In my first role as IT Director for British Telecom back in 2007, I remember meeting my new senior management team for the first time. I was younger than they were and there was an air of scepticism about their new ‘boss’. One of the leaders suggested we should do one of their ‘normal’ status reports to get me up-to-speed with progress on the important work. As you’d expect, the status reports included single page updates on each of the projects, programs and systems with an indication of the health of the initiative to guide me on how much I should pay attention, worry or care about. When I took this job, I had just come off the back of a very large IT transformation project where nothing was ever what it really seemed, and the details were where the real story was.
Much to the annoyance of my new senior leadership team, I started to drill into the reports that were stated as Green. They couldn’t understand why I was starting there. My mindset has more been shaped by a ‘test first’ approach I learned in software development whereby I wanted to assume I’m Red until I see observational and empirical evidence that we were heading towards Green. What was amazing was how many problems were covered up by the Green status. The explicitness of problems in the Reds and Ambers was great – it meant we had things to tackle and we could work as a team to solve them. However, the lack of clarity of what constituted Green led to obscuring ‘bad news’ and problems. Once we uncovered the real issues in the Greens we made much greater progress. Green reports were where the most opportunity of value creation existed.
Think about the reports you read or hear that are designed to give you confidence about progress. Is there a better way to get to the real health of the work?