Monitoring projects with project status traffic lights

Charline Grunert

Status reports provide an overview of the progress of a project, sub-project or work loads. In order to get a clear picture of the project's development as quickly as possible, traffic lights that show the status of the respective project can be a great help. In addition to the advantages of this form of visualisation, we would like to give you a few tips on how to use project traffic lights successfully.

Our tips for successful project management with the help of project traffic lights:

  • A clear logic of the individual traffic light phases makes interpretation easier
  • Data-based traffic lights prevent intentional or unconscious misjudgements
  • React to the signals in time and appropriately
  • Use software with automatically calculated project status traffic lights

You can find an explanation of the individual points in this article.

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Traffic lights for visualising project status

Project traffic lights are a popular tool in project management because their use is simple and easy for everyone to understand. However, project traffic lights are also the subject of much criticism. Often this is because the use of the project traffic light is not sufficiently discussed. The visualisation tool is usually "adjusted" by the subjective assessment of individual responsible employees, so that the significance of individual traffic light phases is quickly distorted. To counteract this distortion, there are some aspects that need to be considered when using project traffic lights:

A clear logic of the individual traffic light phases facilitates interpretation.

For the status report to be accurate, the exact meaning of the individual project traffic light phases must be consistent throughout the project and communicated precisely. In the definition, among other things, cost and deadline overruns can be defined as thresholds for the respective next traffic light stage. It should be considered that the defined threshold values also fit the respective cases. It is advisable to have a kind of project manual that lists the criteria a project manager has to take into account when defining the traffic light status.

However, it is even better if the traffic lights reflect a calculated degree of achievement between the planned and achieved values. On the one hand, this can be the start and end dates for to-dos/activities or refer to planned financial effects. The cumulative differences are then responsible for the traffic lights of a measure in each case. The achievement levels of the measures can in turn be aggregated at higher structural levels and thus generate another, higher-ranking traffic light.

Data-based traffic lights prevent deliberate or unconscious misjudgements

It should not only be clear under which conditions a status changes, but also who is responsible for the change. If this decision lies with the project manager, for example, the following possible problem scenarios should be considered:

  • The project manager does not know when a project has to be changed from green to yellow or red - the triggering factors are unknown to them.
  • The project manager sets the project traffic light to yellow "just to be on the safe side" because they are unsure whether they have everything under control.
  • The project manager avoids red lights - so that the project status is distorted.
  • The project manager is too optimistic and overlooks yellow or red lights - according to the motto "it will work out".

The decision-maker(s) about the status of the traffic lights should be educated about this behaviour so that reflective action is possible. So the "fault" here is not with the project traffic lights, but with the people involved and the reasons that lead them to misjudge the project status.

Of course, this problem is ultimately best prevented by means of automatically calculated status traffic lights. A clearly defined traffic light logic prevents the project results from being calculated in a fair way, since the traffic lights are based on facts and not on personal assessments and feelings.

React to the signals in time and appropriately

In road traffic, a red traffic light signals "Stop! Wait until the light is green again." This assessment would be fatal in a project management traffic light. While a green traffic light can certainly be equated with "All right, carry on as before." there is a need for change with red and also yellow traffic lights. Waiting alone would only make the situation worse, because in projects the traffic light colours classically refer to the schedule or the budget. With yellow or red traffic lights, there is therefore an immediate need to analyse the situation and to make changes.
Is a problem random or systematic? It is essential to answer this question. Because delays can always occur, e.g. due to breakdowns or force majeure. Moreover, even with the best planning, mistakes happen from time to time. However, if too little time has been systematically planned for a process or if the project environment has fundamentally changed, sooner or later other project areas will also be affected. The same applies to planned budgets or savings targets. So the next step in this case is to work out actions that bring the traffic lights back to green or prevent further traffic lights from getting worse.

Project status traffic lights, a must for successful projects

When used correctly with clear definitions and distribution of tasks, the project traffic light is a particularly efficient tool for determining the project status. A great deal of information can be gathered in a very short time and problematic areas can be quickly identified. That is why a clear project structure with project status traffic lights at all levels is one of Falcon's core functions - automatically calculated, of course. Check the project status with just one glance and derive necessary actions.

Learn more about Falcon and the advantages for your project management.

More about Falcon

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