Red/Yellow/Green Project Status Reporting

A Possible Approach to Project Status Dashboard Reporting

BACKGROUND

The objective of project dashboards is to provide an at-a-glance status of a project’s progress and whether or not executive assistance/awareness is required. In order to be of use, the criteria for determining status need to be consistent across all reporting managers & stakeholders. And in order to be of benefit, the response to a status change should be viewed in an opportunity to increase the chance of a project’s success and not a reflection of the skills of the PM or other project stakeholders.

The majority of organizations that use dashboard reporting have a Green/Yellow/Red scheme for indicating project health. That is about the extent of their similarity. Green generally means all is well and everyone is confident that the project will complete ‘as planned.’ However, Yellow and Red are not as clear-cut. Furthermore, some groups have an Orange or Blue status in addition to the standard Red/Yellow/Green. Many organizations capture more than a single status and break down the status by Schedule, Budget and Scope or Key Practice Areas (KPA) with rules for determining an overall status.

As previously mentioned, different colors mean different things to different organizations. The greatest variation is in the Yellow category. One can quickly determine that most of the definitions are appropriate for some projects but not for others. Some examples are listed below.

Green

·         The project is under control and we can deliver the project as per the schedule, with in cost agreed and scope

·         Overall things are on target, including schedule, budget, and milestones. The project risks and issues have been identified and are under control. Impact of risk and issues is minimal.

·         Proceeding According to Plan with less than  5% over budget and/or less than 30 days late

Yellow

·         The project is under control but some problems with schedule, cost or scope have arisen but chances are high to bring the project under control by re-planning.

·         Project is not track to deliver committed scope by committed deadline with committed resources/funding, but we have a plan to get back to green

·         Indicators become Yellow when an indicator (budget, scope, schedule)  is expected to be close to or over a defined threshold

·         Potential or known issues are likely to jeopardize dates/budget/scope

·         We are approaching the limits of our success factor

·         Overall things are under control. However, the project may contain a few high-impact risks and/or issues. The project may be behind schedule with plans for recovery that are reasonable.

·         Budget / Schedule Issues Emerging that are greater than 5% but less than 10% over budget and/or greater than 30 days but less than 60 days late

·         Yellow Indicator for an individual category implies there is something for the project manager/sponsor to address to bring the project back on track

·         The project does not have any known issues but there is still high risk that something could go wrong (as demonstrated by the cone of uncertainty). As with any project in flight, we are managing it cautiously and we are doing our best to deliver successfully.

Orange

·         Orange Indicators are used by organizations that want to differentiate between the potential for slippage, (Yellow) indicating thresholds are being approached or surprises have surfaced for which there was not an existing mitigation) and actual slippage, (Orange) indicating that action is being taken  by the project manager/sponsor to address to bring the project back on track, but critical thresholds have not been breached.

Red

·         The project is not under control. There is serious problem with schedule, cost or scope. Immediate attention needed from higher management to bring the project under control if possible.

·         We are not on track and we need a plan to get the project back on track.

·         Indicators become Red when it is definitely going to go over and action needs to be taken.

·         Unresolved issues are preventing a critical task from going forward, and dates will continue to be re-forecasted in future reports

·         Missing the critical success factor is imminent (or) we have missed

·         Overall things are getting out of control. The project may have a number of high-impact risks and/or issues that are impacting performance. The project is behind schedule and, if a recovery plan does exist, the project is risky.

·         Red Indicator for an individual category implies there is a problem that requires Agency attention.

·         Significant Budget / Schedule Issues greater than 10% over budget AND/OR greater than 60 days late

·         An issue has surfaced and we do not believe 100% project success can be obtained due to the discovery. More than likely we will either miss the desired date, or exceed budget, or not be able to deliver the desired scope by the target date

Blue

·         The project will significantly miss the desired date, or exceed budget, or not be able to deliver the desired scope by the target date and a replan is necessary by sponsors and stakeholders

·         An issue has surfaced that significantly impacts the project’s ability to meet its desired purpose and it should be reviewed as to whether it should continue without significant change to goals and objectives.

THE DASHBOARD

When devising a dashboard reporting scheme for project health, consideration should be given to several factors:

·         Who is the primary user of the dashboard?

·         What meaning does the user need to derive from the dashboard?

·         What actions will be initiated as a result of the dashboard report?

These decisions help to drive the dashboard displays and their definitions, as does the methods available to determine a projects’ health.

DETERMINING PROJECT HEALTH

Determining project health is relative, with several factors affecting how a project may be viewed:

·         The stage the project is in (Planning, Execution phase, etc.). The earlier in the development process, the greater the uncertainty of the entire magnitude of the project and its risks (See Cone of Uncertainty graph below). Greater fluctuation in time, budget and scope estimates is expected and adjustments can be made more easily to bring the project under control.

