4 Colors of the Project Manager – Choose Yours to Fight Deadlines

Anastazja Michalak
By Anastazja Michalak
16 Min Read

I’ve recently read a book of Thomas Erikson “Surrounded by Idiots” and, since my life and work are all about project management, I decided to share with you how I would apply the information from this book in my field of expertise – Project Management.


First, let me give you a context of the book so that you could understand better my train of thoughts and where I am coming from with my observations.

In the book, people are divided into 4 colors: Reds, Yellows, Greens, and Blues (similarly as in psychology with 4 fundamental personality types: sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic).

Only 5% of the whole population will have purely 1 color. 80% will have 2 colors with 1 of them dominating their behavior, and 15% will have mix of 3 colors. Out of 4 colors, Greens are the most common type and are in the majority.

Reds are dominant, aggressive, impatient, powerful, results-oriented, time-focused, opinionated, straightforward, fast, ambitious, focused on the present extroverts and problem-solvers. They are decisive, controlling, and performance-oriented. For Red people fast & speed equals good. These are the people who will run a meeting in half the time. By the time your finish writing down your meeting minutes with 4 action items, they will have 2 of them done.

For Red people “fast” equals “good”.

Yellows are future-focused, energetic visionaries who are focused on people, attention and relationships. They are talkative, creative, spontaneous, flexible, open, communicative, extremely sociable ad very optimistic. In the room of people the fastest way to spot a yellow – is by checking who talks the most and who is mainly surrounded by people.

The fastest way to spot a yellow – is by checking who talks the most.

Greens are relationship and stability focused, are averse to change and conflicts. They are patient, loyal, reliable, stable, supportive, helpful, thoughtful, kind and discreet. They will always listen to you and always try to help even if it will cost them their time and effort.

Blues are very analytical, systematic, structured, logical, very cautious, detailed and task-oriented introverts. They have minimal interest in relationship, maximum effort to organize. Basically, this is a type of person who will organize your books in alphabetical order, per genre, per number of pages, and per Amazon feedback stars🙂 And they will genuinely enjoy the process of organizing things, even if it takes them months to get to the desired result.

Blues are the ones, who will organize your books in alphabetical order, per genre, per number of pages, and per Amazon feedback stars.

How can this knowledge be applied to project management and how knowing the person’s color can help you?

  1. As a project manager (any manager, actually) you work with people. Each will need a specific approach.
  2. If you hire project managers and your team consists of project managers, colors may be crucial to identify those who will cope with the project management job best.
  3. If you want to build a highly effective and performing team, you need to find the right combination. It won’t work if you hire all of the similar colors – the effect will be quite the opposite.

What colors will work best in project management and which combination will work best?

“Reds” in project management

Probably the only case when Reds will be good for projects – is when they will be the ones leading them😄

  • Red will be fast – sense of urgency is critical for project managers and projects, because they are schedule scope and budget driven. Reds normally do more because of speed and efficiency.
  • Reds are executors. They get things done. They are time conscious. In projects it is of essence because they are date and results driven.
  • Reds are ready for challenges and difficult tasks. The project environment is full of them: tough deadlines, challenging technology, complex solutions, limited budgets and resources. Reds fill like a duck to water in such an environment. For them, difficult means challenging and worth the effort. Impossible is nothing, it just may take a little longer 😂
  • Decisiveness in projects is key, you need to be able to make decisions and make them preferably fast. In projects decisions need to be made fast, they can’t be delayed, because any prolongation will impact the budget, scope, schedule, and quality. Time is money. However, beware that Reds are sometimes too fast and they need help to weigh the pluses and minuses of specific decisions, based on facts and look into details.
  • In business time is money. No one understands it better than reds. If the project team is idle or ineffective, money is lost.
  • Reds speak the truth when things go south. They often don’t hide it till the very last moment but bring the bad news asap. They get straight to the point and are concise. It works great with clients and sponsors, as those are C-level executives who are highly likely Reds as well.
  • When problems or tough situations happen – there should be someone to act and act fast. Reds are the best. They take accountability to lead to results.
  • If anyone has a better idea – Reds will be the best ones to bring it to life.
  • Reds like control. In projects, monitoring and control are vital to ensure the project’s success and bring it back on track when required.
  • Pure reds are sometimes too fast, often lack attention to detail and are not relationship-oriented. This often impacts the teams and burns them out.

Blues” in Project Management

A mix of Red with a Blue type might be an interesting combination. However pure Blue will put the entire project implementation at risk. Here is why.

