Ragtime, a musical genre that emerged in the late 19th century in the United States, holds a significant place in the history of American music. Its syncopated or 'ragged' rhythm, primarily piano based, is a unique feature. The left hand maintains a steady march-style rhythm while the right-hand plays the melody with a syncopated rhythm, creating a lively and bouncing sound. Ragtime, a major influence on early jazz, was popularized by composers such as Scott Joplin, whose works like 'The Maple Leaf Rag' and 'The Entertainer' became genre staples. The distinctive style and upbeat tempo of ragtime encapsulate the optimism and transformation of American society during the turn of the 20th century, making it a key component in the development of modern American music. 

In the hustle of the project floor, 

Red lights flashing, can't ignore, 

Amber signals, tasks at bay, 

Green lights go, clear the way! 


Metrics charted, colors bright, 

Guide the project through the night. 

Red's a warning, slow it down, 

Green means progress, win the crown. 


Amber holds, a cautious tale, 

Adjust and tweak, must not fail. 

Dashboard lit, a traffic light, 

Guides the team from plight to might. 


Each color tells its story clear, 

Management through metrics, dear. 

Red, Amber, Green, a vibrant scene, 

Project success in hues serene. 


RAG (Red, Amber, Green) status reporting is a joint project management tool visually representing a project's or its components' status. This traffic-light system helps stakeholders quickly understand the project's current and potential issues.  

Early Use in Military and Industrial Sectors

The concept and use of color-coded systems to indicate status or priority can be traced back to military and industrial settings where quick, visual communication was crucial. Color codes signify equipment status, operational readiness, and other critical factors in these environments. 

Adoption in Project Management

RAG status reporting became popular in project management during the late 20th century as project management methodologies evolved and became more formalized. 

With the rise of methodologies such as PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) and PMI's PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), there was an increased emphasis on precise, concise reporting mechanisms. 

Formalization and Standardization

By the 1990s and early 2000s, RAG reporting had become a standard practice in many organizations, particularly in industries like IT, construction, and manufacturing, where project tracking and risk management are critical. The method provided a simple yet effective way to communicate project health to various stakeholders, from team members to executives. 

How RAG Status Reporting Works 

Red (R) 

Indicates significant issues or risks that require immediate attention and resolution. This status suggests that the project is in serious trouble, often behind schedule or over budget, and corrective actions are needed. 

Amber (A) 

Signals potential issues or risks that need to be monitored closely. While the project is not currently in critical condition, there are warning signs that, if not addressed, could lead to delays or other problems. 

Green (G) 

Denotes that the project metric is on track, for example, within budget, at rate, and meeting its objectives. There are no significant issues or risks now. 

But wait. There’s more! 

In addition to the traditional Red, Amber, and Green (RAG) status indicators, some organizations and project management frameworks incorporate additional colors, such as Blue and Gray, to convey more specific information about project status. 

Blue (B) 

Blue indicates that a project, task, or milestone has been completed successfully. This status distinguishes completed items from those still in progress or pending. In some contexts, blue can signify that a project or task is on hold, awaiting a decision, resources, or other conditions.  


Gray frequently indicates that a project, task, or milestone has not yet started. This helps differentiate between work in progress, completed, or encountering issues. Gray can also denote items pending approval or waiting for an initial action before starting. In certain cases, gray might represent a canceled project or task, indicating it will not proceed further. 

 Expanded Color Usage in Project Management 

Adding Blue and Gray provides more nuanced status reporting, allowing for clearer communication regarding the various stages of a project. Potential challenges with adding additional colors: 

  • Complexity: Adding more colors can introduce complexity, so it’s essential to balance the need for detailed reporting with ease of understanding. 

  • Consistency: Ensuring consistent use of the color scheme across different projects and teams may require oversight and regular review. 

Modern Usage 

Today, RAG status reporting is integrated into many project management software tools and dashboards, providing real-time updates and enhancing the ability to manage complex projects effectively. It remains a fundamental part of project status reporting, valued for its clarity and ease of use. 

Benefits of RAG Status Reporting 

Projects report status, often too busy management or executives.  Quickly understanding the state of the project is important for any functioning business. 

  • Simplicity: The use of colors provides an immediate, easily understood visual cue about a project's status. 

  • Clarity: Helps identify and communicate issues quickly, ensuring they can be addressed promptly. 

  • Focus: Directs attention to areas that need it most, allowing for more efficient allocation of resources and management efforts. 



Challenges and Considerations 

There is always more to it than we think. Besides what to and how to measure, there are many other considerations.  The criteria for determining RAG status can be subjective and may vary between projects or organizations. Establishing clear guidelines and criteria is essential.  While the simplicity of RAG reporting is a strength, it can also be a limitation. A color-coded system may not fully capture complex issues alone, necessitating supplementary details and context. You will see in the story below. 


