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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