How can you distinguish a green CIO from a seasoned one? That is simple! The newly minted CIO will agree to manage a line-of-business (LOB) project.\nA colleague recently related this story to me: \u201cWhen our hospital\u2019s executive team held a meeting to announce they were pursuing a new EMR (electronic medical records) solution, the CIO immediately stood up and said, 'We will gladly provide IT support, guidance and leadership, but this is a\u00a0line-of-business project and an LOB expert should lead the project.'\u201d That\u2019s a savvy CIO! He will still have a job if the project sinks into the cold, dark abyss of failed enterprise initiatives.\n thinkstock\nLine-of-business\u00a0projects are shoals no CIO should ever enter unless he or she is an expert in that specific business. Whether you are a hopeless ing\u00e9nue or a good captain ordered to enter those dangerous waters, you\u2019ll need a really detailed map that you may have to build yourself. That map includes a deep understanding of specific business requirements, workflow, expertise in industry best practices, regulatory compliance and much more. If you scrape your hull against just one hidden iceberg, you might end up going down with the ship.\nAssessing business requirements\nDo you have trusted staff members qualified to identify and analyze all the business requirements for such a project? I\u2019m not sure what qualifies someone to perform this type of work. I learned it from 15 years of studying composition and music theory that included five years of graduate school. If you analyze and account for every note in hundreds of sonatas and symphonies, complex business processes will seem simple by comparison.\nLearning a new business process is a lot like learning a new piece of music: You immerse yourself in it for days, weeks, months \u2014 whatever it takes. You examine the processes from every perspective, map out the requirements and isolate the difficulties. Switch views between the micro and the macro constantly. You should always be thinking about what the end product will ultimately look like from the beginning of the project.\nI\u2019ve seen programmers, engineers, business types, clinicians, sociologists and others do it well. I have been less than impressed with IT staff performing these tasks, but maybe I am jaded from 20 years of salvaging or condemning failed enterprise projects. Often, those projects were unsuccessful because they were approached from an IT perspective rather than from a\u00a0line of business point of view. In many of those projects, end user concerns were marginalized and invalidated in favor of some nebulous IT agenda. In the finales, the end users always got their revenge.\nBeware of dragons\nThere's another reason why a CIO might volunteer to manage an LOB project \u2014 empire building. This is another characteristic that distinguishes the seasoned CIO from the guppy. Successful CIOs drive in their lane. They follow my Nana\u2019s sage advice: \u201cMind your own beeswax.\u201d\nI don\u2019t understand what drives some IT executives to get involved in \u201cimproving\u201d business processes in another department or division, and these attentions are often unwelcome in the enterprise. Time and again, these activities are driven by the CIO\u2019s failure to manage his or her own operations well. \u201cNothing to see here folks, look over there.\u201d If you have time to worry about other people\u2019s jobs and activities, you either don\u2019t have enough to do or you\u2019re doing it poorly.\nShould you still have aspirations for building an empire, do some research by binge-watching a few seasons of Game of Thrones. If you have the required analytical skills, and the project turns out to be a success, you may be knighted for your excellent work. However, when things go wrong, aspiring kings and emperors are poisoned, lose their heads or end up uttering "Et tu, Brute?" as they are ushered into a premature retirement. That unassuming line of business executive you stepped on might have a few dragons at her disposal.\nEmpire building is bad for business and bad for everyone in the organization. It creates conflicts and resentments and it can lead to massive project failures.\nThe root cause of enterprise project failure\nWhy do enterprise and\u00a0line-of-business projects so often fail? Although it has been written about for 2,500 years by everyone from Aeschylus to Tom Wolfe, the answer isn\u2019t taught in business school. We all learned about the root cause of project failure in high school English class but most of us seem to have forgotten those important lessons. Or perhaps we have never bothered to apply metaphors learned so long ago to our careers.\nAt the root of it, projects fail because of hubris. The hubris I have seen over the years from CIOs, CEOs and CFOs who were overseeing failed projects has always been incredible to behold. Overconfident and underprepared, they set sail without a compass, a map or enough provisions for the journey. They left port trying to catch a whale with a crew that only knew how to catch minnows. They cast off without knowing where they were going, and they are always astonished when they end up lost at sea. The next time you are asked to manage an LOB project, don\u2019t make the same mistakes.