The Top 10 Things About Project Management I Learned From My Dog

By Bob McGannon, PMP

Sound like a bit of a stretch? You may want to think again – dogs are almost constantly communicating (albeit in their own unique way), when practical they almost always know where you are, and they do whatever they can to get any type of attention they can get. In other words, they embrace the same qualities as good project managers! 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 management I learned from my dog. Open your mind, reflect on the dogs you have encountered and take a look.

1) Run, romp and play

If projects aren’t opportunities to produce “unique products or services”, introduce change to an organization, increase productivity or enhance the capabilities of your customer then they shouldn’t be in your project portfolio. That being said, projects present the chance to make a real difference, and that is FUN. Manage your projects like a “prison camp” and you or your project team won’t be creative, won’t grow, and will not make the most of the collective skills present on the project. Lighten up, take lunches together, organize a project ping-pong tournament or play laser-tag. Make the project environment a chance to work hard as well as “run, romp and play” and watch your success rate soar!

2) Enjoy the simple delights of a long walk

Projects are journeys and should be treated that way. Put serious thought into the milestones you create as part of the project, and take note of their completion. Understand every step you take on the project is leading your organization into new territory – constantly look around for new opportunities – your own “fire hydrants” (well maybe not quite that same context) and understand what impact you can have on your stakeholders.

3) Run and greet loved ones

You are NOTHING without good project team members and supportive stakeholders. Treat them well, make an effort to interact with them, let them know how you feel and what you are doing, and invite them to play (see item #1). Get to know them so you know how and when to express your appreciation (you wouldn’t want to jump on them if they would rather you just sit next to them) and find opportunities to do so frequently.

4) Eat with gusto and enthusiasm

First and foremost, take time to eat! Eating, in my view not only means not skipping lunch, but also taking the opportunities for the nourishment that education brings. This can take the form of spending time with your customer and understanding their business, taking online courses to expand your skills or taking the time to get away from your workplace and attend a traditional “stand-up” class which allows you to enhance your skills and meet new people (see item #3 – you might find new resources or “loved ones”.) Recognizing that this “eating” is a thing that helps you grow and gives you new ways to drive successful projects allows you to do this “with gusto” just like our canine friends do.

5) Sit closely and gently next to those who have had a bad day

Projects involve risk, and we share that risk and associated frustrations with our customers and members of our project teams. Everything doesn’t always go as planned and there are days we would much rather forget. Like a good friend, dogs don’t try to make those days go away, they just let you know they are there, and give you perspective for the good things that still exist, and the potential for things to get better. Be there, you don’t have to talk a lot, or do much, just let you team members know you understand and are there for them when things don’t go as they would have hoped.

6) Make new friends whenever possible

My number one rule of project management is “schmooze early, schmooze often”. The more you understand about the people on your team, in your support organization and in your customer organization the more effectively you will be able to navigate through project issues and concerns. Like anyone who has to perform some form of marketing has discovered, people buy from people they know and trust. The more friends you have, the more readily you can develop trust and get things accomplished. So, grab your bone and share it with everyone you can see!

7) Take naps and stretch regularly

Sometimes the best thing to do to ensure you get things done on your project is.stop trying to get things done all the time! Take a “nap” from your project – call an extended day long meeting with your project team and reflect on the things that are going well and things that could be improved. “Lessons learned” are wonderful, but they don’t do any good if they are only examined at the end of the project! Take a stretch, assess what is happening, take the opportunity for team building and inject new energy into the muscles of your project – have a stretch and take a nap from the constant pressure of deliverables.

8) When things are good, dance around and wag your WHOLE BODY

I have a professional speaker acquaintance that regularly says “The platform in front of a crowd is a really strange place to hide”! What he means is that when the attention is on you, take advantage of it and share all you can. Project management is not for the meek, and when your project deliverables result in success, it is not the time to be shy. Dogs that wag their tails (or their whole body) aren’t being boastful, they are enjoying what is happening and they are sharing that enjoyment. Do the same thing with your project team, and your customer. Share the enthusiasm, and ensure as many folks as possible are aware of any new capabilities, productivity or product on which they can capitalize.

9) Don’t carry over bad days

Dogs don’t reflect on bad days, nor do they reflect on bad hours or minutes. They learn (hopefully) and move on. Good project managers do the same thing. As mood-setters, if the project manager looks worried or dejected, the whole project team will take on that emotion (whether appropriate or not). Make adjustments when things don’t go well so you don’t repeat your mistakes (see item # 7) and move on knowing you are older and wiser than yesterday. Reflect that sentiment on your project team and encourage them to keep going while the project is still viable and you will see greater results.

10) Don’t judge by exterior or breed

Diversity is a buzzword in the human world, but dogs have been practicing diversity forever. It doesn’t matter what another dog looks like or what their background (breed) is – if they want to play and don’t steal food, they are ok. The same thing needs to apply for project managers – if team members follow project team norms and present project deliverables appropriately, their work habits, approach and background are meaningless. Embrace the differences and unique skills each “breed” can bring to your project and focus on what is produced. Special acknowledgment for the material in this article goes to Toasty, Lady I, Coco, Butterscotch, Lady II, Jed, Ellie Mae, Chauncy and Bailey.

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


The Mindavation Foundation is proud to donate 5% of profits towards development of youth leaders.
Copyright © 2011 Mindavation - All rights reserved.