Watermelons in Project Management

A Watermelon Project

I first heard this term about 8 years ago. I didn’t understand what a Watermelon Project was until a seasoned project manager confided in me that he had just that.

“What is a watermelon project?” I asked.

“Green on the outside and Red on the inside.” He said with such conviction.


Red vs. Green

His manager would not let the project status be reported ‘Red’ no matter if it truly needed to be reported that way. The project manager was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

So what did he do? He documented each and every risk and each and every issue. He marked the severity and the impact of each then advised the manager that the project will be put into Yellow (cautionary) status with the potential of turning Red if they were not in agreement on the mitigation and action plans. This was his compromise because in some corporate cultures, Red projects are a no-no even if they truly are. And his was one of those cultures.

Reporting his project Green along with the high level risks and issues that surrounded that project, made it an inevitable candidate for questioning by the leadership committee. They were sure to say that this project is a candidate for turning “Red”.

Most people see Red and think all things negative and bad as well as unrecoverable. Red means that the project is in trouble and needs to be escalated for visibility and help. Guess what, the leadership approved it to be reported Red but wanted a clear action plan for getting back to Green.

It is your job as the project manager to work with your team and leadership to determine a path to correction. This gets everyone on the same page. This notifies everyone that there is an issue. Whether it is due to factors outside of your control or internal issues – everyone needs to be notified if your budget, scope, schedule, or quality will be significantly impacted. If your critical path is in jeopardy, then there inevitably is an impact to either budget, scope schedule, or quality. There’s no way around that, this is why it’s called the critical path.

As PM’s we have to be able to have those hard conversations. Some call it a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting where you lay out EVERYTHING. I mean everything. Give a reality check when there needs to be one. If not, the risk is great that you can ruin the project AND your reputation and ultimately your career.

Always tell the TRUTH.
Always give the FACTS.
Always have a plan even if the plan is no plan/mitigation, accept the risk.
DOCUMENT IT.
DISTRIBUTE IT.
MAKE EVERYONE AWARE OF IT.

This will keep you all aligned to what’s going on and the actions needed to course correct if possible.

The worst thing you can do as a project manager is report a project as Green when truly it is Red.

Someone will eventually cut into that watermelon.



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