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Neurodiversity in project management

Blog posted by: Jenny McLaughlin, 03 Jun 2021.

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Firstly, I must state that this is my take on neurodiversity and represents my views on the beauty of thinking differently and its gift to project management. Second, that’s the whole concept in a nutshell – neurodiversity represents the fact that all of our brains are wired differently, as unique as a fingerprint.

In the world today we have designed our processes, infrastructure, technology and communications styles to fit only certain types of brains, sometimes referred to as ‘neurotypical’. The way we educate, socialise and work is based on how the majority of us cognitively function and process, i.e. learning, thinking, reasoning, decision making and more. For those with sensory processing or execution function differences, life is made challenging by trying to fit into a world not designed for us; resulting in us having to find ways to adapt in order to be accepted.

This leads me onto the awesomeness of having a wide range of neurodiverse project managers, including those who are neurodivergent. The fact that neurodivergent brains think differently means that often we approach projects through a variety of lenses.

Here are some things to understand about neurodivergent people:

  • We are unlikely to be pulled into group thinking
  • We may challenge assumptions
  • We will often want to understand the building blocks/basics, in order to create the whole picture in our minds
  • We are able to assimilate a range of data and process it in a way that we can communicate a narrative or vision for the rest of the team to get behind and deliver
  • Our skills sets are different dependant on the individual, but broadly are creative, resilient, curious, innovative, and strongly justice orientated.

Every neurodivergent person has experienced barriers and discrimination in some form. But as a project professional, you can provide the mandate to create a more systematic inclusive world - it is a challenge to relish. And this can go beyond the workplace, and project team. We can start to think about the actual projects we’re working on – do they consider neurodiversity?

As the lead for the Disability Network as Heathrow, I have chosen to be open about my ADHD and dyslexia. I believe it is important to demonstrate the strengths I have are because of my ADHD and dyslexia, not despite them. Being given the right conditions to work in is critical to bringing the best out of everyone.

To enable a more inclusive environment, I recommend:

  1. Creating a ‘curious and courageous space’ where more of your project team and colleagues feel they can be open about their cognitive differences. These may not have labels as Amanda Kirby says, “we all have spikey profiles”. A space like this allows you to create and encourage a systematically inclusive team that builds on each other’s ideas, harnessing each other’s strengths to create the most successful high-performing project team.
  2. Being kind. Acknowledge and accept that everyone is wired differently and no one way of doing and thinking is primary. This will allow people to thrive as they wont have to try and change their way of thinking, processing and communicating to fit in, and instead use all their energy to deliver creativity, innovation, analysis and conceptualisation.

Here are some ways to do this:

  • Provide information or questions prior to a meeting so people have time to process
  • Use captioning in teams calls so that people can be supported to retain focus and follow thread of conversation
  • Allow a cooling off period were people can return with queries after they’ve had time to process
  • Not restricting someone’s work, by correcting spellings in the moment, allowing them to flow their ideas and proof reading before official publication
  • Using mind mapping techniques for everyone to participate their ideas and innovations
  • Provide clear and concise actions so that everyone can confirm understanding
  • Avoid using jargon or metaphors for those that think literally
  • Allow movement breaks and encourage doodling (it actually helps concentration).

Further information:

About the Aurthor

Jenny McLaughlin

Jenny McLaughlin has worked within the airport industry for over 18 years. This began at East Midlands Airport as an Environment and Safeguarding Officer achieving ISO14001. The last 12 years have been at Heathrow Airport in a number of departments including Environment, Airside and now Infrastructure as a project manager. 

Jenny has delivered a number of business changes, from new aircraft de-icing process, introducing new IT applications, to building a remote coaching gate in the middle of a live terminal. 

Jenny is the Lead for Heathrow’s Disability Network and brings that to her PM role. Jenny advocates that each person should have an equitable seat at the table and creating a safe environment to challenge and improve the way we interreact and build the world around us.

Jenny is dyslexic and was recently diagnosed with ADHD and believes that “the way that my brain is wired differently is an asset”. Finally, Jenny was a speaker at last year’s APM Think Differently conference, talking about building inclusion in to project design.


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