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The Latest 10 Things About Project Management I Learned From Dogs

FeaturePT May09 28832785 XSIn the pressure filled world of managing programs and projects, it is a healthy thing to take a break, look at the world around us, and reflect. One major source of reflection can be the approach our beloved pets take to life, and the tasks they look to tackle. Like project leaders, dogs are almost constantly communicating (albeit in their own unique way.) Through continued empirical research, interactive testing and more direct observation, compiled below are the latest techniques for project management learned from dogs. Open your mind, reflect on the dogs you have encountered and take a look…

1. Play with whatever and whomever you have around you

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 try a new project management tool – there are many free options on the internet. Create a project environment where you can work hard and constructively “play” a bit and watch your success rate soar!

2. Enjoy the simple delights of a long walk

On an average day, project leaders spend a large percentage of time attending meetings. Reflecting on the outcomes of those meetings – what happened in the past and what could or should happen in upcoming meetings – may seem like a luxury, but it is very important. Making the most of the meetings you attend can demonstrate the power of your leadership (or not!) Take a walk! Enjoy the energy of a sunny day or a nice breeze and give yourself time to think how you can truly utilize the meetings we so frequently have to attend.

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, 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 bring them a bone if they would rather you just sit next to them) and find opportunities to do so frequently.   

4. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm

Lunch is a meeting opportunity that YOU can design, for your personal health and the health of the project. Eat and not only that, ensure you take the time to eat well, and take someone along with you. Eating lunch is another opportunity to recharge (like item 2) or spend time with a stakeholder (like item 3). You can use the time for education. This can take the form of spending time with your customer and understanding their business, or sitting in on a webinar. 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. Just “be with” your project team members when things “go south.” You don’t have to talk a lot or do much; just let your 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

Dogs that make great pets seek to make new friends with whomever their masters deem are OK to enter the house. As project managers, we need to be open to new “friends”; stakeholders, team members, knowledge workers or other project managers that can give us new energy or a new perspective. 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 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 brief stretch or 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 it is 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. Smile and share all but the most important “food”

Many dogs are very protective of their food…and time to work on deliverables and NOT be in meetings is our “food.” Protect that time with passion and vigor for yourself and project team members. At all other times however, it is time to share. Dogs play with their toys, and share them with people and other dogs. They will try various techniques, especially “smiling”, to get people to share with them. (Yes, dogs smile…ears back, mouth slightly open and the back of their mouths drawn up. Well, at least that posture on a dog’s face makes ME want to smile!) We as project leaders should share information, tools and lessons learned, and at times our own “toys”, especially resources. When we are too protective of a scarce resource we may deliver THIS project as we desire, but we may also create an issue for future projects. Work collaboratively, look for approaches where you can smile and share…it may just allow you to live a longer, more prosperous project life.

(Acknowledgement needs to go to Cosmo, Oliver, Buzz, Chico, Lira and Buster for the examples that lead to this article.)

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