‘RAG’ Status Report – Decision-support or ragged bull?

When is a ‘RAG’ status report helpful?

We do design work on strategy and governance. This is often ‘remedial’ because of programme assurance work we or others have done. The project or its business case may be subject to a ‘RAG’ status report. There is an ongoing demand for programme outcome assurance work. Many programmes last more than two years. The seniors leading and sponsoring the programme can change within that sort of timeframe. The new Senior in post asks:

a) “What is this creature I have taken on?”

b) “Can I cut it to free up cash for things that I believe in?”

c) “If I pay it attention will it enhance my reputation for delivery?”

But who to ask? Maybe you can ask the presiding officials. But they may either have only recently turned up themselves or they have been carefully chaperoning this pet project along for years and are unable to provide an unbiased view.

So, Programme Sponsors and Directors often seek independent assurance of their programme outcomes. And besides, the best practice guidance calls for Boards to independently assure the work of Programme and Project Managers.

Both assurance reviews and the routine, periodic programme / project reporting often make use of RAG status reports

RAG = Red, Amber or Green

Project X is Red – What does that mean? Clearly, all is not well but what is wrong and who says so and why are we telling the world that there is a problem? We clearly need to do something. How do we get senior management’s attention? Does labelling the project as Red upset stakeholders and undermine their trust in us?

Project Y is Green – What does that mean? Clearly all is fine – no need to worry or take any action. If it’s a lower priority project then maybe we can transfer some budget or some resources from Y to X. May be then we’d get two Ambers!

Project Z is Amber – Hooray! Not so dire as to be Red and not so over resourced that it’s Green. Edgy Amber – fantastic – good job. Keep going! Remember to drop in on the Project Manager and say some encouraging words. Clearly doing great with finite resources. On no account raid their budget to bail out Red projects.

Deciding if your project is Red, Amber or Green for a ‘RAG’ Status report is tricky – trying to boil all the factors down into only three status options is unrealistic – so we definitely need to add ‘Amber-Red’ and ‘Amber-Green’ in the range.

How much science goes into generating an objective view of; R / RA / A / AG / G?

It often depends of the quality, integrity, maturity and competence of the Portfolio Management Office. It can be substantial, based on some balanced scorecard approach for example.

However, I sat in the offices of a central government client, many years ago, on a Thursday afternoon listening to the PMO team trying to come up with a RAG status to report upwards. The Project Manager was away but even so it’s scary to observe the conversation as the team try and work out what they should report. They pick Amber. But it’s clear that the conversation underpinning that assessment will:

a)      Not stand scrutiny if any is raised and;

b)     That the process will not be informing anyone on the actual issues that need decisions making to enable the successful delivery of the project.

I know.

This is not a fair critique of the value of RAG status reporting. But I’m not a fan, especially when used without clear contextual information.

I prefer to start with identifying what the key information is that is needed to support each individual so that there can be informed decision-making at the Board. Then the PMO should be doing its best to provide accurate and objective information for them to work with.

By all means, colour-code the risks or issues or outcomes into categories within quantitative boundaries – but please don’t expect the PMO to know telepathically what you need to know in order to be an active and responsible member of the Board.

Tell the PMO what you need to know.

I’d be surprised if the words ‘Red’, ‘Amber’ or ‘Green’ feature in your requirement.

Happy to discuss,


The link to this week’s picture is here.

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