During ‘Lockdown v1’ my wife Joyce and I decided it was time to have another dog. As supporters of the Dog Trust and RSPCA we wanted to help a dog in need rather than going for the easy option of a cute puppy.

OK, bear with me a while – there is a serious point to this as well as having a good excuse to use a picture of Hugo in an article!

We spent a long time looking for a dog who’d had a poor start to life we could help. Due to COVID restrictions we had to wait several months before we met Hugo. As with most rescues it is best not to focus too much on what a dog has been through. We do know Hugo was neglected, is very nervous of people and ended up living on the street. In December 2019 he was hit by a car, broke his spine and ended up with the RSPCA.

The RSPCA nursed him to recovery, but due to COVID restrictions on rehoming he was with them for eight months and whilst looked after well, again, due to COVID staffing challenges, he was essentially on his own most of the time.

Hugo’s experience has left him scared and nervous of the world: he has never had the chance of interaction with nice people, other dogs or many enjoyable experiences.

So what’s the relevance of this?

To me, the whole experience is a striking metaphor for IT change projects.

First, on a personal basis, I’ve had a very clear-cut reminder of the importance of tailoring my approach to the environment and the needs of Hugo and felt a huge amount of personal motivation seeing him develop.

Secondly, Hugo’s outlook on life seemed to me to be very similar to a firm about to undertake a large IT project.



Neglected Previous IT projects haven’t delivered and don’t feel supported
Scared of people Scared of change /Fear of losing job
Doesn’t know how to interact with people or other dogs Don’t know what’s expected of them
Reacts to fears by jumping or barking Reacts to fears by not complying, losing motivation etc.

In the seven months Hugo has been with us we have experienced the highs and lows of taking on a rescue dog – and they are strikingly similar to a standard change program.

It has been essential to take things at a pace which suits Hugo and we are seeing dramatic progress. By patiently showing what we expect, rewarding for good behaviour, correcting but not punishing when things don’t go quite so well we have built Hugo’s confidence and feeling of security, which also has a circular advantage of reinforcing the improvements.

This scenario is very similar to users being introduced to a new system or change. Initially the first reaction to any change project is a combination of excitement, fear and concern. It is essential that the person leading the project brings everyone along on the journey – explaining the benefits, listening to and addressing concerns. The most important reminder I have had since working with Hugo is the importance of the individual. As a project lead it is so easy to “group people” into types of user and to forget the individual need.

Taking time to assess an individual’s unique needs, and to assess their responses and reactions to various things not only makes us better managers it leads to better results.

Two-way and multiple faceted communication is essential to get this feedback loop. Too often project leads/ sponsors rely on ‘push’ messaging on email or posters etc without opening up a proper dialogue.

In this period Hugo has gone from barking at cars, bikes, runners and strangers to largely ignoring them and looking for treats. In other words, he has gone from being scared to understanding he is safe (until a noisy lycra-clad cyclist comes past unexpectedly from behind – and let’s be honest who doesn’t want to bark at that!)

Just imagine what we could achieve if all projects had built in the time needed to engage with staff in this way.