How do we gauge the health of a project? It is not like you can stick a thermometer under its tongue. Most likely, you will see a project’s health indicated by either a red, amber, or green light. Kiron Bondale notes that this may sound like a good system, but there is a good deal more to consider:
While these indicators might seem like a good visual method to quickly understand the health of an individual project or a portfolio, the flaw with this approach is that this is a subjective evaluation usually conducted by either the project manager or the project sponsor. While one might argue that these are the two roles best positioned to assess a project’s health, they are also the ones who have the most “skin in the game”, hence, depending on organizational culture and project management maturity, the ratings provided may be as suspect as team members’ use of percentage complete for reporting task progress.
Different project managers will use this system differently. Sometimes all will seem green until the moment of absolute failure, at other times you will have what Bondale refers to as a “Chicken Little” who will have a project perpetually set on red because of minor imperfections. This makes it difficult for stakeholders to get a clear idea of where the project stands.
Since projects have different levels of importance, Bondale recommends switching up your health check system to match. Things such as a questionnaire that would assign point values to project successes and drawbacks may be a more accurate way to gauge project health. The color system may look nice, but that may be one of the only nice things about it.