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Building a DEI roadmap one piece at a time

Have you ever played a game of Tetris, assembled a jigsaw puzzle or Lego set, or played any type of game where the object is to turn a chaotic mess of different size and shaped pieces into an orderly shape or design?

Has it ever not gone well?

No matter how you turn and twist the pieces, they just don’t fit. You could force them together, shoving them into place. But, if you do that, not only do you ruin the game, but you distort what you’re trying to assemble – riddling it with holes or flaws or nonsensical imagery.

In other words – if you force what doesn’t fit, you fail.

And, so it is with roadmaps.

Roadmaps are just like a puzzle; an assembly of pieces (projects) to create a larger picture (the initiative). There are many right answers, many different pieces to play and many ways to assemble them to create many different big pictures. There are also ways to fail – when the pieces just don’t fit and yet they are forced together anyway.

How do you avoid setting your DEI initiative up failure by forcing pieces together that don’t fit?

Four steps:

  1. Define the map.

  2. Define the rules.

  3. Create the pieces.

  4. Assemble.

One quick note, unlike puzzles and Lego sets, building a roadmap is not a precision effort. It’s a high-level scoping exercise. That means the goal is not to be right, it’s to be directionally accurate. Accommodating the inevitable errors that come with high-level scoping is covered in step three.

Also, you can have more than one roadmap for an initiative. For example, having a roadmap per goal within a larger initiative. Separate roadmaps are most effective when the resources and budget are also separate, otherwise you must also work across roadmaps to make sure everything fits together.

Define the map of your DEI initiative

Before starting a puzzle, you have to select it and the surface you’re going to use. What type of picture, complexity level, timeframe you plan on working on it, if others will be joining you, etc.

The same goes for the roadmap.

To define the map, answer these questions:

  • Where is the map going: what must you achieve with this effort?

  • How long do you have to get there: what is the planning time frame?

  • Who is going on the journey with you: what team/resources do you have?

  • What, if any, are the themes or ‘buckets’: how are you organizing the efforts?

  • What is your budget?

Use the answers to set the map. This is the board for which you will place your pieces.

For example:

  • Where is the map going: Goal: increase women & minority in director+ roles by 20%

  • How long do you have to get there: 3 years

  • Who is going on the journey with you: 12 people team + help from other departments

  • What, if any, are the themes or ‘buckets’: process improvement, technology upgrades, candidate pool investments

  • What is your budget? $250,000

Defining the rules of your DEI roadmap

To be practical, roadmaps are purposefully simplistic. They don’t usually have room for the nuanced realities such as how many hours are available from a resource this week vs. next week or that starting the technology upgrade is dependent on contract negotiations and the completion of three other projects. Lacking these intricate details is okay as it makes building and communicating the roadmap much easier, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

Set the ground rules to accommodate the details without creating a problem that is too impossible to solve.

To set the ground rules, consider the following:

  • The safety net ‘margin of error’: % of time/resources/budget added to every action to minimize risk of the roadmap failing when (not if) projects hit bumps. This is usually around 20% but can be more for organizations that don’t have a fantastic track-record of project completion.

  • FTE definition: “FTE” or full time equivalent is the practical work time you get from an individual. For example, 1 FTE is one person working full time. However, this does not mean a 40 hour week from a person. A full time person is usually calculated at 75% (30 hours a week) to accommodate for emails, interruptions, and logistics/operation tasks. If that person is from another team, it may be closer to 50% (20 hours a week) if they have other ‘day job’ tasks or demands from their team.

  • Roles: Define who builds, manages, reviews, approves, and is informed about the roadmap. Include when, how, and how the results are captured.

  • Risk tolerance: how much risk you can take on at one time. Like time, people and budget, risk is also a limited resource. Risk is how likely you will have to take corrective actions that cost time, money, goodwill (i.e. pulling favors or people getting angry at you). Too much risk at once means you won’t have the bandwidth to deal with it all if things go wrong. Balance risk out across the initiative just as you would any other resource.

  • Plan B: What happens when things don’t go according to plan? Even with safety nets and well-defined actions, things happen. Dependences fall through, people leave, severe weather shuts down efforts. Have a plan for what to do if things go too far off the rails so that you are not left racing toward failure or starting over. Don’t forget to include who’s involved and who can approve any modifications (resource, budget, timeline, goals).

Create the pieces for the DEI initiative

You can’t assemble a puzzle without the pieces, preferably all facing up and spread out where you can see them. The same goes with roadmaps.

The difference is roadmap pieces don’t usually come in the box – you have to make them. Each roadmap piece represents a single action within your initiative.

To create an action piece, answer these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the action and the outcome?

  • Which theme is the action for?

  • What is the cost of the action?

  • How likely is it that the action will succeed (i.e. what is the risk)?

  • What steps are required for the action: design/planning, implementing, testing, launching, training?

  • How long will each step take?

  • Who is involved in each step?

With the answer to these questions, build the puzzle pieces. Use visual cues to represent the information. For example, time is the length and the resource requirements are the width. Different shapes can denote the steps. Color can show theme, tone risk, and reference notes for purpose and cost.

For example:

  • What is the purpose of the action and the outcome: update job descriptions & job description guides to increase inclusion and engagement of women and minorities

  • Which theme is the action for: process improvement

  • What is the cost of the action: $20,000 – engaging with consultant

  • How likely is it that the action will succeed (i.e. what is the risk): low risk

  • What steps are required for the action: design/planning, implementing, testing, launching, training: design, implementing, training. Testing and launch will be handled as part of implementation and rollout.

  • How long will each step take: program will take a year with two months to design new guidelines, seven months to cycle through primary jobs, and 3 months of working with hiring teams to make sure guidelines are adopted.

  • Who is involved in each step? Design is three + consultant; project lead, head of TA, D&I lead. Execution is project lead and consultant with others as required, and adoption is up to half of the lead’s time.

Note: don’t forget to apply the rules (safety net time, FTE definition, etc.)

Bringing it all together – assemble your DEI roadmap

You have a defined map, rules, action pieces that show costs, resources, time, purpose. You’re ready. It’s time to assemble!

Use those skills from the hours of Tetris or jigsaw puzzles or Lego sets! See how the pieces can fit and respect when they don