How Many RAGS do you use?

Blog 07-04-2021

Most project and programme highlight reports include one or more Red, Amber, Green (RAGS) ratings.

These can signify the health of the project and also report on key aspects of the project, e.g. How committed are the stakeholders, or is the team motivated and performing?

These ‘sub-RAGS’ are a good way of ensuring that key aspects of the project are being managed and controlled.

Whether you use one overall RAG or, as we do, a set of sub-RAGS, the principal is that stakeholders can view a RAG and instantly know the state of the project.

In our tool, PM3 and our associated processes, we objectively define what we mean by each RAG, an example is shown below. So, in this example, if you see a RED RAG on costs, we know that the project budget is in excess of 20% over budget.

The reason why RAGS are so powerful is that they are a simple indicator on how the project is going.

We all know that when the traffic light is RED, stop the car, Amber is a warning that the lights are about to turn RED and Green signifies that it is safe to keep going.

So, in project parlance Red is a warning that cannot be ignored (the project has serious issues) Amber is a warning (the project has some issues), Green (the project is on track with no serious issues).

Many organisations have different definitions to these but broadly the traffic symbols are clear to all people at least those who drive or walk on roads.

I’m therefore baffled when clients say they use 4 or 5 RAGS. I have come across this a number of times recently.

One client wanted 4 RAGS, RED, Amber, Orange and Green. Another one wanted 5 RAGS.

This is in my opinion, a very retrograde step in project status reporting.

Introducing one or even two intermediary RAGS just causes confusion to both those setting the project RAG status and to those stakeholders who are now reading a report with Red, Orange, Amber and Green.

The keep it simple principle is one that should be applied to project reporting.

Are we really saying that we cannot say whether the project is Amber or Red so let’s go for Orange?

It is also another way for some project managers to over-complicate project management which in my opinion is good for nobody.

Orange may be used in some organisations where a red RAG status is unacceptable due to culture.

This is the subject of past blogs; stakeholders must be educated that a red RAG can be a good thing when used.

It signifies that urgent attention is needed to bring this project on track or maybe terminate it.

Hiding the truth in an Orange RAG status could mean that urgent remedial action is not taken to a project that needs it.

In this case, the longer the problem project is not addressed typically the more it costs to fix or cancel at a later stage.


The RAG status is a very useful communication aide for the project manager and the stakeholders.

Please keep it uncomplicated and stick to three RAGS.

It keeps things simple and also helps bring failing projects back on track at the earliest opportunity as long, of course, the true RAG is being reported.

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