I recently came across this article about "lean metrics," which basically makes the case that reporting a status of Green ("things are good") is unacceptable, because it gives the lean guys nothing to do. The only good value for a metric is Red ("things are not good"), and if anyone reports a Green status, you should "send them back to the drawing board." Wow, I disagree with it so completely.
Yes, whitewashing (green-washing?) a program is bad. It's not helpful to report that everything is good simply because you haven't dug deep enough to find the actual problems. Deliberately hiding problems is even worse. But this article stinks of a hammer in search of a nail. "If you are green, they don't know where to focus improvement efforts." Um, isn't it possible to be green because you DO know where to focus your improvement efforts? Maybe the status is green because you know what you're doing and things are actually going well. Let's not assume that a set of green metrics can only be produced by dishonest or superficial assessments.
The article also makes Toyota's Mr. Watanabe come across as a monumental jerk. Sure, it's possible he responded to a set of Green metrics by saying "no problems, must need no managers" with an unmentioned twinkle in his eye. Maybe he was trying to be funny. For his sake, I'm going to assume that's the case. I'll just ignore the writer's commentary about how his comment "devastated" the managers who had previously been "excited and proud." There's something to be said for challenging people's assumptions and encouraging them to leave their comfort zones, but there's no excuse for devastating them. I wonder how effective they were after this meeting. I'll bet their metrics turned quite red for some time to come.
Bottom line - red-washing a metrics report is just as bad as green-washing it. Good metrics are accurate, timely and actionable. Green or red isn't the question. The real quality of a status report is based on whether it's honest, not what color it is.