Project Management

Creating a more inclusive workplace - one sticky note at a time.

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By: Erik Rueter
Senior Project Manager, American Marketing Association

 

Inclusion in the workplace doesn't just happen. You must be deliberate, intentional, and persistent in shaping more inclusive cultures; people need to feel safe, that their contributions are meaningful and valued, and that they have the intellectual and emotional bandwidth to contribute to the work. A PM only influences a small group within a larger company. So, how do you make a powerful, organization-wide impact? How do you foster an atmosphere where everyone - even members of historically marginalized groups - feels safe bringing their ideas, creative problem-solving, and passion to your project? As one of my mentors, internationally renowned nonprofit leader William E. Strickland, Jr., told me, culture change is like water on granite. You may not think you're making a difference with each drop. However, one day, you'll realize you have reshaped the stone. I can almost hear you saying, that's a great simile, Erik, but what does that mean to me and my PM practice?

As a PM, you have many methodologies you can use to structure and guide your project work. One powerful PM tool is human-centered design (HCD) (See the image for the phases of HCD and how they interconnect). Using HCD, you can increase your team's engagement and productivity, create a positive culture for your workers, and improve your leadership delivery... All at the same time! If you think that sounds too good to be true, read on, intrepid PM (or better yet, attend my session in Las Vegas)!

Let's talk about the power of human-centered design as a product methodology. By leading customers through solution-oriented activities, you will help unleash their creative problem-solving abilities while removing some systemic barriers preventing historically marginalized groups from meaningfully contributing to the process. Using HCD, you can keep the end users' needs, pain points, and preferences front of mind during every phase by documenting them in permanent, visual, and trackable artifacts. You'll create more intuitive, accessible, and profitable products because your customers have already contributed and vetted solutions. Because of this inclusion throughout the journey, they feel more invested in the product's success.

You're probably thinking, how is this product development methodology relevant to project managers leading increasingly diverse and cross-functional teams? Why don't we do some simple word swaps? Replace "customers" and "the end users" in the previous paragraph with the phrase "your project team members" and the word "product" with "project." You end up with the following - which is just as true as the first paragraph!

Let's talk about the power of human-centered design as a project methodology. By leading your project team through solution-oriented activities, you will help unleash their creative problem-solving abilities while removing some systemic barriers preventing historically marginalized groups from meaningfully contributing to the process. Using HCD, you can keep your project teams' needs, pain points, and preferences front of mind during every phase by documenting them in permanent, visual, and trackable artifacts. You'll create more intuitive, accessible, and profitable projects because your project team members have already contributed and vetted solutions. Because of this inclusion throughout the journey, they feel more invested in the project's success.

(Pro Tip: You can use the same activities to elicit customer feedback from your team members - often on the same project.)

How does one little methodology do all that? When successfully implemented, HCD can help:

  • Empower everyone on the project to contribute. HCD works best with cross-functional, diverse teams. Every individual's perspective is valuable in uncovering potential solutions.
  • Remove barriers to inclusion from the team. Many activities are formatted to promote an egalitarian solutioning process. For example, if you aren't fluent in the dominant language used on the project, you can contribute ideas visually. Another example is that non-collocated individuals can participate meaningfully through online collaboration tools.
  • Team members feel valued. They can see their contributions to the project through permanent, visual artifacts that can be tracked back to them (if the team wants that transparency).
  • Team members feel safe to contribute. If the team decides to contribute ideas or solutions anonymously, every idea can be documented and implemented based on the idea's merit and not on the contributor's identity. This can remove bias and privilege from the process.
  • You to become a better leader. By focusing some of the HCD activities on the team and their needs, pain points, and preferences, you can begin to understand them on a personal level and help them grow and thrive.

And now we're back to the simile I used in the first paragraph. It may not seem like a lot - using some sticky notes to get your team members to post ideas and solutions. However, each time you persist and insist on distributing those sharpies and little yellow squares of paper or having your team log onto a virtual whiteboard, you are a drop of water on the granite of the corporate culture. You may feel like you are not making a difference. You will very likely get discouraged from time to time. Eventually, however, the value of what you are doing will become evident to your team, your coworkers, your management, and yourself. Your project team will become more engaged in their work as they feel more valued. Their productivity will increase. Other leaders in the organization will begin incorporating HCD into their work when they see your projects performing well. In time, you will look around the organization and realize that you have made an easier, more inclusive path for the people following you and the people following them.

After all that, you are most likely asking - but what HCD activities do I use to create a more inclusive culture at my organization? Unfortunately, a blog post isn't long enough to get into the details. Fortunately, you can join me in Las Vegas on Friday, 2 December 2022 at 9:00 AM for my session "Using Human-centered Design to Enable Engagement and Inclusivity on Project Teams" to learn tools and techniques you can apply with your teams!

Posted by Erik Rueter on: November 01, 2022 12:03 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Very good article, Erik! Removing barriers and being mindful as to how ensure the entire team feels included whether it is language barriers, or geographical distribution of the team is very essential 👏🏼

Well designed approach to put together the expectations of all team members and project the inclusiveness feeling not only in the "meeting rooms" but across the organization. Thanks for sharing and success in your lecture/workshop in Vegas, Mr. Rueter.

I enjoyed your blog post, along with your webinar. HCD is a huge topic! All the best in Vegas.

Very interesting, thanks for sharing

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