Conveying Project Status – The Simplistic Approach

Needless to say, when project/program managers are managing their projects and their constituent products and deliverables, they are monitoring a whole slew of various items to ensure things are proceeding smoothly. That can involve keeping an eye on work queues, following and monitoring the status of fixes, gauging the movement of the project against the timeline, and so forth.

There is by no means, a shortage of data when it comes to gauging project health. And depending on project complexity, scope, geography and demographics, the data set that signifies whether a project is moving along well or is running into problems can be cumbersome. For a project manager, this is part in parcel with their job. They are meant to be able to view all the various pieces of data denoting the movement of their project and be able to effectively determine how well things are proceeding.

With that being said, what may seem obvious to the project manager, may appear as foreign as Klingon to anyone outside of that space. Afterall, when one is inundated with a swath of different sets of metrics, task lists, status reports and documents galore, it is the veritable needle in a haystack when attempting to gauge how all these pieces fit together and their data aggregate signifies project health.

From the standpoint of conveying project health to those in the higher brackets of the company or organization, a deluge of various and often confusing data sets is clearly not going to be well received. Remember that those at the portfolio level of any company have numerous projects within their sphere of influence and they cannot possibly be expected to perform deep dives or drill downs into disparate and often inconsistently formulated data sets. So when it comes to conveying how things are proceeding with any project, keep it simple.

Conveying Project Status Visually

Humans are very akin to recognizing patterns. We have evolved that capability over millions of years and as such, any human can easily recognize a particular shape and its inherent color scheme and be able to draw conclusions about what that shape signifies. That is why warning labels and traffic signs are often so ubiquitous and universally utilized, even when crossing borders. As such, taking that same and simplistic approach when it comes to conveying project health provides a very quick and easy mechanism that anyone, from the CEO level to the manufacturing level can understand at a glance.

With that being said, here are a few simplistic (and some would argue ‘cheesy’) visual quantifiers that one can use to provide anyone with a quick status of a particular project:

1. The Traffic Light

Universally utilized even across different countries, the simple yet effective traffic light is an easy way to demonstrate how a project is progressing. As one would expect, Green is good, Yellow is a warning and Red means bad.

2. The Speedometer (or Tachometer)

Anyone who has driven a vehicle (or been in one) is quite familiar with the displays inherent to motion of the car or revolutions of the engine. As such, another effective way to denote how a project is ‘speeding’ along, is to visualize it with that mechanism in mind. Note that the speedometer can also be broken down into constituent pieces (as shown below) for further granularity:

3. The Trend Chart

Another standard and fairly intuitive method to convey project progress is the simple trend chart. Generally speaking, this is usually a line graph that demonstrates movement towards a particular goal or milestone. Deviation from the trend in a negative direction is easily extrapolated to demonstrate a potential project slippage. A chart of this nature is a good way to convey the need for additional resources or changes in scope to accommodate the timeline. An Agile burndown chart is an effective means of this type of representation:

4. The Simple Checklist

And finally, sometimes a great way to denote progress is to dumb down things to the level of a grocery list; a simple checklist that can show what has been done and what still needs to be accomplished. The ordering of the checklist also provides a way to indicate dependencies and priority of tasks:


Beyond the aforementioned mechanism, there are of course, other ways to convey information regarding a project’s status. The key take-away is that simplicity is the predicating factor. Stick to basic imagery and do not overload the target audience. If they ask for details, have those available, but keep drill down data sets in concise, easy to read formats. A deluge of data points on a graph or a massive table with task assignments, work breakdown structures and a plethora of graphics will just lead to confusion.

Below is a summary of some of the previously mentioned graphic types one can use along with a few additional examples.