A few years ago, I came across the concept of 'Watermelon projects'; projects that are green on the outside but red at the inside. It can be observed as part of the summarized management reporting structure - the higher up the ladder the greener the project gets.
There are a few reasons for watermelon reporting:
- The reduction of complex project undertakings into a single color for simplicity
- The belief that management is not interested in details
- The emphasis on calculating performance, status and estimates by big numbers, which can hide important details
- The fact that bad news does not travel well
Turning Green into Red
Let’s work through an example and see how a perfectly green project can turn into red.
We have a simple project consisting of 2 activities, Design A and Design B, both with an original estimate of 1000 man hours.
During the current reporting period Design A has a planned value of 40% complete, reported 80% complete with a total of 200 hrs used.
The Design B also has a planned value of 40%, has only achieved 20% but has a much high expenditure of 800 hrs.
Summarized and reported at a project level we are right on track; we have spent exactly according to plan, with a Performance Index of 1, and an estimate at complete that equals our budget. It can’t get much better.
But there is another story. If we look at the same report at activity level, and include a summary from this level up, we clearly see that we are in danger of overrunning our project significantly. Not only do we have a big variance in performance on the 2 activities but the estimate at complete is summarized at 4250, a deviation of 2250 from the budget. Or a 212.5% overrun. Someone should be informed. Further the details tell us that Activity A is overperforming, whilst Activity B is showing a real problem.
To avoid watermelon reporting avoid reducing complex project statusing to a single color. Planners should spend the extra time needed to discover any potential deviations that could harm your project if not dealt with properly. Summarized data should be analysed alongside detailed information to reveal deviations from the plan. Next, the project status should be transparent, allowing bad news to travel.
Safran Project and its reporting tools have been built with clarity and communication in mind. Accessible and clear predictions allow you to react appropriately and efficiently to any watermelon projects.