Colourful Words in Project Management

When a project is assigned to and managed by a Project Manager (PM), it’s their responsibility to monitor and control the project to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget and within scope. At Insentra our PMs strive to accurately and efficiently communicate the project status to key project stakeholders which includes the project team and project board.

Project stakeholders are busy people so we use “colourful words” at Insentra to get them the project status they need – Red, Amber or Green are our words of choice. We (and a lot of the PM industry) call this a RAG status.


What does a RAG status mean? Just imagine traffic lights at an intersection with those three (3) colours:

  • Green – Going
  • Amber – Warning
  • Red – Stop

At Insentra we interpret the RAG with similar, but more industry relevant, definitions and measurements:

  • Green: The project is on track and within the approved tolerances
  • Amber: The project is off track and needs stakeholder attention because tolerances have, or are expected to be, exceeded. Maybe the project has just experienced issues and a remediation plan is being agreed within the next reporting cycle. Possibly an agreed remediation plan is being executed to recover the project back to approved tolerances
  • Red: Project progress is off track and there isn’t an agreed remediation plan to return the project to agreed tolerances. The project team needs stakeholder assistance to help recover the project or to reset tolerances

Of course, RAG status doesn’t have a “one size fits all” definition and other organisations might choose different dimensions such as allowing the project to exceed tolerance by a percentage or defined limit.


Whilst an advanced matrix structure specifying project targets in various sizes and categories might sound grand, this may be complicated and difficult to understand. We have found simple is best because a wide range of stakeholders find it easier to remember and understand.

In addition to a RAG status for the whole project, it might also be beneficial to consider applying RAG to:

  • A project workflow
  • Business or project risk
  • Issues or a cumulative problem
  • Project change
  • Almost anything!

Insentra’s larger projects or programmes use a RAG status for each project or project workstream. These are then aggregated to provide an overall status of the project or programme which quickly lets stakeholders know how things are going and where concerns might exist.

Sometimes the acronym BRAG is used. The “B” stands for Blue, which typically indicates a completed project or project item – and when something is complete on time and in budget then it is a good reason to brag! Depending on the reporting construct, this allows project stakeholders to easily filter out completed projects or items to quickly see where attention is needed.


A RAG status doesn't have a clear plan of action or, in other words, a project in Red status doesn't automatically mean that there are problems which need to be solved immediately. The drivers for the RAG status need to be explained in more detail and the ‘Go To Amber’ or ‘Go To Green’ plans clearly stated and reviewed. Our thought-leadership approach at Insentra means that our PMs will always include a ‘Go To Amber’ plan if the RAG status is Red and a ‘Go To Green’ plan if the status is Amber. These plans seek to set and align stakeholder expectations and make sure the plans are being continuously monitored and assessed.


Efficiency is at the heart of Insentra and we believe that everyone’s time is valuable. Our “colourful words” let stakeholders know what is happening at a glance and focus their valuable time on the content which matters most to them.

What “colourful words” do you use?

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