Your project and the traffic light colors

Project status is usually reported using traffic light colors. It is a concise yet clear indication of its condition through time. Green shows an effort on track with no issues. Yellow or Amber shows an effort slightly out of track due to issues requiring some attention. Red shows an effort with important or critical issues that keep it seriously out of track, demanding important attention. Blue, an additional color, reflects a project or phase already completed; according to the project plan and to the satisfaction of stakeholders. It is the coolest one so to speak. This approach allows a program manager to report effectively and quickly the status of an effort of a serious magnitude. That’s very useful.

As a Project Manager you have the final responsibility of choosing the color of your project. As a program manager you have the more subtle duty of defining ground rules for your project managers to decide on the colors, helping them to follow a logic reasoning process around them, and enabling them to report accurately to the stakeholders. This allows them to make sound decisions and take effective actions.

A project in a RED or AMBER status must provide at least one corresponding item logged in the D.A.I.R log. This is a register which tracks the type of obstacle the team is dealing with: Decision, Action, Issue, or Risk; the last action taken about the obstacle; and the impact of the obstacle on the project or program. All this becomes pretty handy when trying to decide on corrective or preventive actions in a meeting with the stakeholders. If you lack this link between the reported status and the D.A.I.R. log, you may end up out of reality. For example deciding to happily report the project YELLOW, when it should be plain RED; or showing it RED just because a minor issue stated incorrectly was magnified. A project or phase reporting BLUE must be considered complete by all the incumbents, having the corresponding supporting documents. Otherwise you could have some dead bodies walking around, or you could assume something was put down for good, when that wasn’t the case.

Keep in mind this is a tool, and it should be treated as such by all the team. It is very useful for monitoring and controlling execution, triggering corrective and preventive actions promptly. Proven that it is used to uncover items requiring attention as early as possible, having yourself and your team pushing hard to get to the bottom of issues, irrespective of where they come from. If status reporting is instead used to point fingers, or to get hard on people instead of the issues. It would serve little purpose. 

In that sense, an attitude of trying to show GREEN no matter what can be very harmful. You would only be hiding issues or risks in need of attention. You are brought in as a Project Manager to uncover those in a diligent manner, and to lead the best possible actions to remove them. You are not on board to show a happy GREEN from beginning to end, neither is your role to discredit the impact of existing obstacles. At some point the bad news you’ve been trying to cover will flood the entire place.

What color would you say your current project shows?

How are you planning to keep or to turn it back to GREEN?

- Sergio Calvo.

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