Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Project RAG Status Conventions

Large-scale projects involving multiple streams of work (sub-projects) most of the time require a way of communicating the essence of progress updates without getting into the details. This is especially relevant if your audience is senior managers and above who have little time to appreciate the detail and want to have a birds-eye view of the status of say, the key high level milestones being delivered by the various work-streams.  It is often the responsibility of the Project/Program manager to feed this information in a format that is visually appealing and simple, this format is often referred to as a RAG status report:

R A G  =  Red  Amber  Green
This is a convention that project management use to summarise the status of work, largely around the following areas (which by the way is what I'm using currently in managing my own projects):

  • Project / Task Status 
    • Are we on track / target / according to plan? Green
    • Are we on track but have highlighted risks that could impact the original plan? Amber
    • Have we missed our original targets? Amber
    • Are we so screwed that the project launch / completion is delayed? Red
  • Issue Status
    • Is this a top priority Showstopper Critical issue? Red
    • Is this a medium priority issue that can wait a week to resolve? Amber
    • Is the issue resolved and closed? Green
  • Risks
    • Does this risk rank in top 5 (High Probability/Impact)? Red
    • Does this risk rank between 6-20 (Medium Probability/Impact)? Amber
    • Is the risk for completeness, to be monitored but very low probability/Impact? Green
Generally the RAG status is meant to communicate at a high level to senior management the status of various streams of work. This is well known in the project management knowledge-base, although the actual usage and value of the RAG does vary.  Used correctly, the RAG report can be invaluable, I've seen RAG statuses used in real world projects not just for reporting purposes, but had triggered active management intervention in saving projects, rather than being used for pointing blame.  This is not always possible hence some people believe the RAG report doesn't make much sense because it triggers actions too late. However, if the convention is designed such that problems are anticipated in advance, and you have the support of the senior stakeholders, and you have frequent RAG updates, then it is in fact possible to provide valuable output from the RAG report...

As highlighted in my previous post on the importance of defining clear defect severity and priority definitions to prevent ambiguity and confusion amongst the entire project team, the RAG status conventions need to be defined and accepted in pretty much the same way.  The RAG status is a sensitive topic, depending on your audience, you have to be careful how the RAG is applied.

Here are a few example references:

Real-world Examples
Speaking from experience again, the RAG status can be a source of contention. Whatever you do, make sure you review the terms and conditions of the RAG conventions before publicising your report. Whether you're a vendor delivering software components to your customer, or you're just simply reporting to your executive committee for your project, care must be taken to ensure your interpretation of the status accurately reflects the status as you best understand it. Sometimes you have to temper the status, keeping an internal RAG for your internal management, and an external RAG to soften the message upwards to the key stakeholders.  

Some might argue this is insane, that we need to be transparent as possible and that the stakeholders must appreciate the detail otherwise what value is the report if we're hiding behind a wall of misrepresentation, putting up a farce??

I am very much a strong-willed, principle-minded person who stands pretty much up to the transparency argument, but I've been burnt in the past and had to succumb to the wishes of senior management NOT to be so transparent. As a vendor, you want to promote a sense of order, that you got things under control. Present a sense of calm, but in the background you're frantically trying to put out the fire - In other words, when reporting back to the customer Never Ever Report a Red RAG status!!  Unbelievable, I know, but it actually causes less headache and keeps the customer off your back!

But what if this is an internal project and your stakeholders are CEOs of your own company who are too busy to get involved with the detail? What if you've been clear and honest in the reporting, and are following the conventions to the letter and are reporting on the RAG convention as published? What if all the milestones are Red?? Should you hide this from the Exec Committee?? Again, my initial reaction is No, absolutely not.  But as a seasoned manager, one has to gauge the culture of the organisation, taking appropriate actions to manage both upwards and downwards.  Recently though, I did provide a report that was flagged as Red for pretty much the whole programme, this didn't go down so well.  I am now thinking about tempering the format yet again, to avoid the avalanche from above...

