project surgery to get projects back to greenOne of the main duties of a PMO is to provide transparency of the status (“health”) of each of the projects for which they have oversight. This is usually achieved by implementing a regular reporting process with a standard scale for reporting RAG. This provides a mechanism to capture projects where the status is deteriorating and raise this to the attention of senior management.

So far so good. However, after spending the time and effort to provide the transparency, it is important that action is taken to return get the projects back on track.

Instead of approaching this on an ad-hoc basis for each project, more mature organizations will have a defined approach to restore the “health” of “sick” projects. These processes are typically giving names such as “Go for Green”, “Path for Green” and many similar permutations! This post will share the approach called The Project Surgery.

Project Surgery Overview

The principle was very simple, where a project had moved to a Red or deep Amber status, this was a trigger that the project needed help to restore the health back to Green – hence the name project surgery.


A meeting would be arranged by the PMO and would include all of the relevant parties who could explain the issue and agree a plan of action. Note: the attendees were limited to only those people who absolutely needed to be there. The reason being to avoid a ‘cast of thousands’ that would probably result in no clear plan being agreed. The meeting had a set agenda and minutes (in the form of a clear action plan) and scheduled for 60 minutes.


The scope of the session was very tight.

  • Clear understanding of issue(s)
  • Agree action plan (with focus on the next 7 days)

Important: The meeting did not include the discussion of blame and / or budget refunds. Emotive items like these were discussed in a separate session once a plan had been agreed. The focus on the session was purely to understand and address the issue(s).


It was usually the project managers responsibility to ensure that the issue was clearly documented and then to explain the issue to the forum. Tip: the PMO added value by reviewing the document before the meeting and working with the project manager to ensure it was clear and concise.

Action Plan

The forum then agreed the overall action plan including a clear set of actions to be agreed over the next 7 days. The actions were clearly assigned and a follow up meeting scheduled for 7 days to monitor progress. Tip: the PMO added value by ensuring the actions were clearly captured, assigned an short document published to all attendees very soon after the meeting.


The approach of the “Project Surgery” worked very well as it allowed the right people to focus on clearly understood issues and agree an action plan without the emotion of blame. Repeating the surgery every 7 days until the health of the project is restored ensured the project manager and other stakeholders kept the correct level of focus. The PMO played a pivotal role in driving the process.

This approach, practiced correctly, will lead to a reduction in projects being Red and those that did report Red were quickly returned to Amber or Green.
The concept is very straight forward and would be easy to implement in most organisations:

  • Name the process i.e. Go for Green
  • Define process
  • Define tools for meeting (meeting agenda, issue template, action plan template)
  • Communicate approach

Hope that you can put the concept to good use.