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The 6 hats of project management

Most people familiar with De Bono's Six Thinking Hats know it is a powerful technique for looking at decision making from different points of view. It allows emotion and skepticism to be brought into what might normally be a purely rational process, and it opens up the opportunity for creativity within decision making. While none of the 6 hats are the exclusive domain of any particular project direction, management, delivery or support role. There are, however, hats which have a natural fit with specific project management roles. Using the 6 thinking hats to separate thinking into clear functions and roles, let’s explore how this process can help projects become more productive, focused and mindfully involved.

The White Hat (Project Owner)

The White Hat calls for information known or needed. In a project context, the white hat is typically used by the project owner, executive or sponsor to assess and decide, prior to the start of the project and each management stage, the initial and ongoing project viability, desirability and affordability. When a business or service threat appears that may likely impact agreed tolerances for time, cost, scope, risk, benefits and quality (criteria), then this role (accountable for the success of the project objectives) seeks information beyond a highlight report or exception report to fully understand the problem at hand so appropriate advice and direction can be given.

The Red Hat (Project Manager)

The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. The Red Hat is typically worn by the project manager to keep the baselined schedule and associated project and stage plans up to date. The project manager uses the red hat to ensure enough lag exists to develop each management, specialist and technical product, undertake the activities to develop those products, allow for dependencies between those products and activities and finally, recruit and assign those activities to the right people with the right skills, capabilities and mindset for the right role at the right time. In this scenario, decisions are around estimating appropriately to ensure the project remains focused to deliver on time and to achieve deadlines. 

The Black Hat (Assurance)

The Black Hat is judgment and plays the devil's advocate or why something may not work. It’s the most powerful and useful of the hats as it identifies the difficulties and dangers ahead. The black hat is therefore the natural fit of the business, user and supplier roles of the project board, where in some cases this responsibility is delegated to an independent assurance role. As part of its function to monitor all aspects of the project’s performance and products independently of the project manager role, the black hat exists to identify potential risk threats that are beyond the visibility of the project direction and management layers that have the potential to impact successful project delivery. 

The Yellow Hat (Users)

The Yellow Hat symbolises brightness and optimism. It explores the positives and probes for value and benefit. It refers to those stakeholder engagement decisions to support the proposed business change, particularly where the project’s outputs, capabilities, outcomes and/or benefits leads to the customer and users achieving the desired value from those proposed goods or services. The yellow hat is the domain of the stakeholders, particularly as effective change management is about involving stakeholders in the decision making process to enable engagement and commitment. Everyone in the project team should wear this hat especially when making project related decisions that impact stakeholders. Remember change is a journey, not an event. 

The Green (Delivery Team)

The Green Hat focuses on creativity: the possibilities, alternatives and new ideas. It's an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions. With a focus on creativity, the green hat is all about how the delivery team decides to develop, refine and release the project’s specialist and technical products in light with industry best practice. The green hat in a project context focuses on how the proposed goods and/services will be fit for purpose and fit for warranty by keeping the customer persona at the forefront of the decision making process.

The Blue Hat (PMO)

The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It's the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed that typically falls within the realm of a PMO as part developing consistent working practices and ensuring they are deployed appropriately and well. It’s also as part of providing capability support services in regards to portfolio, programme, project and agile management practices and advice. From a PMO perspective, the services and advice provided is about ensuring pragmatic governance arrangements are in place with decision making delegated to the lowest hierarchical level. 

In summary, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique is a model that can be used for exploring different perspectives towards a complex situation or challenge often experienced when directing, managing and delivering a project.  As a simple, effective parallel thinking process it helps people working or supporting a project to be more productive, focused and mindfully involved. By mentally wearing different thinking hats people are forced to look at a project related decisions from different perspectives. Thus a one-sided way of thinking is excluded and new insights are created. 


Published at with the consent of the author

Milvio DiBartolomeo

About author

OGC Gateway Assurance Expert | Author | Agile, Project, Programme & Portfolio Management and Better Business Cases Specialist

Milvio DiBartolomeo has a proven track record in ICT project, programme and portfolio management in the Queensland public sector, Australia. He has worked on a number of transformational change initiatives across the programme and project lifecycle as a business and process analyst, software tester and project manager. He practices what he preaches having successfully implemented staged funding release by gated review technique to protect public sector investment and redesigned the project governance structure to minimise senior management time commitment for a Queensland Government department. He has extensive PMO experience as a Portfolio Manager, Capability Support Manager and now as a Workforce Delivery Manager. With a lifelong passion for learning his credentials include practitioner level knowledge in Better Business Cases, Managing Benefits, MoP, P3O, MSP, PRINCE2, PRINCE2 Agile, AgileSHIFT, ICAgile, ISTQB software testing and ITIL. He also released his first white paper called “Project Optimism Bias in Capital Investment Decision Making” through APMG-International.
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