How project surgeries can keep programmes on track (2)

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Head Office Relocation Programme – Major Retailer

A few years ago I was running a £100m+ programme to move one of the UK’s largest retailers out of its head office to a brand new building. We instigated a number of project surgeries using some of the criteria that I mentioned in my previous blog, but one in particular is worth commenting on.

This particular project was to implement a new secure firewall. It was a critical project due to its importance regarding security etc. We also chose it due to a nagging concern about the project manager. During the surgery, he acquitted himself quite well and just as he was leaving I asked him what he considered to be the biggest risk to the project. His reply – which I have never forgotten – was… “IT MAY NOT WORK!” So here we were thinking that this sensitive and critical project was based on sound technical design, when in fact no one was sure it would even work.

We then had to perform a bigger ‘drains-up’ review and put the project on a sounder footing with more proven technology. It did not bear thinking about to have a technical infrastructure of this sensitivity and criticality that may not protect the retailer from hacker attacks or even secure the company’s information.

This was an extreme result from the surgery but a very important discovery. There were other successes as well including:

  • Double counting of costs on 3 projects;
  • Incorrect contractor rate assumptions;
  • Unrealistic man-day availability estimates, e.g. 20 days a month;
  • Cross-dependencies that were not understood;
  • Vague objectives.


Project surgeries are an extremely powerful tool when you are running a programme with many constituent projects. Only a small sample should be selected and it should be done sparingly but they are invaluable when running mega programmes.

We have recently developed an iPhone app, Project Risk Gauge. More information on this app can be found at: or can be downloaded from the App Store.


David Walton
About the author
David Walton

I am David Walton, Programme,Project and Portfolio Management specialist and director of Bestoutcome here in the UK. We make the PMO tools PM3, PM3time and PM3change, the only PMO tools designed by practitioners for practitioners.

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One Response to “How project surgeries can keep programmes on track (2)”

July 12, 2013 at 10:17 am, How project surgeries can keep programmes on track: 1 | Bestoutcome said:

[…] my next blog I will talk about some of the benefits that can be derived from project surgeries. For more […]