Project risk lessons from 150 years of London Underground
It was my great privilege to attend a presentation about the history of London Underground last night given by David Waboso, Capital Programmes Director, Transport for London. It’s the 150th anniversary of The Tube this year making London’s the oldest metro system in the world.
Its age means that London Underground also faces some of the world’s most complex system upgrade projects… which must be performed while keeping the trains running to ensure London’s business heart continues pumping. David’s analogy was that it was like performing open heart surgery on a patient who is simultaneously playing a game of tennis.
David spoke about the ‘Complexity Cliff’ where many modern mega-projects face such increased levels of complication that the traditional project management techniques are no longer enough. This is based on the Helmsman Complexity Scale which rates projects from 1-10 based on difficulty using the same principles as the Richter Earthquake Scale.
For example, the standard core projects in the largest companies rate 5-6; rare and highly complex projects that have national significance, such as Olympic Games, rate 8-9; significant multi-national projects, such as the Joint Strike Fighter jet, rate 9-10.
David commented that the ‘project management triangle’ which focuses on balancing cost, schedule and quality needs re-thinking. There can be just too many risks and things change too rapidly. This was also the theme of this year’s World Risk Day which looked at ways to bring risk into the project success equation.
David spoke about the lesson of looking at major projects as really about delivering systems rather than discrete pieces of infrastructure. For example, a new or upgraded Tube line project should be regarded as successful if it delivers a working system which transports people to the standards required such as train occupancy levels and service frequency – rather than just the on-time delivery of a completed station or length of track laid, that misses the point.
The presentation was hosted by the excellent Major Projects Association (MPA) which brings together the leading players in complex projects such as major rail, ports, infrastructure and sporting events such as the London 2012 Olympics. Many of Active Risk’s project-focused customers are members of MPA including London Underground, Transport for London and Network Rail.
For advice on running successful complex projects why not download our “Shattering The Project Myth” E-Book here?

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