What should you do if your project reports items as 'red'? Why should you be uncomfortable if it doesn't?

Red is a comforting color

The Governance Team was more than a little surprised when their ‘all green’-reported project was suddenly found to be significantly ‘red’ across a number of dimensions as an results of a thorough Health Check.

Project Sponsors and Steering Committee Members are rightly angry if they feel they have been misled. Indeed, there are fewer bigger ‘crimes’ in business than hiding things when they go wrong.

Indeed, if a major, complex project does not have items occasionally rated as ‘red’, then the project reporting process may itself warrant a ‘red’ rating! Not seeing any 'red' should make you uncomfortable.

Rules for rating as 'red'

Its important to make clear the ‘rules’ for rating items ‘red’. These can include

  • Any dimension that is rated ‘amber’ [1] for three consecutive months — ie it is a problem that is not being resolved
  • Any dimension that is off plan without a clear, targeted remedial plan to take it back to a green rating
  • Any dimension that warrants in-depth discussion at the Governance and Project Leadership Teams level

'Red should be welcomed

Project Directors should not be embarrassed if a dimension goes ‘red’, instead they should see it as a means whereby they can redirect their focus onto the areas requiring their immediate attention.

Too many ‘red’ dimensions can still spell disaster; but a few can harness the commitment and energy of the Governance and Project Leadership Teams and focus them on ensuring the project’s success.


[1] ‘Amber’ should mean that, while the dimension has a problem, there is a known solution and an action plan is in place that is working.


How to set the criteria for 'red' reporting and what to do when it occurs is covered in the TOP Project Governance program,


Topics: Project Controls, Project Governance

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Feb 2008) as "What Do You Do When You See 'Red'?"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections