A pet project is an effort that has captured organizational resources beyond the levels that correspond to its degree of organizational support. Usually we associate pet projects with specific individuals — those with some means of allocating resources to the project. In the metaphor, these individuals are "nurturing" or "keeping" their pets.
What motivates nurturers of pet projects? Here are some possibilities.
- Some nurturers adopt or conceive pet projects because they believe success will aid them in competition with peers for recognition, promotion and organizational prominence. They want to get ahead.
- Nurturers sometimes identify with their pets. Those who do identify make a direct connection between project travails and personal travails; between project failure and personal failure; and between project success and personal success.
- Some pet projects confer benefits on parties other than their nurturers, such as customers or suppliers. For instance, the pet project might lead to dramatically increased sales for a particular supplier if the project is adopted and expanded by the organization. The nurturers of these projects sometimes make arrangements with these beneficiaries to kick back some of those benefits to the nurturer, possibly in hidden and potentially illegal or unethical ways.
- Some nurturers find their pet projects so fascinating that they take great risks just to have the opportunity to pursue them. They're hooked.
- Nurturers Attaching oneself to someone's
pet project can be a risky
career movesometimes seek to differentiate themselves from colleagues in incontestable ways. They hope that their pet projects will demonstrate their personally unique capabilities, vision or insight.
- Involved in debates long ago, having had their own positions rejected, some nurturers pursue pet projects almost single-mindedly to prove the rightness of their past claims. This pursuit can endure even after those who opposed the nurturers have left the organization.
Since all of these motives are primarily personal, the focus of the nurturer's attention is also mostly personal. Attaching oneself to the pet projects of these nurturers can therefore be a risky career move, because the nurturer and anyone affiliated with the project can be reassigned, stigmatized or worse, when the organization discovers the project.
But there is one additional motivation that does create true opportunities both for the organization and its people. Some nurturers have a vision for what could be that transcends the present state of things. Unfortunately, from their position in the organization, they've so far been unable to persuade the organization of the importance of the vision. They might lack the skills of influence, or their genius might be so advanced that the organization simply cannot grasp the concept. For these nurturers, a pet project is the best available alternative.
Working for, collaborating with, supervising, or aiding these visionaries can be both stimulating and rewarding. The trick is identifying them.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of
- Obstructionist Tactics: II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part
II of a little catalog of tactics.
- How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness
- When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who
nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?
- Getting Into the Conversation
- In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities
to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation
can be challenging for some.
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're
pretty sure there's no way out.
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- Although most authors of mixed messages don't intend to be confusing, message mixing does happen. One of the most fascinating mixing mechanisms occurs in the mind of the recipient of the message. Available here and by RSS on September 4.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached
the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the
race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical
drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.