In class we talked about how project managers often use the red/amber/green method to signify if a project is running on track. My company uses the thius same approach to track project work as well as many of our monthly KPI’s.
Most if not all projects typically start with a green indicator and will remain that way as long as the project completes on-time. I read in interesting article called “Starting at Red” that suggests all projects should start with the color red. The reasons cited in the article are as follows:
- When a project begins, the team is as far from delivering anything as it will ever be. Sounds pretty much like a “Red” scenario to me. What if the project remained at “Red” until the PM could justify downgrading it to “Amber” – based on progress achieved, and then eventually (hopefully) “Green”?
- Green at the beginning doesn’t work because we have no idea if we’re going to achieve our goals so saying the project is “Green” really means “we haven’t yet found a reason why we won’t deliver”.
- If a project starts at “Green” and remains “Green” all the way through, at what point does it go from being “we haven’t yet found a reason why we won’t deliver” to “we will definitely deliver”? At some point it will have changed, but this is not recorded by a change of project status. Seems like an important distinction to make.
- “Green” is a problem because reality doesn’t work like a textbook. It is usually very hard for the PM to change the project’s status.
- Starting at “Red”, there is no need to worry because a “Red” status is the norm. This clarifies that “Green” only means “we will deliver”, and no project can go to “Green” until it is clear that the progress made justifies the change of status.
- The PM will naturally be keen to find reasons to change the status to “Amber” and then “Green”, but this will require delivering good news, and justify the change – which is much easier than delivering the bad news required to go from “Green” to “Amber” to “Red”.
The article summarizes by saying that starting at “Red” makes it easier to focus the team on the critical activities required to go to “Green”. Everything else is secondary. This is the kind of project environment that is usually only created when there is a serious problem. Why wait until then? Start with the attitude that the project is going to fail unless you take immediate action – because it is!
The challenge posed at the end of the article is for all PM’s to try this on their next project as see how it works. Would you be willing to give it a try?