RAG Status and Its Crucial Role in Organizational Leadership

Dec 1, 2020

The RAG status of a project or any of its milestones is the level at which resources, like money, time, and talent affect its expected success. RAG — or red/amber/green — thus becomes a code to either alert or assure stakeholders of the current state of a project. The RAG code can be adapted across other domains, besides project management. The road traffic safety standard code is one such area, although each color then has a much simpler explanation. 

This post focuses on applying a RAG status analysis to software development. We'll show you how teams can map the RAG status model onto their projects and we'll suggest some actions you can use to breathe life into stale (red status) situations. 

Before we go into how teams can map the RAG status onto their work, let's clarify how each color code on the scale translates to software project management. 

What Does a Red RAG Status Mean?

Just as red = stop for road traffic systems, so too does it require conscious pause and deliberation when it comes to software project management. Projects categorized at the red level are in dire need of attention or they may fail (change course!). Typical resource conditions that may indicate a project’s status is red may include the following: 

  • Money: The project is nearly exhausting budgets but is far from completion.

  • Time: The project requires more time than previously estimated.

  • Talent: The talent on the project does not meet the needs and more hands should come on board.

We'll use the three resources above when describing the different parameters that eventually lead to assigning a specific color code to a project. It is also common to use a red tag in a project orchestration tool. Such tools show what tasks are required to take software projects through versions. Often, a red status on a software project hints to programmers and managers that a task is strained on all three resources above, or has not started at all. 

What Does an Amber RAG Status Mean?

Amber projects or milestones are less threatening to the successful outcomes expected by stakeholders. Often it takes less work to get amber projects back on track than it takes to get red projects on track. Using the money, time, and talent resources to explain an amber status, a typical assessment may discover the following; 

  • Money: At this pace, we may have to invest a little more money into the project by Q2 of next year.

  • Time: We have just enough time left to complete the project. However, more time would assure better quality work,

  • Talent: The team is currently overworked and would perform better if more hands came on deck.

Some of the statements above may sound familiar. Project managers use them when explaining how work is going and even when expressing their worry to a company's owners. When applied to project management and release tools, the amber color tag often indicates that action is required immediately to avoid crossing into a red status. 

What Does a Green RAG Status Mean?

Just as green is the most desired color when approaching a traffic light, a project with a green status also brings smiles to project owners' faces. It means the project is going as planned. Often the color alone is enough to convince project leaders that their planning was spot on. A green status indicates that money, time, and talent allocations are sufficient or near perfect to accomplish the tasks and milestones successfully, on or before expected delivery times. 

Now that we're clear about what each of the colors means for the tasks, milestones, or projects, let's see how a team can apply them to modern workflows and software release orchestration

Release Orchestration With the RAG Scale

Teams can use several release orchestration methods, and most (if not all) use the RAG status to classify project tasks. Sometimes, in place of red, an orchestration tool uses gray as the crucial indicator color. Either way, the three levels serve the purpose of quickly showing which tasks need immediate action. 

How to Determine a Color Scale

Project managers should agree on what each of the colors means for their work situation, especially if the colors they choose to use differ from the RAG template we described above. 

Each project a team tackles comes with an expected delivery date. As such, you can make note of time to grade each task as it moves along the timeline. 

Time and the RAG Status

When using time as a variable to assign a RAG status color to any project, the following corresponding statuses apply: 

  • Green: A project is progressing in good time.

  • Amber: A project is running out of time.

  • Red: A project has overshot the prescribed time limit.

While time is a core variable for project management, it's not the only one. Money is another core variable, and it can be a more pressing issue than time for some projects. Let's see how you can factor in money when creating a RAG status for a project and its components. 

Money and the RAG Status

A project can be progressing according to the timeline defined for it, yet still fail because of its financial constraints. You can easily be map the money variable onto the RAG scale as follows: 

  • Green: A project is spending financial resources predictably.

  • Amber: A project may require a bit more financial input; please review!

  • Red: A project has stopped due to budget shortages.

Talent and the RAG Status

Just like when a project surpasses time variable expectations, when a project creeps beyond its financial budget, action is often required immediately to keep it alive. 

While a three-dimensional look at project management considers the impact of the talent resource, you can use it in the same fashion as we did with time and money, regardless of the project. When you plot talent on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis, you'll see how more talent added almost always results in shorter project times. 

Although adding talent helps reduce project timelines, it inflates the budget. As such, we assume that for each project you conceptualized as we went through each of the RAG statuses, you allocated proper talent resources. 

To build onto the RAG status colors, and customization knowledge you've gained so far, let's look at the typical actions that each color calls for. 

RAG Status Actions

It only makes sense that each level of the RAG status model is met with action to turn it green. It goes without saying that the green level requires no further action. On the other hand, project tasks with amber and red statuses beg for attention. What can you do when a project’s status becomes one of these colors? 

Amber Action Suggestion

Corrective Action: As you learned from the color status definitions, amber indicates a medium severity status. It implies that things could be in the green if a little more effort goes into a task. This can be in the form of timeline adjustments or cash injections to acquire more talent. Either way, a good starting point is to set a few meetings to decide which variable to adjust. 

Red Action Suggestion

Resuscitation Action: If a project status turns red, it requires more than just corrective action. It could indicate that the talent assigned is not capable of completing a task. On the other hand, a red status can speak to outright bad planning. Taking the project or it's red tasks back to the drawing board is a good way to improve its chances of success. If a project is red because it hasn't started as yet, pushing its start time up is a good way of turning it either amber or green. 

At this point, you have acquired the knowledge required to consciously use RAG statuses when managing the release of software and other projects. You have a good appreciation of the main variables used to determine a specific color status, and how they affect projects of any kind. Should you need to change the color code associated with a task, you should now be in a position to take corrective action based on the suggestions we've discussed. 

Some release orchestration tools commonly used nowadays, such as Plutora, and even Trello, use the RAG status model but may call it by other names. Learn how you can use RAG statuses to turn release metric reporting into an art. RAG statuses make it easy for leadership to have an overview of projects without breaking them into their atomic components.

Deliver Better Software Faster with Plutora

Deliver Better Software Faster with Plutora

Deliver Better Software Faster with Plutora