What dance do you do when your project is Yellow? #PMOT

It seems that everyone is pretty comfortable when it comes to the definition of a project that is either green and red.

Green – everything is going well, on track for schedule, scope, and budget.

Red – serious problems that need stakeholder help to resolve. Probably unable to materially meet schedule, scope, and/or budget.

But Yellow?

Yellow seems to be the colour in the middle where there is a wide range of status and actions.

To some, any amount over budget turns the project yellow. Some only turn it yellow after the schedule, scope, or budget overages exceed 5%.

To some, a yellow project requires an action plan. Some turn it yellow to indicate that it is being watched, but that no actions are required.

Which is correct?

I would suggest that depends on the culture of the project, team, and client. But I do tend to see two types of yellow dances that occur on projects.

The Yellow Dances

Using using the dance metaphor, I am proposing that the two partners in the dance are the project and the project status. The dance that they do reflect the interactions that occur during the lifetime of the project.

The Green Waltz – I use the Green Waltz dance to refer to the more formal behaviour of the project and project status. In this dance, the project and project status relationship is quite formal. The status is usually communicated via status reports. Much of the focus of the project is to do whatever it takes to turn the yellow project back into green as quickly as possible. As a result, this dance is very quick as the change request tempo can become very up tempo. During the course of the dance, the yellow/green transitions(change requests) can come at a furious pace.

Pros – Any exceptions to the plan are highlighted.

Cons – The project may be green at the end and people may think it is fine, but there may have been numerous change requests that only give the appearance of everything being fine. The status does not represent the holistic status, only the current point in time status of current plan against current actuals.

The Yellow Tango – Unlike the Green Waltz, the Yellow Tango is less about seeking to become green and more about understanding the rhythm of your partner and reacting. The Yellow Tango embraces yellow and does not try to guide it back to green. The dance understands that both partners lead the dance at certain times, and tries not to force it back to green without good reason. The Yellow Tango is a slower dance, without the up tempo of numerous change requests. But if a change request is required it usually is a larger, sudden movement and change in the dance.

Pros – the status holistically communicates the status of the entire project, not just at that point in time.

Cons – The reduced formality can result in delayed escalation of issues until they become large enough. This may be an issue depending on the dance hall you are in. 🙂 Some dances halls are ok with these exaggerated movements, some not so much.


Both dances are appropriate and neither are right or wrong. Many times, the dance will be stipulated by the client/dance hall.

My personal preference is for the Yellow Tango as I feel it does communicate the overall status as opposed to just a point in time. As with the Tango though, it is a more involved and complex dance. I think it does required a more educated client and team. I also find the  Yellow Tango better for Agile projects when things are just bigger or more complex without added scope. The Yellow Tango more honestly recognizes that we don’t know everything up front and we will manage the items together in clear, open, and honest communication.

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