What is “watermelon” green?
Watermelon. A great treat in the summer. The dark green rind, the yummy bright red center. Recently I had lunch with an IT friend named Phil. We were talking about checklists and determining project “status” when he mentioned the color Watermelon Green. I chuckled. Then I continued a bit afraid to ask for elaboration, “What is watermelon green?” He then described the modality for me. Watermelon green is the description for actions or activities reported as green yet everybody knows behind that thin skin of green resides the red pulp of truth. That is, the task or objective is not really in a good or green state.
No doubt, many of you have seen the same phenomenon. In fact, we expressed it in different, perhaps less creative way in our blog post Truth or Obfuscation. Of course, this started us talking about all of the times we have seen this happen. What follows are a few of those stories.
The project manager reports the state of a project in a line management meeting. The report is via a check list with smiley faces that are colored “red” yellow” and “green” juxtaposed against a task name. As the project manage walks through the list of items and explains, the managers owning some of those items quizzically look at each other as the state of key items reported are green smiley. It was all the managers could do to keep from having a paroxysm and work to correct the state of the project in the meeting.
Project Gantt charts can provide us with the same sort of feeling. Consider the example where the “percent completed” is used to update the status. Those projects that do not break the tasks down far enough, as Kim Pries referred to as the atomic level, have space for interpretation and as such a loss of objectivity. We have seen this same “watermelon green” effect as we hear those responsible for delivering specific tasks and actions “estimate” their level of completion only to find out come delivery date they have all of a sudden are unable to meet and are in fact weeks behind.
The description of the task state via smiley faces or “watermelon green” is idempotent. It does not change the outcome or the real state of the task. It delays and causes problems with dependencies. It seems the lack of courage or inability to perform is omnipresent, and my bet is this is a significant source of our problem with our projects being able to deliver.