We create project dashboards all the time to show status, or to give upper management an update. Dashboards and scorecards are great for giving us a “quick view” into the health of a project – they give us a way to drill down. Many of us use the colors red / yellow / green, with a stoplight metaphor. The problem is that some of us are colorblind. Johanna Rothman gives us a GREAT tip. We give you a set of icons / images.
Dashboards and Scorecards
Without going into detail about the differences between the two, they have a common mission: a scannable view of the status of a project. Scannable often means images or colors too, at least in the dashboards we’ve seen (and made in the past). The traffic light is a common metaphor – green is good, yellow is ok but might be going bad, red is bad.
Then someone adds blue. Or orange for “bad, but not end of the world bad.” Sort of like “extra high priority” features.
Rothman On Traffic Lights
Some may use the traffic light model–red, yellow, and green–to denote the project’s state. This model shows today’s state, but it’s hard to see where the project is headed. I haven’t found the traffic light useful, due to the static nature of the assessment and the limit of three levels to denote project state. And unlike traffic lights that automatically change, projects don’t change unless the project manager and the team act to change them. Projects tend to continue in the direction the team is heading.
We agree, traffic lights are lame. And thanks to Johanna, we now have a much better metaphor.
This is definitely Johanna’s idea – we’re not stealing it, we’re redistributing it. It goes in the “wish we’d thought of that” bucket. We’ll try and add a little value, though.
In short – weather reports work as a better metaphor both for (current) status, and forecasting. They also allow for more than 3 statuses without breaking the metaphor. Johanna throws up an example with six.
Six may be too many. Suddenly, your audience is tasked with mapping a fairly nuanced break-out against a common metaphor. We think four would be more effective.
We created these using free icons from Ganato, who asked only that they not be downloadable, except from them. Get them there if you want to use them, or search for others. Johanna also points us to a page with a zillion icons, all hot-linked from their respective owners. Don’t take them without permission – but definitely go there for inspiration if you want your own.
The goal is to have a natural and obvious progression of status.
Explaining The Meaning
We could propose definitions for each icon – in terms of what it represents for the project – but we won’t. At some level, the icons need to stand on their own, or they aren’t good icons. If your team needs an explanation, make sure you include it in the scorecard as a legend.
Another thing to keep in mind – the senior manager you’re communicating with has to juggle a lot of information about a lot of projects. And when you have problems, the questions they should ask are “when will it get better?” and “what can I do to help?”
This quick and simple presentation shows where the project was, is, and will be. It presents both position and velocity.
Thanks Johanna! Stealing this idea. We (all) owe you one.