Project Management Central

Please login or join to subscribe to this thread
How do you colour code projects?

I'm interested in how you categorise projects with colours. We use RAG: Red, Amber, Green. We also use Blue for closed projects. It is a system with a number of limitations because project managers generally try to record everything as green.

I have heard of others using ROYG: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green (and I'm keen to understand the difference between orange and yellow). And I wonder if anyone uses Black for truly difficult projects requiring rescuing.

What do you use and does it work?
Page: 1 2 next>

Hans, that's a good point. I have seen in the past projects that stay at amber or red for weeks. That's not a request for management attention. If a project is red, it should also have a plan to bring it back to green.

Great question and answers

One thing to add:
yellow and Red are signals the project is off track Objective is to bring the project back on track. Too often I see projects in the red zone and not moving any longer out of the red zone. In this way the signal lose its power since the situation is the same week after week

Colors other than green (blue excepted) are warning signals and you as a pm run out of your tolerance levels and corrective action from/with management is required.

So when amber or red the question you have to ask yourself and the management what corrective action is required to bring back the project to green within a limited time e.g. 2-3 weeks. If the answer is nothing it will remain this way it appears to be acceptable and therefore it should remain green

interested in your thoughts Hans

hi Liz - wow you are active on this board :-)

In terms of RAG, and from a programme perspective I like using this standard for risk scoring:-

Risk scoring matrix.

It has LOW, MEDIUM, HIGH and CRITICAL values based on Liklehood and Impact. Critical is pink :)

Also, a convenient numeric identifier for ease of communication - each combination of Liklihood and Impact has a unique number.

Great for comms and summarisation.

Thanks, everyone, for your ideas. I have a summary milestone list with dates and I have just colour coded all the dates so people can see if the milestones are on track or not (with blue for complete). However, I agree with William that this is just a way for people to see really simplified information. There are so many nuances on this complex project, and a degree of office politics behind some of the milestones (isn't there always?) that it doesn't ever - couldn't ever - tell the whole story.

I will start adding up and down and flat arrows though to show how things are moving - I think that is an excellent idea!

Very good discussion. I really like the few ideas William has shared. The combination of color and smiley face proposed by Mark and the weather indicators from Julien are also clever.

We also have a Up/Down arrow or a flat line beside the indicators to show if there is any improvement, no change or getting worse from the previous report. This will help people to see if special attention or help is needed for certain issues that iare getting from bad to worse.

As a consultant with a diverse background in a variety of different organizations, my experience includes a poly-chromatic, endless array of color coding, traffic lights, and other graphic, short-hand representations of status. None are effective at communicating nuanced meaning. All are, primarily, an excuse for an executive to avoid looking at (thinking about) meaningful data.

That said, the simpler the better. And, since this is certainly "communication," the meaning behind the color or symbol must be agreed upon and generally accepted within the organization.

The "best case" is often thought to be when the color/symbol is tied to something quite specific. Whether you use EV or some other calculated metric, the color is tied to it and not left to subjective analysis.

However, this is not always accurate. For example, a case where the metric indicates yellow this week but the cause is known, the issue is resolved, and the project will not experience any long term degradation. The opposite can be the case as well, where the "numbers" look green but we just lost a key resource without a back-up and we know it's headed for red.

There are "flavors" of status that play here also. In the case where the color/symbol is for executive consumption, one system used quite successfully in the past is based on whether or not "help" is required. Red, for example, means "we need executive help," amber or yellow is "there's an issue you should know about but no help is required," and green indicates "move along, nothing to see here." Specificity is required here: PMs must expressly and very specifically define the type and scope of "help" needed.

That system worked quite well and actually incentivized the issue escalation process for the PMs. It puts the relationship between PMs and executives in positive territory.


I see and feel the colors differently by dyschromatopsia. In people this is more common than everyone thinks. Could there be a more general color coding that takes into consideration this problem?


Great questions and very interesting and creative responses and tips. Just a quick tip, the conditional formatting feature of Microsoft Project provides RAG indicators that contain the corresponding smiley face (upward smile, downward frown, and neutral flat smile) so that when printed in black and white or viewed by folks that are color blind, the RAG indicators can still be understood.

@Julian, Love the weather indicators concept!

As a color blind (colour blind) person, eveything looks grey scale to me. I like to use a traffic light icon. In the US, everyone knows that green is on the top, red is on the bottom, and amber is in the middle. That allows people to correctly interpret the color codes when printing grey scale on a B/W printer.

Julien, I've never thought about weather indicators before. Guess you could also include snowy (for frozen, no progress being made) and hurricane (so many changes we can't keep up)!
Page: 1 2 next>  

Post to This Topic


Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.

- Robert Frost