Sylvia Nguyen Dang
Sylvia Nguyen Dang | Interaction Designer
PTG Group Photo.png

PTG Linen Service: Organizational Design

Co-designing a human-centered laundry service. A partnership to transform an organization’s strategy, vision, and branding to become more people-focused and purpose-driven.

PTG Linen Service

Co-Designing a Human-Centered Laundry Business

Organizational SYSTEMS Design | Design Strategy

User Research | Facilitation | visual BrandinG

 

Overview

As part of our capstone project, we worked with PTG Linen Service to co-design their organization’s strategy and branding to become more people-focused and purpose-driven. To achieve this, we:

  • Designed a new visual identity and brand values

  • Convened PTG’s first strategic stakeholder workshop

  • Developed a decision-making process for employee-driven innovation

project role

Business Development Lead, Design Strategist, Interviewer/Translator

team

Aaron McKenzie, Irene Ti

advisors

Peter Coughlan, Kristian Simsarian, Sarah Harrison, Marc O’Brien, Sharon Green, Laura Weiss

timeline

8 months

Background

In 2016, a group of socially minded individuals with a background in nonprofit housing development bought PTG Linen Service, a mid-sized commercial laundry in San Leandro, to reimagine the service sector as a source of economic empowerment for historically marginalized service employees. PTG partnered with our team of designers to help them transition towards their vision.

 
 

The Challenge

Low-income employees in traditional service and hospitality industries experience fewer opportunities to innovate, lead, and grow. As a result, many workers see minimal wage growth and little upward mobility over the length of their career.

 Source:  Policylink.org

 
 
 

Understanding the System

1) Systems mapping

We began our design process by researching the competitive landscape of commercial laundry, mapping out PTG’s current organizational structure, and proposing opportunities for employee growth and development.

 

insight #1

PTG sits in the middle of being a mid-sized, profit-driven business with the desire to become more sustainable and purpose-driven.

insight #2

PTG’s current organizational structure is hierarchical; strategy and vision are reserved for top senior leadership while execution is delegated to washers, ironers, and folders at the bottom.

insight #3

Before PTG, the previous owner mistreated its workers, resulting in a history of trauma among employees and required a more sensitive approach.

 
 

Understanding the People

2) Interviews

In our efforts to understand PTG Linen Service’s current structure, we interviewed 16 people, ranging from equity partners/owners, to operations managers, and service employees who handle all the driving, washing, folding, and packing services.

PTG Interviews
 

OBservation

An existing cultural divide: The PTG team is majority women, Spanish-speaking, and multi-generational, whereas leadership is majority male and non-Latino.

Insight

There’s a disconnect in goals among senior leadership, management, and employees and lack of a feedback system to communicate these discrepancies effectively.

 
 
 

Identifying the differing voices within PTG

PTG’s current top-down hierarchy is stable, but rigid. Within this model, each level plays a specific role:

  • Leadership owns all strategy and wants to transform PTG into a hub for innovation

  • Management wants to “keep the lights on” while increasing revenue

  • Employees are implementers who desire stability and consistency.

PTG Current and Future Structures.png

In the ideal system, strategy, management, and implementation roles would move more fluidly throughout the organization. This would enable more communication and collaboration across teams, driving business innovation and employee growth.

 
 

Key Pivot Point

Realizing that there was a misalignment in goals throughout the organization, we had to shift our thinking from designing quick fixes for employee empowerment to designing broader systems change.

We framed our stakeholders’ goals around a central question:

How might we co-design a system with PTG that empowers employees while driving business growth?


 
 

Facilitating a Strategic Workshop to Build Consensus

In order to design a system that empowers its people, we first needed to create a space for open discussion. Our team designed and facilitated a strategic workshop with PTG stakeholders. The goal of this meeting was to:

  1. Develop a set of shared values

  2. Co-create a decision-making process so all employees can participate

  3. Develop an action plan to implement ideas to optimize/grow the business

Re-Energizing PTG’s Brand and People

PTG Design Process

the strategic workshop resulted in:

  • New visual branding: Based on the shared values developed at the workshop, we designed a new logo, visual identity, and website mockup reflecting a more approachable brand.

  • Action Plan for collaboration: We transformed the exercises from the workshop to an “Idea to Action” decision-making framework for PTG to inspire future collaboration and innovation.


 

Impact on Employee Empowerment

  • Employees testing their own ideas: Using the “Idea to Action” framework, we guided PTG’s office manager Joanna to prototype her own idea to optimize the business: a new communications system to track inventory, communicate with other teams, and surface customer issues.

Impact on Business Growth

  • New clients who align with PTG’s values: In addition to empowering employees, we introduced PTG to a new hospitality client Sonder who specifically wanted to partner with “an organization that cares” about people, quality, and service.

    At the end of our work with PTG, Sonder signed on as a full-time client.

 

Biggest Lesson: Systems Change Takes Time

We entered this project with the assumption that we could design for a quick solution to empower employees.

Instead, our biggest learning came with the realization that we needed to design with the whole system in mind in order to have the greatest impact. The PTG system had its own set of institutional history and business constraints; it took time for us to build trust within PTG so we could co-design an effective solution together.