However, the purist in me really shares the same view as this post "Starting Green" where it proposes the RAG actually turned on its head: start off with Red and work your way towards green.  Really interesting experiment to try, but you have to have an open-minded organisation to be willing to give this a go! 

However, the reality is though, the RAG status is quite entrenched in classic management's mindset, how can a project start off in the Red? Didn't you do enough planning? We wouldn't have baselined the plan unless the project manager's had produced the initial baseline plans using best/worst/realistic estimates, so the projects/tasks must definitely start off in the Green state??

My Own Templates that Seem to Work
As always I'd like to share some of the stuff that have proved to work for me, and am currently using in my day-to-day activities (hopefully these are all self-explanatory):
Generic RAG for Internal - External Translation (Notice NO Red to External Players)
Download PDF

Example of Sub-Project RAG for Multiple Workstreams
Download PDF

Component Software Development per User Story / Work Package
Download PDF

Other Formats
I've seen other RAG / Traffic light formats been used before.  Typical SAP projects use the UP / Down / Right icon graphics to signal progress:
  • Vertical Up Arrow - Amber
  • Vertical Down Arrow -  Red
  • Horizontal Green Arrow - Green (Amber is also used if tasks are on Target with some associate Risk)
There are also others that use primarily the colours to signify severity, but also include arrows to forecast/predict the status anticipated for the next update:
  • Horizontal Arrow - Status anticipated to be the same next report
  • Down Arrow - Status anticipated to be down next report (e.g. Amber next report from being Red this report)
  • Up Arrow - Status anticipated to be up next report (e.g. Amber next report from being Green this report)

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Why I switched from Windows to Mac...

I finally made the move to Mac OSX after much delay and procrastination - enough was enough. For almost a year I was making do, blindly accepting the instabilities of my machine at work, Dell Latitude E6410 Laptop running 64-bit Windows, having to reboot due to random stalls and BSODs after the second month of usage. 

I'd actually got accustomed to the routine, even at my previous company (that time it was on an HP notebook): Boot laptop, login, crash, reboot, make coffee, login, stall, reboot, unplug network cable, login, wait 5 minutes, plug network cable - fine - don't ever use the docking station because it crashes on each undock/dock, don't use wireless because it crashes on ethernet accustomed was I to this routine, that it didn't really bother me...until I'd lost some important work: Mid-way through writing an email, Outlook would hang or crash without saving, using Excel the same thing happened...Now I'm not a power user anymore, since I've left software development for management, my tools are just: Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, MS Project, MindManager. My Excel spreadsheets are huge and complicated but not nearly large enough to bring down the whole OS...anyway I decided to note down all the incidents that mattered to motivate my bosses into approving the purchase of the top-of-the range, Macbook Pro.

Bottom-line: Time lost gaffing around PC issues in the workplace is irritating, costs the company money. This is how my time was wasted:

