Think Differently: Three neurodiversity questions to ask when setting up a new project

The diversity of people, skills and experience is a necessary component to improving project delivery across government. But MI-GSO | PCUBED asks – are we missing the importance of neurodiversity?
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The latest report on the Government Major Projects Portfolio  (GMPP) contains 125 projects with a total Whole Life Cost of £448 billion . Recently the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its report ‘Lessons from major projects and programmes’ ; this listed six recommendations for the Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority to improve how government delivers major projects. 

Progress has been made on improving the project delivery capability within government; standards such as ‘Principles for project success’  show the progress that the government project delivery profession is making. This document recommends :  

“Plan ahead for the diversity of people, skills and experience needed to deliver the project and build a strong, properly resourced and competent team, evolving as necessary through the project lifecycle.”

For the GMPP’s Delivery Confidence Assessments to improve, and for the PAC’s next review to see progress, is it time to consider the construct of project teams and different approaches to the stakeholders impacted by the project? Are we missing the importance of neurodiversity in projects?

We’ve developed three questions that Senior Responsible Owners, Programme Directors, Project Managers, and Business Change Managers could use in order to build optimal project teams and stakeholder plans.    

Question 1: Is the project team sufficiently neurodiverse?

Diversity and inclusion rightly has a high profile in the modern workplace and will form part of many project and business change managers’ thinking when setting up a new project. Neurodiversity is a further consideration, and it’s a complex topic; hence the truism: “if you’ve met one neurodiverse person, then you’ve met one neurodiverse person .”  
 
In a Harvard Business School study on Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage, SAP reported benefits including ‘productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement.’    

You can build a technically and socially brilliant team, but everyone will approach problems from the same angle if all of their brains are wired conventionally. With a neurodiverse team, issues are viewed from various perspectives, which increases the levels of creativity and the quality and combination of the solutions. So, when recruiting your own core project team, try and build a range of diverse thinkers. This will require a change to team management - playing to different people’s strengths, as some will be very engaging but less good at detailed written reports, others will be great at numbers but prefer to avoid face to face contact.

Question 2: Is the project team adapting for neurodiverse stakeholders?

Stakeholders are important and can influence the success or failure of the project. However, stakeholders are not alike; and the project engagement should be adapted to accommodate neurodiverse stakeholders. 

With a neurodiverse team, issues are viewed from various perspectives, which increases the levels of creativity and the quality and combination of the solutions.

Neurodiversity presents in many different ways, and getting to know the individual needs of your key stakeholders will allow you to better adapt to suit everyone. If your project team has an inclusive mindset, uses active listening during engagement and utilises a network of change agents, you are more likely to establish the individual needs of stakeholders.

In addition, bear in mind that text heavy communications will not land well with stakeholders who have dyslexia or other similar neurodiverse conditions. And some neurodiverse stakeholders may find changes to routine and sensory changes - such as having to move desk - a much bigger deal than neurotypical colleagues.

Question 3: Do project meetings cater for both fast and slow thinkers?

Some people revel in the cut and thrust of brainstorms and lively meetings with lots of people (fast thinkers by and large), some don’t (slow thinkers, on the whole). In order to gain the best ideas and the best feedback, meetings should cater for both fast and slow thinkers.      

Slow thinkers can provide a hugely rich contribution, given the time and space. In brainstorms, for example, let them know it’s OK to put post-it notes on the whiteboard in your own time rather than participate in the immediate flurry of post-it activity.    

Similarly, if you are meeting a slow thinker face-to-face, then tell them in the invitation precisely what it is you want to discuss with them. That way they can consider their response before the meeting and be primed to provide it when you meet them; ‘springing’ requests for opinion and information on them in the meeting will elicit a less rich response.     

To hear more about fast and slow thinkers, listen to MI-GSO | PCUBED’s podcast - Change Managing Fast and Slow Thinkers.

Click here to read MI-GSO | PCUBED’s 10 lessons for Change Management programs


In 2020 MI-GSO | PCUBED celebrated 25 years of UK operations. Throughout this period, we have supported HM Government with project managing their strategic priorities, including implementing a national IT system for police forces in England and Wales (in response to the Bichard Report), establishing the Programme Management Office for London 2012’s Olympic Delivery Authority and being the programme management partner for the modernisation of the Corporate Service functions within a Government Department. In 2017 we won the Association for Project Management’s (APM) ‘Project Management Consultancy of the Year’, and in the following year, we were the first organisation to defend the title and were awarded the same accolade in November 2018. 

The authors, James Lewis, Kerry Davies and Mark Sorrell, can be contacted at uk.info@pcubed.com

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