Yellow – Just Another Reason to Argue

Red, Amber, Green or maybe Red, Yellow, Green. Whatever colors you use for your indicators, most organizations typically have 3 colors. You might call this your “RAG” indicator or “Traffic” indicator or maybe even your “Stoplight” indicator. This has been the “standard” for many years at many companies.  However, is it really necessary for you to have 3 levels though? A majority of organizations like 3 levels. People get to feel like there is an intermediate state before the project “goes into the ditch”. But is there really? Is your organization’s project maturity level sophisticated enough to actually treat a yellow stoplight indicator with the right level of rigor? If you truly have clearly defined meanings for each level, then by all means keep the 3 different colors. However, if you don’t, then I would like to propose a slightly simpler option. Just have a Green or Red stoplight indicator. You are either good or not. Period. What happens a lot of time with a Yellow indicator is that it is just another opportunity for people to argue. I can hear it now:

Person 1: “Well….we have a slight issue so we should monitor this.”

Person 2: “Do I need to do anything?”

Person 1: “Not really, but I will flag this as yellow and we will revisit in a week.”

Person 2: “Are you sure? It really seems like there is an issue. Can’t you get Eric to look into it?”

Person 1: “Eric is swamped and you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Are you trying to tell me how to run my project?”

Person 2: “Well…you have had issues on other projects…” Well…that escalated quickly.  🙂  In all seriousness, what’s the point? We have a Yellow indicator now. Fantastic, but nothing happens at all during the week because person 1 and 2 don’t do anything for the “slight issue”. Why then, even have Yellow? A week goes by and nothing was done and now we have lost that time if something really did need to be done. If we just used Green or Red, there is no ambiguity. There is either an issue or not. We are either on track or not. Projects can be complicated enough without having to know when to call in the troops and release the dogs of war for a Yellow task. Of course, just having two colors has problems too. It will cause a change management issue in that people have been conditioned to 3 colors and that Red is really, really bad. “I don’t want the executives to see a Red.”, is a common statement.  A solid corporate governance model and definitely a change management strategy will be essential to rolling out a new way to describe the status of a project.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy for governance or change management so the strategy for your company must be tailored appropriately. By all means, if your project maturity level is sophisticated enough to have 3 levels, then use it.  If not, maybe consider just using a Green and Red indicator.