Project Status - The Real Truth?
A popular travel review site is under fire for its reviews not being authentic, even though it adamantly claims “authentic and genuine” reviews in its advertising. I am not surprised by the fact that a government Anti-Trust agency fined them for false advertising, as I had posted some reviews on a travel review site and later realized they had removed one of my negative reviews for a major hotel chain. They did not contact me to tell me they removed the negative review and I had no idea when they had actually removed it. I asked them about the removal and they justified it by stating the hotel was now under “new management,” but they left all the positive reviews from the old management, thus artificially inflating this hotels rating.
If you are involved with project status you had better be familiar with inflated ratings.
When discussing project status reports, I frequently get this question: “My project is in trouble (yellow or red status on the red-yellow-green scale) and my stakeholder (sponsor, customer, boss, PMO head, etc.) doesn’t want to show it as yellow or red, what do I do?” The stakeholder wants the status to still be green, even though the project is obviously in trouble, or there are a truckload of risks.
There is no one answer because of the wide range of circumstances that cause this situation. Additionally, in some organizations there is such an overreaction to a yellow or red project status indicator, that yellow and red are only used when the project is unrecoverable. It is best when the status report is an accurate reflection of the project. However sometimes there is pressure for this not to be the case, showing green instead. What follows is what I deem important in situations like this.
Make sure that the people that need to know the true project status, know the true project status, and they know it in a time frame that allows them to respond/act without any negative consequences.
Sometimes this means the project status indicator is shown as green, but if you read the words of the report it is burnt orange. Sometimes it means the status is shown as green, but we had a private conversation that communicated it was really red and what is taking place to turn it to green. Sometimes it means you set up a scenario where they will ask you questions to expose the true status of the project. Etc. etc. Find a way to communicate the truth to those that need to know it while minimizing controversy.
Please note I stated “...they know it in a time frame that allows them to respond/act without any negative consequences” which means you have a strategy about when to share the information, as immediately may not always be the answer. You must use your judgment in context, because in some organizations the formal status process is merely a show and the real status occurs privately. Remember, you can’t use your judgment in context effectively when you don’t know the context well. A lot of unnecessary angst is created when people make the "perceived" right decision, which turns out to be wrong because of the context.
I once asked a high level leader who was in Florida if he was going to California for the program schedule review. He told me he was not traveling 2000 miles to be lied to. This leader was in tune with what was going on and knew the real status (behind schedule, over budget). The real status was being masked until a later date because of the budget cycle and behind the scenes negotiations among high level political stakeholders.
The yin to this yang is that when you are the recipient of a status report and it says it's green you must ask enough questions to assure it is really green because it can be common place for people to say the project is in better shape than it is really in. It is bizarre how many projects go from forest green to deep red in one reporting period, leapfrogging right past yellow.
On the surface project status seems straightforward. But with anything involving human beings it can be much more complex than appearances. Creating, evaluating and responding to status reports requires thinking about how the status report impacts the human system.
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