ManagementSpeak: This must be our most complex project ever. Just look how chaotic and high stress it is.

Translation: The worse this project is managed, the more highly we’ll rate the project manager.

This week’s contributor made the mistake of managing her project well enough that it wasn’t chaotic and high stress.

You’re managing a project. What can go wrong?

Well …

Scenario #1: It’s hard to overcome the CEO

A friend managed a business transformation tied to a large software suite (I’m not allowed to be more specific). Her client was a multinational concern that wasn’t wise in the ways of project management. She had a strong team, the right work breakdown structure, a good working relationship with the vendor, and a committed executive sponsor.

But then the CEO happened. All by itself, just one restructuring would have driven quite a bit of re-work into the project. Multiples multiplied the impact.

And that’s before the ritual laying off of several people the project couldn’t do without. As The Mythical Man Month makes clear, replacing these key staff slowed things down even more, as the effort needed to acclimate the project newbies to the project and their responsibilities exceeded any benefit they could provide.

My friend got the project done, but it got done much uglier than it needed to.

Lesson learned: Include a list of specific critical personnel in your project Risks and Issues reporting, and make sure that reporting is visible at least one layer higher than the project’s sponsor. It won’t completely prevent the chaos, but it might reduce it.

Scenario #2: A filter that should be a conduit

So you say your executive sponsor cares deeply about your project’s success. You say he’s assigned the right people to the core team, and has let everyone else know they should support the project when their support is called for.

And … he’s a busy guy, so he’s delegated day-to-day sponsorship to a trusted member of his team, who is to be your primary Point of Contact. His busyness also means he has no time for regular face-to-face updates.

But not to worry. Your PoC meets with him weekly, and will keep him informed.

As the project progresses, unexpected discoveries drive a number of course corrections. Taken one at a time, none seem particularly controversial, so you and your PoC make the decisions and move on.

A couple of months later, though, with a major milestone approaching, you bring the sponsor in for a briefing. That’s when you discover that what seemed minor to you seems less minor to your sponsor, and the decisions you and your PoC to resolve the issues weren’t the solutions the sponsor would have chosen.

This is when you find out your PoC either hasn’t embraced the “bad news doesn’t improve with age” dictum or also didn’t think the issues in question were important enough to mention in his weekly updates.

And, it’s when you first figure out the sponsor defines “handled correctly” as “how I would have handled it,” and “handled wrong” as “all other ways of handling it.”

So now you have an irritated sponsor and a project schedule that’s in recovery mode.

You can’t entirely avoid this. What might at least help is, prior to your PoC’s weekly meetings with the project sponsor, rehearse the topics to be covered in the project update.

Scenario #3: EPMO — enabler or bureaucracy

Congratulations! As a result of your many well-managed projects and the value they delivered, you’ve been promoted to the Enterprise Program Management Office — the EPMO. In your new role you’re responsible for ensuring all project investments are worthwhile, and providing oversight to make sure they’re well-managed by project managers who aren’t you.

And so, guided by “industry best practices,” you establish a governance process to screen out proposals that don’t make the grade.

Then you start to hear those governed by the EPMO use the B-word in your general direction. No, not that B-word. Bureaucrat.

Which, if you think your job is to screen out bad proposals, you’ve become.

First and worst, a bureaucrat evaluates proposals. A leader evaluates the ideas behind the proposals.

Second and almost as worst, if you expect to see dumb ideas you’ll see dumb ideas, because most people, most of the time, see what they expect to see. And anyway, if what you do is screen out dumb ideas you’ll pass the proposals that don’t give you a reason to screen them out, not those that give you a reason to keep them in.

So take the B out of your job. Starting tomorrow, the EPMO’s job is to help good ideas succeed.

Followed by your stretch goal: to help turn good ideas into great ones.