28 June 2011

Red, Amber, Green, Know what I mean?

If you are going to use traffic light colours to indicate project status you probably want to start red rather than end red.  Here is the justification.

Most projects don't deliver on their promise.  
Call out industry reports which show the rate of fails, challenged, over budget and schedule, etc.  Go wider than the Standish/Chaos report.  There are plenty of alternatives that tell similar stories.  The best evidence comes from internal records.  Check out the last 5-6 projects of a similar scale to yours.  Have a look at the initial planned budget and the actual budget at completion.  The put it in a slide deck.

Project Management Can Help
When I was doing my formal project management studies I cam across a number (which I can't recall, but may have been about either 30% or 300%, the source was a PMI Turner) that described the typical benefit project management can bring to <ahem> chaos.

Project Management is important but insufficient
You also need three other things to make a project work.  Without these three things you are guaranteed to run into troubles. They are

  1. Support from a sponsor that understands the project and is prepared to roll up their sleeves when necessary,
  2. A Team who have sufficient technical skills and can work together as a unit,
  3. Stakeholders that are informed about and aligned to the project goals so that they understand how to manage user requirements and to work with the project team to fulfil the sponsor's goals.
So, based on the evidence you have today what's your current project status?  Until each of these criteria (plus any other local issues you have) are addressed and tested you are in the red.

Start a project in the red, know you are in trouble and manage your way out of it.  It's much better to work this way than the other way around.


  1. Hello Craig,
    Yes even I do have faced the same experience of project being Red 3/4th of the time. During the 3/4 of the time, the PM will be behind me to get the work done. Once the sees the project completion date nearing then the 1/4 time he becomes a foe. Really surprising about this journey from Red to Yellow.

  2. Hi, I hear your pain. One of the ways you can start to manage the PM around is by using their language when reporting risks and issues, and also by backing up your statements with hard data.

    Are you able to share any of your existing techniques?

  3. Anonymous3:50 am

    Why start with RED of the performance parameters are not RED. Instead define the measures, staring with the Technical Performance Measures and "keep the program GREEN."

    Take management action to NEVER go RED.


  4. I hear you Glenn, but for the sake of argument you've joined a medium sized state government agency - say public transport for Boulder.

    Let's imagine they have a 20% success rate with their projects above $100k. Based on that evidence, and the knowledge that many project issues are on the client side, what do you do?