IT World Canada
Red Yellow or Green


Yogi Schulz

Published: October 21st, 2014



A well-conducted review can be an excellent way for a project manager to engage management in addressing project issues

Struggling to differentiate projects that are progressing well from projects that are in serious trouble? It’s difficult to tell if a project is actually red, yellow or green from the content of some project management office (PMO) project reviews. Knowing the difference reliably means knowing where to apply your attention and where to cut your losses.

Which of the following conclusions would you agree with:

1. Is a red conclusion for being behind schedule an accurate warning about project execution problems or simply an indication that the initial schedule was unrealistic?

2. Is red appropriate for evidence of cost mismanagement or is it a consequence of approving change orders too hastily?

3. Is a rampant debate, marked yellow, about priorities and scope a signal of poor goal setting correct or is it a sign of excellent project team engagement?

4. Is a green conclusion for being on schedule, budget and scope an indicator of excellent project execution or is it an indication of a simple project that won’t add much to achieving the organization’s mission?

It’s not easy or straight-forward, it is? So how do you go about assuring that your project review process is reliably concluding with the right colour?

What do your project managers think of reviews?

Too many project managers view the PMO project review as torture, as a distraction from more important work or as an administrative hoop-jumping exercise.

If this statement accurately describes your organization, it’s time to adjust the attitudes of project managers or the content of PMO project reviews.

A well-conducted review can actually be an excellent, additional communication channel for the project manager to engage management in addressing project issues. Frequent issues that only management can solve for the project include better support from the IS infrastructure team and from business staff.

How does the PMO approach the reviews?

Some PMO staff believe they are only providing value when they unearth a problem or find fault.

That approach creates an unhelpful adversarial dynamic between the PMO reviewers and the project managers. That approach also leads to nit-picking on projects that are being well managed. The ultimate outcome will be a revolt against the PMO which is then disbanded.

If this approach accurately describes your PMO, it’s time to adjust the attitudes of the PMO project reviewers and clarify the mandate of the PMO.

What is the content of the reviews?

If the content of your project reviews goes into mind-numbing detail to confirm the correct completion of the various forms in your project management and systems development methodologies, you’re on the wrong track. You’re headed for administrative perfection along with avoidable project failure.

The organization is better served when the PMO conducts a standard review that whose content starts with the usual topics of cost, schedule and budget variance. In addition, I have found that the following topics are useful to include in a review:
1. Strategy alignment.
2. Quality of deliverables.
3. Team morale and turnover.
4. Vendor performance.
5. Velocity of issue resolution.
6. Active management of the risk register.
7. Internal groups creating project roadblocks.

Am I under or over-stating the difficulty of determining if a project really is red, yellow or green?