Project Management

Watermelon Projects

Bart has been in ecommerce for over 20 years, and can't imagine a better job to have. He is interested in all things agile, or anything new to learn.

As organizations grow, senior leadership inevitably asks for more aggregated reporting; there is too much going on for them to know all the details. A popular version of this reporting is the stoplight: red, yellow, green. But when you reduce complex efforts into a single color, there can be a shocking loss of fidelity.

A member of my team recently introduced me to a new concept: the “Watermelon Project.” These are projects on your dashboard that are green on the outside while being red on the inside. (Some online definitions call them “red and bleeding” on the inside, for what it’s worth.) He didn’t invent the term, but I found the concept fascinating, and it resonated with my experiences. Let us examine why the phenomenon exists at all, and then some examples of types of watermelons.

Boiling it down to a color. At a certain organizational size, senior leadership stops being able to remain in touch with all the details of the projects that are in-flight. While they are capable and interested in a deep dive, they don’t have the bandwidth to do it for every project, so they look for quick indicators as to where to best spend their time. A long time ago, someone cleverly decided to use the stoplight approach, calling projects red, yellow or green. Calling a project red eventually became an invitation for an executive to dig into a…

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"Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don't do that by sitting around wondering about yourself."

- Katharine Hepburn