A Manifesto for Maturing the Making of Meaningful Work, Part 2

February 6, 2017

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we established the need for a manifesto for maturing the making of meaningful work, explained what you need to do to fulfill your intention of achieving this goal, and described the value of defining an integrated practice framework. Now, in Part 2, we’ll define the eight best practices that this integrated practice framework comprises, as well as four roles that foster the making of meaningful experiences—for your team and your customers alike.

A Manifesto: 8 Best Practices

Our Manifesto for Making Meaningful Work consists of eight best practices that help us frame and answer the question of how to make meaningful work. We keep these practices in mind throughout our day-to-day project work. They help us and the people with whom we work to choose a healthier approach to work and achieve sparkle by gaining clarity on our projects’ intent.

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If you want your work to be more meaningful, we encourage you to adopt these best practices on your projects. They will help you to discover how you can make meaningful work. We’re including some exercises that will help you learn how to put this guidance into practice. You can adapt these best practices to your needs or supplement them, as necessary.

1. Maintain positivity and create flow instead of taking a negative approach.

Businesses are often conservative by nature and avoid taking risks. But the world needs big thinkers and big dreamers—people who are willing to look beyond the day-to-day operations and current constraints and look for ways to inspire.

Exercise: List five positives in a situation, then discuss them with others.

2. Listen actively first and learn. Be present before sharing your opinions.

Forming relationships with other people means viewing them as our equals—human beings who can contribute actively to our conversations.

Practice: Listen before speaking to better understand the other person first. Remember, you have two ears with which to practice listening.

3. Be aware of your own biases.

In identifying assumptions, our team should take a pause from our work to reflect on the evidence we’ve gathered, the approaches we’ve taken, the experiments our project has generated, and our team’s own reasoning. This will help us to identify our biases and open our minds to external criticism.

Exercise: List five assumptions or fears that you need to challenge, then discuss them with others.

4. Understand and define the problem you’re solving before proposing solutions.

In defining our intentions, team members should take the time to interact with one another and our stakeholders and share existing knowledge. We should develop a plan and agree upon our project’s focus, exploring how this will determine the quality of project outcomes.

Exercise: List five attributes of a problem, then list contributors to each attribute.

5. See the magic in the nuances. Deconstruct extreme statements and look for useful nuances.

When sharing observations, our team should come together, read stories about people’s behavior, and record them in the team’s collective memory. This routine will enable us to identify surprising or deeply memorable situations that deserve further analysis by the whole team.

Exercise: Consider an extreme statement, then list five questions for which you would like answers.

6. Recognize similarities before differences and find commonality among people, roles, and teams.

When people experience positive emotions, we should take advantage of opportunities to bridge those emotions quickly to another positive moment, then link up all this goodness through design. If people experience negative emotions, we must find opportunities to devise techniques that let us address them. We need to be able to assess people’s feelings—from moment to moment—and understand what approaches get the best from the people around us.

Practice: Introduce yourself to people on other teams you need to work with, then learn more about what their job entails.

7. Engage in continuous, life-long learning. Pursue opportunities for incremental improvement instead of seeking massive changes.

To learn and improve, we need to get out of our cubicles, get out of the building, and understand how our products and services fit into real people’s lives. To communicate our understanding of human needs, we need to capture rich stories in the voice of the customer, as well as photos and videos. We must encourage businesses to foster constant curiosity about how they can serve people better.

Practice: Read at least one article per week, then share what you’ve learned with others.

8. Engender trust. Model being open, trusting people.

People often perceive trust once it’s already present, but the way we build trust is often unconscious and instinctive. Our ability to build trust comes directly from our ability to be vulnerable and accept other ways of doing things. While it may sound counterintuitive, one way to start building trust between people is to start trusting others before you have their trust.

Practice: Identify a task that you haven’t delegated because you don’t trust that someone else would do it as well as you.

With continued practice, following these best practices strengthens a project’s narrative, by helping you connect the dots and understand the connections between them.

Identifying Core Elements of Making Meaningful Work

We would like to learn about you, your projects, your roles, and the problems you face to help us identify and clarify more of the core elements that make meaningful work. Please share your stories in the comments.

Some core elements of making meaningful work include the following:

  • Reflection on yourself and the people you work with
  • Curiosity to help you gain other perspectives and see the benefits of anticipating and looking forward
  • Listening to make sense of project stories and understand the people around you—including listening to yourself and the team members and partners you work with—and making sense of the contexts for which you design
  • Sensemaking to gain clarity on the overall narrative and encourage focus, intention, and continuous learning
  • Connecting the dots using data from multiple sources to help define and connect feedback loops

Roles in Making Meaningful Work

The good energies a team brings to a new project can quickly get derailed if people do not have a clear understanding of why they’re working on something.

It is important for everyone on a team—independent of their discipline—to have a clear idea of a product’s or service’s core features and its reason for being. But it’s also important to ground your understanding of any project in a program of work. This better clarifies where a product or service fits into an overall experience and how it will could enhance users’ experience with other products and services over time.

Looking beyond people’s official job titles and the tasks that are an inherent part of those jobs, understanding people’s actual roles on a project can help you think about that project in integrated and holistic ways.

When we speak about roles, we’re not referring to job titles such as Project Manager, Developer, or UX Designer. Rather, we’re thinking about the different roles teammates might play at various points on a project. Certain roles help everyone to do their job well and enable the team to deliver on making meaningful experiences. If you do not put these roles in place, frictions may result, creating difficult work environments and making it unpleasant to go to work.

