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Can You Taint With All The Colors of The Wind?

Stoplight_broken_1I was in a status meeting one time where we were all going around the table, talking about our projects and sharing what color status they were (red, yellow, or green).  The project manager who was sharing his story was on a truly disastrous project, so it was an amusing point of synchronicity that a squad of firetrucks came blaring by the building as he was reporting the disastrous existence that he was experiencing.  I congratulated him for expressing exactly how badly his project was going with well-timed sound effects.

It's an amazing phenomenon in the project world that three simple colors - red, yellow, and green - can cause such consternation among project managers, project teams, and executive leadership.  Take this case study in spin doctoring as an example.  Tahmid Munaz of SQA Bangladesh shares an amusing story from an agile newsletter about color shifting.  The simple version is that the project team wanted the status reported as red, the project manager played it safe and reported yellow, and senior management put on their perceptual filters and reported green.  Hence, it appears that the stoplight is broken... very, very, VERY broken.  The question then becomes, "How can we fix it?"

Stoplight_broken_2The color of project status - be it green, yellow, or red - should not be a challenging consideration.  What amazes me is that these three colors throw everyone into a tailspin.  I've seen project managers turn into Martha Stewart ("Can we report our status as 'lime' since we're not quite green all the way?" or "I'm not quite ready to report us as red... is 'pumpkin' an acceptable choice?").  It would appear that reporting red-yellow-green is one of those cross sections between project management and office politics.  So... the next three posts will be dedicated to helping all of you project managers out there in the blogosphere determine what color your project really is.

By the way, Dan Wahlin had an interesting post last month about tools that would allow one to report color status in a dashboard.  While tools are fine and dandy, it is equally important to understand WHY you are choosing the color you have so you can justify it later.  Still, it's a worthwhile read.


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