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Watermelon Projects

How to find them and how to avoid them

We hope your Summer is kicking off on the right foot! Watermelon is a favorite part of Summer, but it belongs at cookouts, picnics, and in the fridge--not on our work projects!

Even if you're not familiar with the term "Watermelon Project," you've probably worked on one at some point--when your project was green on the outside and red on the inside. This comes from organizations that use a color-coding system to denote the status of a project. We run into the Watermelon Project phenomenon when a project's status says green, but the actual status is closer to a shade of red. What's going on when things seem like they're going well on the outside, but when you start looking at the details, you realize the project wasn't as "on track" as you thought it was? Here are some hints on how to keep your projects in the green, through and through, and how to recognize when things might be going awry.


It's been estimated that 20% of projects that report a "green" status are actually in trouble...Here are some tangible and intangible indicators to watch for to tell if your projects are really in the green!


1. Do You Have the Right Roles?

friends-posing-with-watermelon-slicesAre roles and responsibilities clearly defined and appropriately staffed? Are the individuals on the project available and accessible? If there are bodies and brains missing on your project for whatever reason, it could put your project in the red for scope, time, or cost. Your team might not be able to accomplish everything you set out to do, or it will take longer to accomplish it, or you'll have to pay some overtime in order to deliver in full and on time.


2. How's the Team?

What are the team dynamics for your project team? Do they get along? Have they worked together before? Does it feel like a team? This can influence how team members communicate and how well information flows throughout the project. A fun fact here: team members that "panic" at the same time tend to work well together. Do you know when your "panic point" is? What about the other folks on your project?


3. Are Decisions and Changes Sticking?

fresh-sliced-watermelon-wooden-backgroundAre you making and implementing good decisions? How do you track, document, and communicate decisions and project changes across the project team? Where do they come from--who drives them? Just about any decision or change you make will have at least some impact on scope, time, or cost. If these changes and decisions aren't clearly communicated across the project team, you're putting your project in jeopardy by running the risk that people will be unintentionally misappropriating time, energy, and money because they don't know the latest plan or priority.


4. Are You Meeting Milestones?

This is a pretty concrete predictor of project health. If you're late for delivery in an early milestone and don't update the future deadlines, the more difficult it can be to get back on track. Check your dates and estimates early and often so you can readjust and reset expectations as necessary to give your project a better shot at staying green.


5. Are You Talking About It?

fresh-watermelon-smoothies-with-lime-mint-white-wooden-tableThis is probably the most critical when it comes to the health of your project. If something is off, discuss it with the team. The longer you wait to escalate an issue to your PM or Sponsor, the greater the cost to your project. You can't fix a problem that no one will talk about, but you can definitely feel the pain down the road.



So there you have it. Now your watermelon can stay on the picnic table and out of your projects. What do you think? Let us know on social media! 


Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Project Management & Business Analysis

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com

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