consumption. Need to fix a flat tire? YouTube. Wanna get your MBA? Khan Academy. How about building a next generation robot that will fix your flat tire for you while reading your Economy textbook to you outloud? MIT OpenCourseWare. There is literally no reason to wait to learn basically anything until next quarter or next year.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Millennials are value-driven. “Millennials… want to find purpose in their toil and their career… which does not necessarily come from getting the highest possible salary or nicest office.” So if the foregoing list of value had made it into the Millennial mindset, no amount of coercion is going to make them conform to the current way of doing things. They’d much rather just change the whole system.

But now that we have that covered…

Is “Agile” too Restricting for Millennials?

Agile is a word that gets thrown around a lot (something I’m guilty of), but it’s worth pointing out (again) that Agile is a mindset, not just tools and practices. Too often we equate frameworks like Scrum and Kanban with Agile, but these frameworks are just a means to an end: an Agile way of working, living and being. The frameworks, practices and tools help us internalize the real Agile values (which I believe run deeper than even those that are written in the Agile Manifesto). Agile has evolved, for better or for worse and thinking of it as a static thing that any one group of people can own is–how should I put it?–naive and self-centered. In other words, you can be Agile–transparent, collaborative, biased toward inspecting and adapting and working in an iterative, incremental manner–without ever touching a Kanban board or being part of a SAFe release train. The whole idea of Agility is changing how people approach life, collaboration and work, so when the change is in place, Agility becomes the norm and ceases to be particularly valuable in itself.

Today, Scrum and Kanban are useful frameworks for getting teams to collaborate, be transparent and focus on delivering value iteratively and incrementally. However, ritualistic ceremonies like daily standup, sprint planning and reviews may seem too restrictive to constant collaborators like Millennials. Will the workplace of the future need them?


Agile is mainstream and that is a huge step in the right direction. But it isn’t enough to say you’re Agile; the proof is in your corporate culture. That culture is key to whether you succeed in the future, which is likely to be even less predictable than the present. Like it or not, the future will be created and led by Millennials who are naturally more Agile. It requires today’s companies to look for ways to provide leadership and management that Millennials can understand, relate to and grow from. That means less micromanaging and more lenient working arrangements. It means patronizing them less and inviting them more to strategizing how to innovate for sustainability. It means creating an environment where Millennial values matter and where they have a voice in the direction of the brand and how the company can evolve. It may sound like a lot to ask, but if you don’t create an environment where the next generation of leaders, thinkers and doers can thrive, they will create it for themselves.

Resources and Further Reading

More in the Youth in Agile Series