The 10 Things About Project Sponsorship I Learned From My Dog

By Bob McGannon, PMP

In past articles, canine knowledge has provided us with insights to project management as a whole and helped us navigate the world of business analysis. We will now take a look at how our faithful friends can teach us about project sponsorship. Effective sponsorship is critical to the success of a project – and certain characteristics show up consistently with good project sponsors.

Dogs constantly demonstrate their priorities, care for what is important to them, and always find time for the things that matter. Sounds like a good sponsor, doesn’t it? So, once again, through extensive empirical research, interactive testing and a number of years of direct observation, compiled below are the “best of the best” techniques for project sponsorship I have learned from my dog. Open your mind, reflect on the dogs you have encountered and see if you can learn from these canine traits as well…

1) Completely enjoy and guard your bone

A valuable project brings change to an organization, however, change is difficult. Good project sponsors understand the difficulties these changes may bring, along with the benefits. They prepare themselves for the benefits, are enthusiastic about them, and participate in the process of assimilating change. Understanding their priorities and the priorities of the business they serve, the sponsor will guard their “bone” (the appropriately prioritized project) and embrace the process of change that is brought about by the project. This acceptance and participation in the change along with the people who must work through procedural and tool changes helps significantly in ensuring that project deliverables bring the business value that is intended.

2) Know where the snacks are – and how to get them!

A good sponsor, like most any loyal dog, will know where the “snacks” (funding) are, and will know how – and under what circumstances – they can get them. Just like dogs, they won’t always get them when they ask for them, but they understand how to be persistent to coax that valuable morsel out of the cabinet. This persistence is a learned process, refined over time. Good sponsors will know what approaches work, and with whom, and how aggressive to be to get the funding they need when they need it. The techniques change from person to person, depending on the personality of the people involved, and the business conditions. I think sponsors can learn a lot from dogs in this area. I’ve seen some very creative quiet “discussion”, gleeful dances, nudges and also some direct asking approaches employed by dogs that would put many sponsor’s efforts to shame (especially given the success rate for the dogs!)

3) There’s a time to play, a spot for the best ride in the car, and if I only could, I’d drive to PetSmart myself!

Dogs fully understand what happens when, and they have the patience to learn what works and what doesn’t. They know where they want to be, and where things won’t go so well for them. In short, they understand the processes that make up their world. Good sponsors demonstrate the same characteristic. Although they rarely execute their area’s business processes themselves (it might be as disastrous as having the dog drive to PetSmart!) they understand the processes and their benefits. Making changes to those processes – which projects certainly do on a regular basis – will have an impact. The good sponsor understands what those process changes mean, and can react appropriately.

4) Thoroughly and enthusiastically check out anyone that is coming or going

Dogs have a tremendous knack for knowing when any change happens around them. They will check out new furniture, “test” anyone that comes into the house, and ensure that nobody leaves without some acknowledgment. Diligent project sponsors will assist a project manager by conveying any changes to priority, business direction or the positions of senior leaders that might not be immediately apparent to the project manager. In short, they take the time from what they might be doing to “check out anyone that is coming or going” and therefore might have an effect on the project or its outcome.

5) Protect your territory with exuberance

Dogs know their boundaries, search the scope of their territory, and protect their turf from intruders or anything that might disrupt their lives or the lives of their masters. Effective sponsors do something similar – they understand the required scope of the projects they champion, and will only endorse changes to the project that are driven by legitimate business needs.

6) When the least comes out, head to the door

Dogs know when to react – and they react to certain events or circumstances with great consistency. They are predictable to their masters. Good sponsors display the same trend towards consistency – they react in a similar manner when circumstances warrant their attention, and the actions they take are predictable (and might even have been discussed ahead of time). Whether it is risk coming towards fruition, a change in the “red-yellow-green” status of the project they sponsor, or business issues that may affect the project, their reactions are in line with prior project discussions or converge with details that have been placed in risk management or other control plans.

7) Know the power of wagging your tail and the occasional growl

Communication of needs and wants is a specialty of the dogs that have been part of my life. Tail wagging, barks of various pitch and very obvious body language convey their mood and disposition very plainly. Sponsorship involves communication interventions as well; when project priorities are being compromised, resources are being diverted inappropriately or business partners aren’t executing their responsibilities. Project managers will often need the support and intervention of an engaged sponsor to protect the project from the various distractions that can reduce the probability of project success. Under these circumstances, communication from the sponsor needs to be plain, direct and easily understood. A little growl now and then can go a long way! A great sponsor will also demonstrate a “wag of the tail” when the team does a super job!

8) Run to get a scratch or be petted

Dogs demonstrate one thing consistently – they go quickly and instantly to what is important to them. Food, attention or a chance to play will cause even the most “low key” dogs to abandon what they are doing. They know their priorities and ACT in concert with them. Effective sponsors display this tendency as well. Items that threaten the project will cause an interruption to a calendar, but good sponsors will protect their projects – saving the integrity of their project and objectives in the long run. They also ACT in concert with their words about project priorities in conjunction with the other activities in their business area. This doesn’t always mean putting the project first – at times that is not the best business decision – but decisions are made in harmony with stated objectives and priorities.

9) Always care, and show it!

Play and show enthusiasm – wag your tail or approach slowly when people seem sad – jump and be gleeful when something good happens – this is the world of expressive pets. We know what they want, we see what they are expressing – there is very little question about that. Effective sponsors are engaged and express themselves clearly. The business objectives of the project are clearly articulated, and the constraints that exist for the sponsor – and therefore the project – are defined and managed. They care about the business and the project, and demonstrate it through their actions and decisions.

10) Take a petting, give a kiss or two

Dogs are good at consistently exercising a give and take relationship. They don’t hesitate to come by to get attention, and they give love freely. Good sponsors provide support for the project, and coach the project manager and project team. At the same time they will define what they want to receive from the project and skillfully and constantly manage to that end. They receive business benefits because they manage the project environment, and they recognize the project team that brings those benefits to fruition.

Special acknowledgment for the material in this article goes to Toasty, Lady I, Coco, Butterscotch, Lady II, Jed, Ellie Mae, Chauncey, Bailey, Buzz and Emma.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management services, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America, the United Kingdom Australia and New Zealand. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463)

 

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