When we need to communicate the status of something easily or urgently, especially when there is risk involved, then a simple colour-coded system based on traffic lights is often used … known as traffic-light or RAG rating. These RAG ratings communicate the health (performance, progress, risk, or overall status) of something. The name (RAG) derives from the colours of a traffic light–Red, Amber, and Green–with their associated concepts of Stop, Caution, and Go. This colour-coding approach is used in many fields, from the obvious road intersections, through airport departure boards, terrorist threat levels, factory production lines, hospital occupancy, even the healthiness of prepackaged food, to the state of our project, process, or deliverables.
In terms of projects, the story that RAG ratings seek to communicate is typically:
While the cut-over between these states will vary from organisation to organisation, or even project to project, these three colours are typically sufficient to let key stakeholders know the health or risk levels of their projects, and importantly (when they are very busy) to highlight which items require intervention.
Sometimes red, amber, and green are not enough to communicate the health of everything, and these are supplemented with other colours, for example:
So, having established a range of colours, how do we use that on our status reports? Whether it’s in a document, spreadsheet, or slide deck, we typically arrange our deliverables or tasks in a table, with key information (like when we had agreed to complete them, the percentage completed) and the RAG status to indicate whether it is still achievable. However, as this shows just a single colour, this misses a vital ingredient for those with colour-blindness (1 in 10 men and 1 in 200 women) — i.e. on a traffic light, when they see the top or bottom light lit, they know it’s red or green because of its position too. To overcome this, we normally supplement the colour with some brief text; some people use the full word or initial letter of the colour itself — R, A, or G — however it is more useful to say something about the status. Airport departures board tell you ‘go to gate’, ‘boarding’, ‘delayed’, or ‘departed’ — so similarly we can say ‘on track’, ‘at risk’, ‘delayed’, or ‘complete’.
This blog is an exploration of tools, techniques, and insights that reflect my journey as I strive to be the best I can be. I am still learning and exploring, and I invite your feedback and discussion so that we can learn from one another.