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Traffic Lights – What Do They Mean?

May 5, 2009

Traffic LightThe use of “traffic lights” is prevalent in communicating status of scorecard information. A quick reference, colors are used to provide current statues of projects, initiatives, and goals set by an organization. They are easily discernable and quickly communicate information. Most used colors on scorecards are red, yellow, and green. Colors are further clarified through accompanying action plans necessary to change red and yellow to green.

Using the traffic light concept is a straightforward way to communicate status of projects. This is especially true of green, which most often is interpreted as reaching success, similar to receiving an ‘A’ on a report card. Green represents a positive result and the color to strive for and achieve. Green with envy is the place that reds find themselves at times.

Red is used to indicate that a goal is not achieved. It is most closely associated with failure or a negative mark even if documentation notes otherwise. Red is often an indicator of an incomplete task or a missed deadline. Red is a visceral color in business not imbuing confidence.

Yellow is the most confusing of all colors. It often means that expected goals have not reached, reclassified as a work in process. Action plans are required to describe how yellow will be changed to green. Yellow is often interpreted as positive since it is not red. It can also indicate the lack of a serious discussion about the project or avoidance of a status change to red.

What would it be like to have only two lights; red and green?

Either the goal is reached or it is incomplete. This would improve clarity while removing the ambiguity of yellow. Complete or incomplete, provide a status that states that only green is complete and red incomplete. Scorecards would provide clarity of true success and completion. Being a little pregnant would no longer be an option.

Clarity in the world of scorecard is critical, a quick indicator of status that is shared with many different levels in an organization. It is important to face the challenges head on addressing incomplete work rather than the egg shell dance of yellow. Organizational culture would require managing the egos of red. Status would be required for all red just like yellows and reds of traditional scorecards.

Green would become the new black in business.

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