My Most Important Stakeholder

Single Black and Tan Male Seeks Chicken Club for Fun TimesI’d like you to meet my most important stakeholder. His name is Harold. Okay, mainly this is just an opportunity to show off how awesome he is, but there’s a point in here, I promise. (Also, you can click any image to enter slideshow mode. All images courtesy of Bark).

Earlier this week, I had the unfathomable joy of eating a poppy seed bagel, biting down, and having a single, tiny poppy seed shatter a rear molar. To say I was in, um, excruciating agony would be an understatement, especially as the shards of the tooth still remaining were shredding the inside of my mouth like a Japanese shuriken. It was kind of awful.

But that was my problem.

You Are Under My Power - Resistance Is FutileI managed to get an emergency dental appointment the following morning at 9:15. So when the alarm didn’t go off, and I opened my eyes to see the clock read 9:05, poor Harold didn’t get his usual routine. I hastily threw food down for him, dragged him outside and he had time for a “number one”…unfortunately I didn’t have time to wait for His Pickiness to do a “number two”.

I ran for the car and the dentist appointment I was late for, to find out I’d have to come back at 4:00 for the actual work.

That was also my problem.

Poor Harold’s problem was that his whole morning was thrown upside down, not having a clue what his raving owner was freaking out about. That, and he still had to go to the bathroom. He knows he’s not supposed to, but, the floor was as handy a place as any.

Harold Looking Pale and TragicI came home, flustered, still in a lot of pain (more so now that I’d had my sore mouth picked at with a utensil I’m certain had its origins in the Spanish Inquisition), to find a present waiting for me. After my day so far it was just the last straw. I lost it and yelled at Harold. I ranted and raved as I cleaned up the mess; I brandished the bag at him as I took it outside, slamming the door. And I left him alone again, completely freaked out, as I tore away in the car to find some food that wouldn’t hurt my mouth more.

I’d made my problems Harold’s problems. It was wrong.

It’s true, he knows better, but I also set him up to fail. The mess was my doing just as much as it was his–I completely threw off his routine, and abandoned him after a few minutes of total chaos to be alone with the need to relieve himself. What did I expect? To make it worse, I punished him when he failed to wait until I got home.

To recap: I set him up to fail, he did fail, and so I punished him.

How often do we behave that way with people on our projects? As project managers, we must interact with all kinds of people every day. All those people are executing our plans. When we’re faced with personal problems, how often do we take them out on those around us by setting the very people we depend on up to fail?

Stupid Good Looking. I'm FAR too Important to be Captured.As project managers, we wield a lot of power that we don’t always realize. A lot of people are marching to the beat we establish with our project plans. Every so often, one of them is going to slip. Many times that slippage is a direct result of events we set in motion: if we fail to communicate, if we fail to make a correction, if we fail to confirm someone’s understanding…those are our failures. If we leave it to others to see through our failures and “overachieve” (I hate that word), we’re basically leaving them a trap and hoping they don’t fall into it. When they do (fall into it), how often do we punish them?

I’m not saying that as project managers the entire universe is our personal responsibility. That’s not realistic. But within the scope of our mandates, we do need to take extra care to remember that we establish the expectations of all the people with whom we work. It just takes one bad response on our part to derail them.

The next time you find yourself cutting corners in communication with your people, take a moment and remember the face of the loving little monster pictured here. He always tries his best, and deserves more than to be set up for failure and punishment, no matter how harried his “manager” happens to be. So do the people around you.

Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and make things right before moving on. Your people will thank you for it in the long run.

The Love of My Life. Notice How Not Interested He Is.Incidentally, after finding some chicken soup and a cool drink, I felt better, and realized what I’d done. I went home and poor Harold was beside himself. He was all over me crying and whimpering asking for forgiveness…I felt absolutely AWFUL and completely made it up to him with lots of pets and a car ride. He’s currently lying on the sofa staring through my chair into the back of my skull–it’s apparently dinner time.

I still feel like the worst dog owner ever this week. I’m lucky though. He seems to have forgiven me.

This post was inspired by @cybertactix from an e-mail he wrote to me months ago. Thanks, dude!

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
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  • Tamara Dunbar

    wow great example poor harold unfortunately i know that problem all too well.

  • Thanks Tamara for the comment! Yah I still feel guilty about the whole affair. I'm so glad he's got a short memory (he's chasing after a fly at the moment and seems too consumed by that to still be mad at me hehe).

  • Dondi

    LOVE Harold! Great article Geoff. The lesson is profound and the pics are priceless.

  • Heya Dondi, thanks so much!! I wish I could take credit for the pics but alas I have to give that to Bark.

  • PatrickRichard

    Geoff,

    Nice looking dog! German Retriever isn't he? I didn't agree with your Trawnta cry baby rant but now we are talking dog!

    My dog BOOM! is a 1 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. I'll send a photo.

    Cheers,

    Patrick

  • I got your pictures and BOOM! is absolutely awesome!!! Thanks so much for those!
    Harold's a Bluetick Coonhound, but not far off!

  • So much love in that last photo!
    Great connection between life + planet project.
    I am sure Harold forgives you x

  • Thanks so much, Sas! 🙂 He's lying on the sofa behind me as I type this, completely exhausted from his walks today. Okay, I think he's also exhausted from all the begging, attempting to get into stuff he knows he's not supposed to get into, completely manipulating me into giving him more “things”, and barking at the rabbit that lives under the porch. LOL

    No sign of rancor from the row we had! 😀

  • Ahh, nice way to put it into perspective 🙂

  • Priya

    great lesson reminded again by the reactions of Harold..

  • “Okay, I think he’s also exhausted from all the begging, attempting to get into stuff he knows he’s not supposed to get into, completely manipulating me into giving him more “things”, and barking at the rabbit that lives under the porch.” LOL– sounds like Harold really IS the typical stakeholder! 🙂 Well, except for maybe the rabbit under the porch part, but then again…

    Fabulous post, Geoff. Very poignant and very true. Thanks for the reminder that project “resources” are really just people, with all their wonderful talents, flaws and needs.

  • Thanks very much, Pam, for the kind words. 🙂

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