In our discussions with senior business executives, we found one project manager behavior that annoyed them more than any other. This was the tendency for project managers and other intermediate managers to avoid or slow down the escalation of bad news. This typically results in the executive sponsor being placed in a reactive position of fixing up the mess rather than a proactive position of taking action to avoid the mess in the first place.
With one of our clients , we were reviewing a high-profile and very expensive project being undertaken in an outsourced relationship. Our client, the consulting company developing the software, had a project manager who had run into a personal problem with the business project manager of the company for which the project was being developed. Although the consultant project manager had documented the situation it had not been "flagged" as a critical issue. When we became involved, the breakdown of effective communication between the consulting project manager and the internal project manager had remained unresolved for five months! The consulting project manager was determined to resolve the problem by himself. In fact, our conclusion was that the personality conflict was unresolvable. Worse, the project's deadlines had become compromised and the contract was for a fixed price and fixed deadline.
We escalated the situation to the CEO of the consulting company. He met with the CEO of the client organization and on the following day, a more experienced and reasonable person replaced the business project manager. More than five months had been lost in the project before the executives became involved.
This is extremely important for those of you in larger and more bureaucratic organizations. You will probably find that there are built-in delays in any information (good or bad) getting to the top. Worse, the more levels that your report passes through, the higher the probability of filtering and distortion. You all have had a laugh at the classic office joke where a message from the front-line people that an executive idea is "shit" gets altered by each level until the CEO is told that the company should invest in a fertilizer factory.
Should your project get into trouble, you should do everything possible to get the message to the relevant executive as quickly as possible. Given the issues discussed throughout this book, you may need to be creative in breaking through the organizational barriers that prevent you from getting to the "real sponsor."
In one project, we couldn't get an appointment with the true project sponsor for six weeks. However, we found out from his assistant that he started work at 7:00 each morning so that he could get some quiet time before the chaos of the day started. We simply "ambushed" him in the company parking area at 6:45 one morning. He was initially annoyed with our behavior, but as soon as he was briefed quickly on the status of his project and the decision he had to make regarding the solution, he made the decision and was in his office, as normal, at 7:00 a.m. The project was saved and we had no trouble getting access to him from that point on.