We have identified four roles that help make meaningful experiences—for both your team and your customers—and encourage integrated ways of working, as follows:

  1. Facilitators—People in this role define approaches that guide the process of informing, sensemaking, and evaluating. They craft agendas for working sessions and identify what problems need attention. Facilitators also manage interactions between functions, aggregate a team’s learnings, and map learnings to shared artifacts. They identify themes that require further study and set goals for the team’s next working sessions.
  2. Mentors—People who are mentors need to be aware of approaches and skills that require ongoing development and practice. They organize safe spaces in which people can practice, employing helpful approaches over and over during working sessions and across projects. Mentors should work closely with facilitators and custodians to identify the knowledge the team has captured and map it to a learning program for all team members Their focus is on informing, sensemaking, and evaluating learnings.
  3. Connectors—Team members who play this role create artifacts that help bridge gaps between people and make interactions between them feel more fluid. They connect everyone’s skills and roles.
  4. Custodians—People in this role maintain the knowledge base that forms over time and leverage this knowledge in creating methods and courses that help project teammates get better at what they do.

Improving the Bus Journey

In Part 1 of this series, we told a hypothetical story about a challenging bus journey, then shared our reflections on the causes of its painpoints, as well as some things to think about in addressing the problems. Now, as we reflect on our manifesto and the opportunities it presents for sparkle, let’s again consider that story about a bus journey and how we could remedy its problems.

  • What if the bus driver were given permission and incentives to provide the passenger’s feedback to the mobile app team, bridging the gap that created the disconnect?
  • What if the bus driver took the passenger’s name and email address and ensured the feedback got the appropriate attention, making the passenger feel heard?
  • What if the map of the bus journey were improved to display the information passengers need to determine whether their stop is included on a specific bus route?

We all need to create safe spaces in which trust can blossom, self-improvements get recognized, connections get made between interactions and conversations that matter, continuous learning occurs, and teams employ the core elements and practices of making meaningful work. When all of these conditions exist in a workplace, teams have a better chance of making meaningful work together.

Next Steps

It’s taken us about five years to hone our focus on making meaningful work and understand the whys behind meaningful work by talking with and learning from people, participating in practice discussions, writing, presenting, and designing the future of business. In 2017, we’ll continue our user research by reaching out to you to help us understand your project stories.

Project stories are our unit of analysis for better understanding the frustrations—such as sleepwalking—and opportunities to sparkle that you encounter in your work today. Our goal to define an integrated practice for making meaningful work that provides a framework for our user research. 

Note to the Reader—Since our framework has arisen from continuous learning, please let us know your thoughts on how to improve it.

Acknowledgments—Making meaningful work is a challenging topic, and there have been many questions to answer, so thanks to the many people with whom we have enjoyed conversations and who have offered practical advice and direction over the years. You have all helped us to arrive at our Manifesto for Making Meaningful Work. Special thanks to Bas Raijmakers, Geke van Dijk, Michael Davis-Burchat, Andrew Mayfield, Jen Fabrizi, Louis Rawlins, Davide Casali, Kim Lenox, Matt Wallens, Matthew Oliphant, Steve Portigal, John Philpin, Michael Lai, and UXmatters for being continuous contributors to our effort, as we all make meaningful work together.

Join the Make Meaningful Work Conversation in 2017—You are welcome to follow updates and join discussions on our Manifesto for Making Meaningful Work:

San Francisco Event: Designing Projects to Make Meaningful Work, March 29, 2017—How can we create routines that contribute to our intention of wellness for people, work, projects, communities, and economies in an enlightened future society? Dan Szuc will present and lead a discussion on ways in which we can make meaningful work, helping our projects move from being stuck—what he calls Sleepwalking—to flow and achieving Sparkle.

About Sparkle School—We’d like to announce Sparkle School, a space in which we identify people in the audience who are often silent. We invite them to come forward and choose a topic from a wide selection of themes, then help facilitate and connect conversations on that topic. These experiences help us to discover how we can all make meaningful work. We are hoping Sparkle School will give more people opportunities to share, contribute, and help all of us practice the skills we need to make our work more meaningful. We are piloting Sparkle School in Hong Kong in 2017 and will let you know what we learn.

UX Hong Kong 2017—Dan and Jo founded UX Hong Kong in 2011. It is an annual event that fosters and promotes User Experience and related disciplines such as design, product management, and business leadership and strategy within our community. We’re now planning and curating the program for the 7th UX Hong Kong, which will take place on February 24 and 25, in 2017. UX Hong Kong attendees come from all over the world.

Principal Design Researcher at Apogee Asia Ltd.

Hong Kong

Daniel SzucOriginally from Australia, Dan has been based in Hong Kong for over 20 years. He is a co-founder of both Make Meaningful Work and UX Hong Kong. Dan has been involved in the field of User Experience for more than 20 years. He has lectured on user-centered design globally and is the co-author of two books: Global UX, with Whitney Quesenbery, and Usability Kit, with Gerry Gaffney. He is a founding member and Past President of the UPA China Hong Kong Branch and was a co-founder of the UPA China User Friendly conferences. Dan holds a BS in Information Management from Melbourne University Australia.  Read More

Co-founder and Principal Design Researcher at Apogee Asia Ltd.

Hong Kong

Josephine WongJo is a co-founder of both Make Meaningful Work and UX Hong Kong. She grew up in the multicultural city Hong Kong, with her Chinese-Burmese father and Chinese-Indonesian mother. Fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, Jo collaborates with global teams, conducting design research and usability testing. She is passionate about the environment, political and economic systems; and discovering how we can live healthier, happier lives without adversely impacting less fortunate people. She is a member of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) Hong Kong Chapter. Jo attended Melbourne University, completing a Bachelor of Social Science Information Management.  Read More

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