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Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Status On Over

Stoplight_redOK, so we've established that determining the color of status reports creates a certain level of political spin doctoring in some organizations.  And no color seems to cause the most problem than red.

I once worked in an organization where the Chief Information Officer was a very early morning person.  Starting at 5:00 AM on Fridays, he would hold "sunrise services" in his office for any project manager whose status was red.  Rumor has it that these were not pleasant meetings, but to be fair to the executive, the projects were on his radar and he was discussing the root causes that created the red status and often providing his assistance to alleviate the situation.

How can you determine if your project is seeing red?  The process that has worked well for me over the years is to break down the project into four sections, as follows:


  • Are there random scope changes or a considerable amount of unchecked scope creep?
  • Is the project plan non-existent or just plain ignored?
  • Is more than 10% of the functionality or requirements still in question?


  • Is there no project plan baseline (i.e., nobody has finalized and approved a project plan)?
  • Has there been a schedule slippage of more than 10%?


  • Is the project budget non-existent
  • Is it next to impossible to procure funds and resources when needed?
  • Are you experiencing unrecoverable cost overruns of more than 10%?

Other Factors

  • Is the team exhibiting signs of distress or dysfunctional behaviors?
  • Are the sponsor and executive leadership weak or absent?
  • Is there an absence of a risk management plan or is the project under constant seige from unplanned risk events and issues?
  • Is most of the communication absent or fictional?

If you are answering YES to any of these questions, then it's time to face the facts and come to reality.  Better to be red in the project than red in the face.  And just because one factor from the above list is red does not necessarily make the entire project red; one should consider all the factors before determining if red is the overriding project status.  These factors are just a few of the common ones to consider.  By breaking your project down into the basic components of the triple constraint, it becomes a little easier to isolate the factors contributing to the color status.  Hence, if you ever get called into a "sunrise service" you can be a little more prepared to communicate proactively with your sponsor.

Next stop:  Yellow Status


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Liz Strauss

You do know how good you are, don't you? I sure hope so. Gosh this one was great to read. I especially like the wording of this question.

Is most of the communication absent or fictional?

You can't say it much better than that. :)

Timothy Johnson

Thanks, Liz... praise from you is high praise indeed. And since 90% of project management is communication, this single question can make or break the accomplishments of any project team.

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