“Why Red is Good”


Most of us are familiar with “green, yellow, red” reporting.

A colleague mentioned the concept of “Why Red is Good” bc it is an opportunity to improve, as opposed to an opportunity for “leadership” to crack the whip.

And in the same vein green can be seen as a complacent “we’ve hit the mark, no need to worry” instead of an opportunity to raise the bar a bit.

Anybody have some thoughts, experience, war stories in this territory?

Podcast Released: Red is Good

Maybe I’ve just worked on messed up projects in my career, but green is a color I’m not used to seeing. We kick on off, and it starts green and almost immediately goes to yellow. The colors yellow and red have traditionally been used to elevate to leadership that serious blockers are in the way of progress.

It’s not an opportunity, which I love in your analogy. It’s almost the only tool middle management has to let their bosses know they need to pay attention.

Probably also has to do with the fragility of organizations. They can’t talk to each other so the only way to communicate is with colors on a status report.


Two thoughts: first RYG as a status indicator is redic. For a team to speak about health in that manner I actually think it is ok, but outside reporting being so subjective :mask:

Second, I saw the term “watermelon status” recently, Green on the outside Red on the inside. Clever.


The thing that bothers me the most about the green, yellow, red statuses is that they are usually metrics that are re-active to progress and not proactive. Nobody “takes action” or has an interest to improve the proejct unless it’s a certain color? Seems like a crappy way to remove impediments.

I like the comment about complacency in green. This is 100% accurate from any project I’ve been on that is green. We always had a whirlwind of risks, issues, impediments, but since we had so much time to deliver, the status appeared “green” because some arbitrary date wasn’t at risk. It made no sense.


@andycleff let’s get feedback from the crowd and pair on a blog post and/or podcast on the topic.


RAG status is suboptimal as it boils a rather complex situation into one of 3 choices. Another problem with using RAG status is everyone has a different definition of what red/amber/green actually mean. It actually makes things more confusing.

Most projects start green…does that even make sense? Logically with the amount of known unknowns at a project’s inception(and even unknown unknows), how can you realistically say your project is green when there’s more you don’t know than you do know. Traditional PMO tools like Clarity take it a step further, and have RAG status selections for every major function of PM oversight (budget, time, etc.). Gets really ugly really quickly.

Another aspect…what’s the difference between a red project where “we have encountered a problem with no clear solution/no ETA on resolution” and a red project that’s a five-alarm dumpster fire?

The root of it all is that as humans we try to classify in order to comprehend, and it’s easiest for us to lump something into a vague descriptor which means different things to different people. Not sure if I helped :slight_smile:


What does the status mean to you?
For me it is the possibility to have an overview at a glance, which let’s me know of which items I have to take notice and which might be not relevant. As long as you stay away from a judgement based on the status, this works fine for me. Red does not mean someone is wrong. It just means it is not as planned and requires improvement.


See that’s where my experiences diverge. If healthy orgs can see the status that way, it certainly be a useful tool. However, most of the time I consult in fragile spots where it’s a stick.


In the end it is a matter of attitude, how you cope with a status. Do the recipients want to take responsibility or does they want to dispose responsibility.

We all know that only the first option leads into good results. You might want to see it as a kind of leadership test how people respond to a red status :wink:


One, of many possible, context for RYG is a team health check.

Many will be familiar w this graphic from Spotify’s Health check model:

:frog: Green = Awesome. Doesn’t necessarily mean things are perfect. Just no need for improvement right now.
:confused: Yellow = There are some important problems that need addressing, but it’s not a disaster.
:rage: Red = Things are really crappy and need to be improved.

We also have the overlay of another dimension: trend.
:arrow_up:︎ Things are getting better over time
⎯⎯ Things are pretty much stable
:arrow_down:︎ Things are getting worse over time

@chrismurman I’m up for pairing…


Who is that ^ for?

From our friends at spotify:

When visualizing the health of an organization, there are two key audiences:

1) The teams themselves.

While discussing the different indicators, the team builds up self-awareness about what’s working and what’s not. A broad selection of questions helps expand their perspective. Perhaps they were well aware of the quality issues, but hadn’t really thought about the customer value perspective, or how fast they learn. It also provides a balanced perspective, showing the good stuff as well as the pain points.

2) People supporting the teams.

Managers and coaches get a high level summary of what’s working and what’s not. They can also see patterns across multiple teams. A visual summary like the above helps managers and coaches to figure out how to spend their time, and who to talk to about what.

The first step in taking on any problem is to be aware of it. And this type of visualization makes that possible.

Time to read up on TPS / Taiichi Ohno… the idea that “Red is Good” has roots there, iirc.


Some interesting things on the innerwebs so far:


ADA507163.pdf (959.6 KB)

Wow, a fascinating read. Air Force Maintenance on a Lean Change Initiative.


Man that article was a meaty read. Enjoyed the transparency and lessons learned from the exercise. Was a little disheartening to read the conclusions and recommendations as it seemed like there wasn’t much good news to celebrate with leadership. Hopefully they will take some of the recommendations and experiment because the numbers say they have no other choice.


Yeah. Sad ending. I liked the interim plot / character of Gen Bill Creech

I’m curious what the “opposition” makes of the report…

“Make 'em fly enough air time and that will be that… then we can come out of our caves.”

Sounds like many a transition we’ve all been part of?


A colleague shared the attached short read “red is good” paper today:
Red Is Good.pdf (38.1 KB)