Laptop woes
@3pm hang in outlook whilst typing email. No draft saved
@9am hang in Outlook on boot up. Waited 10 minutes before rebooting. Ctrl+alt+del not responsive. End process not working. 2 mins wait from login to outlook usable
@9.38am hang in outlook when typing. Waited 10 minutes again. Rebooted
@10:56am LT unresponsive after boot up. Left alone for one hour. Never even login. Forced reboot. Haven't done any work yet
@11:04am still unresponsive in outlook
Boot up login stall
20 mins wasted
@09:56 stalled in outlook
Rebooted again in safe mode
Waited 10mins
Type new email - stalls
Needs reboot
Outlook running in safe mode better
@09.30 Using CSS stalls
Forced reboot
@8.30 booted from cold. Stalled past login. Forced reboot. Wasted 20 mins
@8am boot from cold, outlook. On replying to email, stalls. Lose 15 minutes
@8.25am left pc locked
@16.00pm pc was on standby boot up stalled forced reboot. Wasted 10mins
@16:20pm very unstable. Keeps not responding when browsing email or word document
Booted from standby. Outlook unresponsive. Forced reboot. Wasted 15 mins
@9:11am switched off wifi switched back on, stalled outlook Internet explorer. Stalled whole machine. Windows complains "the application is not responding. The program may respond if you wait. Do you want to end process?"
Wasted 15 mins. Forced reboot
@11.30am adding printer takes 5+ mins to load.
@10.15am stalled on right clicking desktop. Restart. Wasted 15 mins
@15.12 mind manager stalled. Lost 2 hours work
14/12/11 @9.30am boot up, load outlook, stalls. Task bar not responsive. Ctrl+alt+del doesn't work. Forced reboot. Wasted 20 mins
@14.25pm left locked. Come back, stalled. Unable to unlock. Ctrl alt del does nothing. Forced reboot. Waste 20mins
15/12/11 @9am boot to outlook. Read email. Stalls. Reboot. Waste 15mins
19/12/11 @9.30 reply to mail. Stalls. Need reboot. Wasted 20 mins
20/12/11 @9.30 boot up unresponsive. Forced shutdown. Reboot. Wasted 20mins
@9.50am load outlook - reply to email. Stalls. Not responding.  Requires reboot again. Wasted 15min
@10.25am left lt on from just rebooting. Come back. Stalled completely.
03/01/12 @8.50am. Boot up, had to change password. Reboot. Goto outlook stalls. No other app can load. Needs hats reset. Windows not responding message. Wasted 15 mins
05/01/12 @8.30am
Booted, waited 5 mins, went to outlook to update meeting invite. Stalls. Not responding. Requires hard reboot. Wasted 15 minutes
06/01/12 @8.50am
Laptop left powered on overnight. Black screen. Not responsive. Needs  hard reboot. Wasted 10 minutes
16/01/12 @9am
Boot from sleep. Stalls.  Reboot. Outlook. Calendar. Update meeting invite. Stalls. Needs hard reboot. Waste 15 mins
16/01/12 @09.25am
Updated one invite. Stalled on sending second invite. Outlook. Waited 5 mins. Recovered
17/01/12 @08.00am
Boot from cold. Click outlook twice. No response. Not reacting to mouse keys or keyboard. Hard reboot required. Wasted 15 mins
14/02/12 @12.40pm
Complete freeze whilst editing document not saved. Earlier complete freeze whilst presenting on second screen. Forced reboot required
17/02/12 @10.30am
Stalled in middle of typing email. Risk register changes lost. Hard reboot.  Valuable time lost. Wasted 30 minutes redoing updates to risk log
27/02/12 @8.30-09.15am
Rebooted twice. Very unresponsive. Outlook exception on launching. Invalid memory location. Wasted 45 minutes
@9.45am. Outlook stalled on send email. Waited 5 minutes to recover
28/02/12 @10.00am
Left laptop on from 8.40am, came back from meeting. Dead. Ctrl+Alt+Del does nothing
But I crashed my Macbook 3 times in the first two days!

So I ditched the Dell and got my Macbook Pro, funny thing though: I crashed the machine 3 times in 2 days, but since then it's been running just fine:
The first Mac-equivalent of BSOD on trying to run FireFox for the first time

The 2nd & 3rd crash on just using Outlook and Excel

And a classic Outlook crash, not OSX

Initial feelings
  • Mindset change
  • Hate Microsoft not keeping consistent Windows Look n Feel / Behaviour for MacOffice
  • Transfer / Migration process did not work out of the box - manually transferred files
  • Don't like all the complicated key press short-cuts for MacOffice - some short-cuts require a combination of four keys to be pressed!
  • MS Outlook is missing some features
  • Haven't had much time to experiment
  • Love the Mac's Look n Feel - build quality is excellent
Would I go back to Windows?
I'm still 50/50 on this one.  I was brought up with Microsoft products, never used a Mac before until now (20+ years using PC).  I am way more productive on the Windows products, it'll take me some time to get up to the same level...but I'll get there. My home machine is a PC, and it works beautifully - also running Windows 64-bit Quad-Core beefy machine, without serious problems...