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What does the audience want to see?
For example, when working with a COO at a previous company, he wanted high level details on the first page with stoplights. Any issues would be detailed out an a separate page for further discussion.
Stoplights are usually associated with different measures or areas of interest (e.g. actual vs. plan for scope, schedule, cost, quality and so on). To ensure consistency in reporting between projects, you'd usually have thresholds such as if cost variance -$10000 OR is 10% over plan, then yellow and so on.
Depending on where the stop light is included (e.g. status report, online dashboard), you might provide details for each which could include specific issues or risks.
In addition to health metrics, often different supporting functions will have their own overall health metric such as Engineering, Manufacturing, Supply Chain, etc. Each of those functions gets a stoplight.
The point is to focus in on what is not green so the text beside the stoplight can briefly say why a light is yellow or red.
The definitions for the colors varies by organization. Sometimes it is as simple as: On Plan (G), Off Plan but Recovery Plan in place (Y), Off Plan and no Recovery Plan (R). Other times it is based on the severity of the risk.
if I were overlooking say 50 projects I would like to see at a glance which I should look at in detail and I'd pick the 10 with a red status and the one which status changed from green to yellow.
So, as a PM or PMO, listen to Aaron: what does the audience need to see.
And beware of the watermelon effect (inner red and outer green) which often comes with middle management interfering.
In our case we use stop lights in the way @Kiron stated above. We are using what we call "one page report" with trafic lights on in regarding Overrall health, Financial, Schedule, Resource, Risk. Each light has a color which is automatically changed according some simple rules about the percentage of acceptable RIsk (for example).
I usually associate the 'stop light' concept with risk analysis. Green - low risk; Yellow - medium risk; Red - high risk. One has to be careful how one interprets the lights . Many may see Green as NO risk (thus needs no attention) and Red as hopeless (thus attention is wasted).
The 'stop light' concept may also be used to designate at which level action is required. Green - managed by project personnel: Yellow - Project Manager or Project Management steering committee; Red - Corporate management or senior stakeholder.
As the meaning/intent of the colours can be subject to interpretation make sure its application is clearly defined otherwise you may be applying a lot of effort managing over-reactions rather than solving problems.
I agree with Kiron.
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