Ah, the ubiquitous colors of red, yellow, and green. Not only do they keep traffic around the globe running smoothly, they often indicate project health on status reports:
- Red - The project has hit a serious roadblock(s), and no clear plan is in place to hit the date.
- Yellow - The project has hit a serious roadblock(s), but a plan is in place to finish on time.
- Green - The project is on track. Risks are understood and mitigation plans are in place.
Executives and managers love a colorful status report because it allows them to zero in on troubled projects (red and yellow) and not spend any time on those that aren’t (green).
We would all like our projects to stay in the green, but many times they don’t. Projects can be overcome by events and we’ll find them flashing a yellow warning, or a screaming red signal.
What can a Project Manager do to get a red project back to green? Consider the following four actions that can be taken if a project is red because it’s going to miss the completion date:
- Don’t Go Red in the First Place - We’re not being funny here. Projects rarely go from green to red overnight; they generally display a yellow status for a while. During this time, diligently stay on top of managing risks and issues, executing your risk mitigation plans as risks start being realized and turn into issues. Engage your Executive Sponsor and quickly come up with a plan to get the project back to green. Then, make working that plan your top priority. Truly though, there’s no need to wait for the project to turn yellow. Things will stay on track if you aggressively work project risks while it is still in the green.
- Add More Time - When a project’s status is red, it will miss its date unless something is done to add more time. What provides more time? People. You can get creative here. It may not mean hiring more, in order to increase the time available. It could be that the same people work longer days or weekends to get out of a crisis situation. Not ideal, but it works well for short bursts. Or, it could mean a second shift with a contractor workforce, temporarily. It’s true that people increase the time available, but don’t be too quick to pull the trigger on adding full-time employees.
- Change the Scope - You can start asking the hard question, “Does everything on this project need to be done on this date, or can one part be delivered on this date and another part later?” A phased approach is usually acceptable. It may be better to deliver 80% value now, rather than waiting for 100% later. Again, not ideal, but acceptable.
- Change the Date - Last, and least favorable, is to agree to push the date out. External forces that no one saw coming may be at play, that you have no control over, and can’t be overcome. The only answer is to set a new date. It goes against every fiber in your being as Project Manager, especially if the original date was well-planned and reasonable, so should not be taken lightly.
Project status can then be moved from red to green once one of these four approaches has been agreed upon. Of course, you’ll want to follow any change control processes that are in place and receive the proper approvals.
The example above is what can be done if a project is red because the date is going to be missed. But, what if it’s budget problem or scope creep that are causing a project to flash red? You can think just as creatively if this is the case. Can certain costs be capitalized rather than treated as an operating expense? Can a feature be moved to a different, yet related project that can absorb the change? Thinking creatively will help you deliver projects better and keep status green.
A few things to keep in mind: 1.) Over communicate and document the need for change and what everyone agreed to. People’s memories are short. 2.) Ask for enough people, time, or resources ONCE. Don’t go back in a couple of weeks and ask for more because you didn’t ask for enough the first time. And, 3.) Don’t do this often. You don’t want to become known as the Project Manager who has to re-baseline every project.
Light just turned green. Let’s go!