  • Blues have natural attention to detail. In projects having an eye to detail is great, as often the “devil is in the details” .
  • Blues carefully consider risks and issues, weigh their pros and cons and eventually build a proper plan to mitigate them. As a project manager your task is to make projects as boring as possible. There is no better way to achieve it than proactively identifying and avoiding and mitigating risks and finding working solutions for any issues. Improving quality to ensure such issues are eliminated at their core.
  • Blues will carefully document risks and issues to later be able to get back to them and provide as evidences.
  • Blues are realists. In project management you have to be a realist and a bit of a pessimist. As a saying goes – pessimist is a well-informed optimist. As a PM you can’t just hope things will somehow turn out well. In life – maybe yes. But in business – hope for the better, but prepare for the worse.
  • Blues works best in systems, in an organized and structured way. There can’t be a better place to stay organized and structured as in project management.
  • Blues are quality oriented. They find the root cause and fix it. This is awesome, especially in quality management area. Why to fix the same problem each time you find it instead of eliminating its’ root!
  • However, Blues often miss a big picture. They are often very detailed oriented. In projects, you need to keep a big picture in mind all the time and communicate it to your team and clients all the time! How else are you going to drive teams to success?
  • Blues find it difficult to make decisions because they always gather facts. And it may take them forever.
  • Blues like the process more than end results. They do things well from the very beginning, conducting a detailed analysis and engineering a process. In the long run it will be great and will save time. But in projects where time is the limit – such an approach can be tough.
  • Blues are logical and rationally thinking individuals! In projects and in business this helps, as they don’t get emotionally involved.
  • I believe pure Blues fit best such positions as technical engineers, developers, or quality engineers in IT. Because as PMs they might find it difficult to be more communicative, to see the big picture, to execute faster.

Greens” in Project Management

  • In short, it will be very tough for Greens to be in typical Project Management environment with tight deadlines, budgets and constant challenges. Tough – because they will naturally try to avoid conflicts and are slow, calm, leisurely and easy going. Unless they perform a role of a Scrum Master or Team Manager.
  • Projects are initiated to create change. But for Greens change is an enemy and grass is not greener on the other side. They are naturally averse to risks, changes and conflicts.
  • Greens have difficulty with a sense of urgency. They work in a relaxed manner. Not for projects with strict deadlines, as they will be doomed to failure.
  • Greens rarely kick up a fuss without a need – good luck with that attitude in projects. Effective PMs need to be able to handle difficult conversations and the key role of the project manager is actually to kick up a fuss before the actual fire starts.
  • Greens are very kind. Which will make both client and teams happy. Since Greens will always try to maintain relationships – they will avoid conflict at all cost – which means in many negotiation situations there will be a win – lose situation.
  • On the other hand, Greens will put relationships first, both with the clients and people- who will want to stick to them because they are convenient.
  • Greens are team player and good listeners. In project management and in team management, listening is one of the key skills.
  • They’ll struggle when things will be unpredictable in projects because they work best in a predictable environment.

Yellows” in Project Management:

  • Yellows are the ones who do all the talking. But rarely get things done. They are great at inspiring, others, collaborating with C-Level executives and envisioning. I believe they are the best fit as engagement managers, pre-sales, sales, solutioning and strategic positions to envision the future.
  • For projects implementation phases people with Yellow as dominating color will not be the best fit, because they talk more than they execute, and they find it hard to accept feedback both from the clients as well as from their managers. Clients will be demanding and may be harsh sometime, and for Yellows such attitude might be devastating. This might trigger their desire to drop the project or the topic.
  • Yellows are too optimistic. This means they won’t approach project risks and issues with proper realism in mind (as a Project Manager you need a plan for days when the worst may happen and you need to anticipate what may go wrong and be prepared for it).
  • Yellows are too optimistic about schedules and time needed to accomplish what is planned. They usually underestimate (you have to double their ETAs). As a PM, you manage schedules, you can’t be too optimistic.
  • Yellows talk too much, sometimes they even invent things, which never happened. As PMs you must listen and not just do all the talking. If you don’t or can’t listen – you will miss crucial information and you will miss what project stakeholders want from you.
  • Yellows operate with gut feeling. This is not a reliable approach in projects, where facts are needed.
  • Yellows are great with people and if you need someone at the position where you need to handle clients or sponsors – Yellows are the best (less execution, more strategic vision and management of client relationship).
  • Yellows are best in finding opportunities and solutions. They are creative and often see solutions where others do not. This is great, as sometime at PM job you need to be creative and find new ways of solving things.
  • For Yellows it will be difficult to be in a highly process-oriented and predictive environment -they need to be in motion.

Have you recognized yourself in any of those colors?

I hope this information was helpful and I inspired you to read the book and start applying this information to the real world. Good luck🙂

Share This Article
By Anastazja Michalak IT Program Manager, PMP
I am a certified Project and Program Manager with hands-on experience in delivering complex business initiatives since 2014.
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *