There was an article in Bloomberg Businessweek recently about Ford’s transfer of CEO power. The part that caught my eye was a description of the Thursday morning meets that CEO, Alan Mulally, instigated. Each of his top managers were to report on their initiatives using the red/amber/green method. The article says that some time went by with every one of the managers reporting green.

Eventually, Mark Fields, head of the North American business showed a red. Alan’s reaction was perfect in this situation: he clapped. “The applauding CRO offered praise: “Great visibility Mark. … Is there anything we can do to help you?”

There’s three things I took from this. First, a professional does not report green when the actual status is red. Yes, you could lose your job for reporting red. Yes, your job is to perform and get results. Your professionalism and sense of ethics is more important than that. Second, every one, even someone as far up the organization as Mark Fields has red issues. Third, if your team is frightened of reporting red, you don’t know what’s really going on. You need to be positive and encourage candor when it comes.

Yes. A thousand times yes.

When an IT PM who works on one of my teams reports red, that's when I first start trusting them. Until that moment, I am skeptical of any PM's ability to detect project jeopardy and make it visible. There is huge social pressure to report green. PM's are taught by bad managers that red or yellow is a sign of PM failure. I believe it is a sign of PM skill. The PM's job is not to keep the project green. The PM's job is primarily above all else to report accurately the project health to leadership while attempting to lead the team to fix what's wrong. 

Fixing problems is great, unless you prioritize that over status. Status comes first. If you have to choose, report status instead of fixing. 

PM's who prioritize fixing issues wait too long to pull the trigger and report the problem.