A long time ago, in a not-so-distant company, one of us was a manager at a company.  We went through a project review with the managers around the table, and the project managers presented the state of their project.  One project manager presents their project with a bunch of green smiley faces. I was a manager, and my department worked closely with another department, and that manager was also in that room. We looked at each other quizzically.  The reason for that, we understood, is that the project item under consideration was far from green.  Neither of us would agree that the metric was green.  We came to know this as watermelon green.  In the company’s effort to make the project status presentation quick and clear to digest and make informed decisions, we have made it so simple we are not very informed. 1 

As product development experts, many of us are engineers. But even if we weren't, we share a valuable trait-skepticism. We understand the importance of not deluding ourselves about the state of our projects. A red, amber, or green light or a smiley face should not be our only source of information about the item under review. We need a more accurate and reliable system that goes beyond surface-level indicators. 

This is so important to project success that we have written extensively about it. Individuals and organizations learn, or at least they should, through these measuring and reporting mechanisms. For an organization that works in a recurring domain, such as automotive product development or construction, the things we measure inform us about the capability of the organization's processes.

We likely have specific recurring steps, whether these are documented organizational processes or not, and our team members can (and should) be learning from this work. In this context, the RAG status reporting is an essential tool. By utilizing RAG status reporting, organizations can ensure that they are continuously measuring and improving their processes, fostering a culture of learning and adaptation, and ultimately driving project success. 



A significant part of the project manager's job is to avoid the most damaging difficulties that would thwart achieving the project's objectives.  The project starts by looking at previous project results, which amounts to reviewing previous RAG; but not really.   

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with human knowledge, nature, origin, and limits.  It comes in many forms, such as tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge, and institutional knowledge. Institutional knowledge is the type of knowledge that would be propagated through our organization via formal documentation and the RAG. If this is done well, knowledge is not a unit step function but a graduated thing; check out Bloom's Taxonomy for examples of this graduation of knowledge. 

Epistemology studies knowledge, methods, and validation of things learned. Risks are associated with the unknown or something believed to be known but not. The work, especially project management and burgeoning technology work, requires learning. A lack of knowledge can lead to what seems to be emergent events. Considering the interconnectedness and dependencies, systematic predictions of many of these events are possible.​ 

Healthy Dose of Skepticism  

From experience, the prudent project manager will ask questions and seek evidence to determine the true state of the item under review. Finding evidence that supports our thoughts is not easy. Many things get in the way of understanding things how they truly are, some knowledge-related, some perception-related, and some culturally related. 

Cognitive Biases 

In the context of Red-Amber-Green project status, cognitive biases play a significant role in influencing outcomes. One prominent example is confirmation bias, which causes people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses while disregarding or minimizing evidence that contradicts them. This bias affects decision-making and reasoning processes in various contexts, leading to skewed interpretations and decisions that are not based on an accurate assessment of all available evidence. In project management, confirmation bias can impact how people gather, interpret, and remember information, ultimately influencing individual and group behavior. This is just one example, but numerous cognitive biases can hinder our ability to learn, identify, and address risks effectively. 

Self-Preservation (Culture) 

Depending on the organization's culture and the project environment, our team members may be reluctant to actively criticize any situation associated with their tasks and work products.  How many times have you asked a team member the state of a work product, and they provided you with some measure of completion (not understood or agreed by you). Still, when you return to them at the time of delivery of the work product, the results are less than that prior notification.  One could think this is some deception, and it is, but it is likely a self-deception (optimism bias).  Or it could be our company and project culture that is metaphorically shooting the team member, or, as I like to call it, keelhauling the team member.   

As project managers, we need to model the appropriate behavior, which means we should be transparent; when we see we have made an error, we should report that to our team even if it may not adversely impact the project or team effort. 


Overall, RAG status reporting has become a cornerstone of project management, helping teams and organizations monitor and communicate the health of their projects effectively.  Ideally, this status should be included in the project dashboard.  It may not be a surprise that at least one of us, and maybe both of us, are not fans of the red, amber, and green smiley faces or “lights.”  A visual representation, ideally, makes grasping the situation quickly, allowing for prompt action should there be a need.  Whatever we decide to use for metrics and how to display them, we should do so in a way that displays the reality and in a tangible way. 



​J. M. Q. S. P. Q. Quigley, Continuous and Embedded Learning for Organizations, Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis, 2022.  


​G. B. Alleman and J. M. Quigley, Risk Management, Boca Raton: Auerbach Publications, 2024.