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6 Ugly Dog Projects that Brand You as a Leader


Imagine yourself as the go-to person for tackling projects no one else wants. Sound like a desirable career strategy? Most professionals wouldn’t think so.

Typical career advice focuses on doing what you love and playing to your core strengths.

Sound advice if you have enough life and career experience to know what you love to do and have had enough opportunities to test your support systems.  

Differentiating yourself in business and advancing in the workplace requires a willingness to take personal risks. Ugly Dog Projects do just that—by driving you out of your comfort zone.

Over the years I’ve managed and led more than my fair share of UDPs. Some were assigned to me by managers and later on requested by clients. Early in my career I scoped out UDPs to help me close skill gaps. Eventually I got on the radar screen of company execs who recognized me as the go-to person for Ugly Dog Projects.

It was our department's Purchasing liaison who spotted my brand 20 years ago as someone who would “Fix it, Get Rid of It, or Reinvent it.” I’ve used it ever since.

Here are six UDPs for you to leverage as you step out of your comfort zone, build your support systems, and scale your leadership skills. 


UDP-PoliticalPoisonPolitical Poison

Most folks don’t want to be the last person trying to fix a Political Poison Ugly Dog Project. It’s often considered too broken to turn around—even more funds might not fix it—and that to get involved in such a project can be poison to your career.

A Political Poison UDP can be a fast-track way to advance your career. But be careful about taking on this type of project unless you have experience directly managing or leading complex projects (of any size) and are comfortable with organizational politics.

However, if you’re just starting out in your career or if you have an opportunity to join a team led by a seasoned PM who can adeptly handle a Political Poison UDP, then I would say go for it.


UDP-OrphansOrphan Teams

This type of UDP comes intact with an entire project team in search of a leader. An Orphan Team Ugly Dog Project could be one resurrected by a new budget owner who has some available funding. You might have some leeway in adding a few new team members, but most likely you’ll need to keep the existing team intact.

Some reasons Orphan Teams exist:

  • Project priorities change and with it comes a loss of primary funding
  • Exec sponsor or project advocate leaves the group or shifts their focus
  • Two groups merge and project priorities are in limbo  

Orphaned projects may not have anything to do with the team; however, team members may internalize the lack of a Project Lead and blame themselves (be prepared to manage confidence issues and coach team members into assuming more responsibility or risk). 



This type of Ugly Dog Project has no funding, which means you’ll be scrounging for funds—probably every quarter.

A Fund-Less UDP challenge comes your way without any available resources. So, you not only get a chance to fix a problem, you get to negotiate with budget and resource owners to share what they have—oh, and did I mention that this type of UDP is usually part of your “day job”?

This type of project is great for sharpening your negotiating and relationship management skills and for learning about budgets and finance. So, although you might be bootstrapping a Fund-Less project, it does present some opportunities that you’ll be able to repurpose throughout your career.



This type of UDP is what it is. It’s just plain boring. It’s often outside the scope of your existing projects or job responsibilities. Good luck in finding others to join you voluntarily unless you’re a good sales person or if you can be creative in finding unique opportunities in this UDP—for you and for others.

B-O-R-I-N-G UDPs lack interesting elements to them and although the outcome may be something needed by the business, there is no perceived psychic value—short term or long term—in leading or participating on this type of UDP project.

Although these types of UDPs are typically assigned and rarely volunteered for, they’re a great way to hone your project management skills and to up the ante by taking personal risks that can move your career forward (yes, make lemonade out of lemons). 



This UDP is a true business turn-around situation. You typically will have everything you need to get started—budget and resources.

A business turnaround project is often:

  • Sponsored
  • Funded (partially or fully)
  • Autonomous (you can hand-pick your team)
  • In search of a seasoned PM

A Turn-Around on its own isn’t necessarily an Ugly Dog Project. But there are two situations that would shift it into the realm of a UDP:

  1. When you’re responsible for a Turn-Around project in addition to managing your day job.
  2. When it includes your own group or department, which raises the risk on this UDP becoming a double-dip one—a department Turn-Around that morphs into a Political Poison Ugly Dog Project.


UDP-PetProjectPet Project

Pet Projects UDPs are usually the “pet projects” of executives and senior leaders. They run the gamut from those that are fully funded and resourced to those with nothing—no money and no team support.

Pet Projects are typically high impact, high-risk ones given their visibility.

Good news is that Pet Projects typically come with autonomy—so you’ll be able to call the shots in how they’re managed. You’ll also have an easier time in attracting team members (even volunteers who want to add this project to their day jobs because of the potential for highly visible career benefits).

The flip side, though, is that this type of UDP is visible and the risks are high. In other words, failure and set-backs aren’t an option (think Political Poison). 

What experience have you had with Ugly Dog Projects? Share your UDP tips in our comments area or via Twitter @DeeMcCrorey. 

 We delve into UDPs and opportunities for leveraging them in your career during our 30 Day Career Reinvention online course.