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Project Management – Abuse of the Traffic Signal

 

Red, yellow and green (unlit) LEDs used in a t...

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If you have spent any time on a formally managed project, you have no doubt seen the status reports with the green / yellow / red codings. These symbols are taken from the traffic signal concept, a concept that is universally accepted. Green means go, red means stop, and yellow means SPEED UP!!! Just kidding – yellow means caution / clear the intersection. With such clear meanings while driving, and the generally anal nature of project managers, you would think that clear meanings would be established for green, yellow and red signals on project status reports.

You would be wrong.

My favorite current example is a project whose one-slider (one slide divided into four quadrants for accomplishments, issues, milestones and budget) is covered up in red on the milestone sections. It is clear that the milestones that have been set have been blown through, and the work necessary to complete that milestone is late. However, the project overall was still showing green on time. This is a project that has not met A SINGLE DELIVERABLE DEADLINE. How can you be green on overall time, but red on practically everything else (the milestones that were still in flight were showing yellow). This led to a somewhat heated debate – and I got my point across. The project is now at least showing its tracking yellow.

My point here is not to throw anyone under the bus, but rather to share a lesson learned. You need as a team to agree up front on how status will be reported and what the criteria for having a green, yellow or red color code is (or whatever system you are going to use to give high level status). That way, the status is not being re-negotiated when it really should be black & white (or in this case red).

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