Too many stoplights can cause a pile up, and a pile up can create a lot of disgruntled drivers, or in this case, rattled IT workers. Project stoplights are supposed to be indicators of the status of key project progress measurements, generally coming in familiar green, yellow, and red varieties. But Kevin Korterud is seeing lately what he refers to as “stoplight overkill,” and he writes for PMI three reasons to cut back on project stoplights:
- Stoplights are not progressive.
- Stoplight bands mean different things to different measurements.
- Stoplights can be “gamed.”
Since a stoplight is inherently working with three colors, it does not offer the ability to show many degrees of difference. A piece of data might technically fall into “yellow” territory but realistically be sitting just above “red,” or vice versa. Stoplights are very static in this regard. This lack of certainty follows on into the second reason:
Gaming stoplights so that they are made to appear green regardless of the reality of the situation is a fast way to build toward a calamity. If they are going to be forced green for the sake of appearances, there is no point in using them at all. Korterud recommends using things like scatterplots of projected and actual completion dates to display progress in deliverables, or using customer satisfaction on a timeline to show a project’s impact on a sponsor’s business. The goal here is to use units of measurement that actually make sense on a case by case basis, and they should be used sparingly enough that when they appear, nobody will mind yielding to the light.