·         The amount of risk associated with the project. High risk projects may need closer oversight if they must be accomplished or less oversight if the project is a foray into a new technology where expectations of success are low.

·         The critical nature of the project to the organization. If elements of a project are critical to the success of an organization, close oversight may recommended with the smallest deviations addressed immediately.

·         The Project’s prioritization of the triple constraint triangle. As a project fluctuates in any of three realms – Budget, Scope or Schedule – it must compensate in the other two in order to remain under control (See Triple Constraint diagram below). The prioritization of these three constraints affects its importance in a project’s health assessment. For instance, if the budget and scope are the most important aspects of a project, then being late is not the issue it would be for a project that must be completed on time to meet a State or federally mandated deadline.

AN APPROACH

Determining Project Health

The measure of project health should be defined in the project management plan, based on the priority of the iron triangle, the criticality of the project to the health of the organization, or the risk level of the project. Each project should define the flexibility (or importance) of the elements of the Iron Triangle. See Sample of Iron Triangle Project diagram below.

 

Prioritization

Sample of Iron Triangle Project Prioritization

  Least Flexible Some Flexibility Most Flexible
Budget

X

   
Schedule  

X

 
Scope    

X

 Once determined, the threshold for each element is set for every dashboard color. A sample is listed below, any measure can be used: percentages, number of days, dollar amounts. On very large or complex projects, the triggers may change as the project progresses or as the organizational situation changes. By setting measureable triggers, the decision on the status of a project’s health is driven by metrics instead of emotion. This reduces friction between sponsors, PMs and team members.

 

Sample of Iron Triangle Project Health Triggers

 

Green

Yellow

Red

Budget

<5%

5% – 10%

>10%

Schedule

<10%

10% – 20%

>20%

Scope

Minor req. changes

❤ Major req. addition

3 or more Major req. additions or deletions

R/Y/G Meaning

While the triggers for a Red or Yellow status may differ from project to project, the meaning should be consistent across the organization. And the meaning should reflect the types of actions requested/required by the project sponsor/manager and not a measure of the PM’s capability.

In other words, a Red or Yellow project does not indicate failure by the PM. It indicates that the PM and sponsor are managing risks appropriately and requesting the appropriate degree of support to move projects back to green.

The meaning of Red, Yellow and Green (or whatever colors are chosen) should be set by the organization’s overriding project/program management entity. A recommended set of meanings are provided below.

GREEN: The project’s critical parameters are within the established thresholds and no new issues or risks have arisen to jeopardize them.

YELLOW: The project’s critical parameters are within the established Yellow thresholds and/or issues or risks have arisen to jeopardize the critical parameters that management needs to be aware of should the mitigations fail and actions be required to resolve them. It is helpful to indicate which parameter(s) is driving the Yellow status (budget, schedule, scope or a new issue/risk).

RED: The project’s critical parameters have exceed the established Red thresholds, and/or issues or risks have arisen with no  immediate mitigation plan, or existing mitigation plans are failing to resolve the issue and are jeopardizing the critical parameters. It is helpful to indicate which parameter(s) is driving the Red status (budget, schedule, scope or a new issue/risk). Management intervention is needed to help resolve the issues or to re-evaluation the project’s budget, schedule or scope. A new plan and baseline may need to be set or a project may be canceled if determined to be nonviable (e.g., the technology does not exist to solve the problem or its cost may be prohibitive.)

On very large projects/programs, particularly those with multiple implementations or parallel threads of work and responsibility (subprojects), multiple statuses may better indicate progress, in which case a ‘formula’ is required to indicate overall project/program status. A simple approach is that the overall status is set to the lowest status of any subproject; the underlying philosophy being that a project is only as healthy as its least healthy component.

CONCLUSION

There are many ways to communicate project health and R/Y/G is just one. The key to its success is three-fold:

  1. A consistent definition of the dashboard status as an indicator of project health and not project success or project manager competency.
  2. Defined criteria for measuring a project’s health and triggering status change outlined in each project’s management plan. It will not be the same from project to project.
  3. A consistent definition of the expected result of the non-green statuses such as executive assistance or awareness of potential delays.

When the organization approaches status as a method for improving successful implementations, and not as a measure of competency or a vehicle for punishment, then there is no stigma associated with non-green states. Conversely, fear of ‘not being green’ can lead to exaggerated estimates, ignoring issues until it is too late to successfully mitigate them, or lack of communication to avoid explaining delays or other overruns.  By setting up this 3-part framework, project dashboard reporting is meaningful and the probability of project success is improved because intervention, when needed, is forthcoming and timely.

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