Gates in Project Management
In conventional project management, also referred to as staged gate methodology, we will find gates. Each gate provides a way point or check point upon which subsequent work will build. Each gate has a targeted expected set of objectives to reach and to answer before moving on to subsequent work. Each subsequent phase of the work is dependent upon the previous gate outcomes. For example, before we select a concept to develop, we should know the customer requirements. If our organization is for profit, we would want to know if the endeavor furthers the organization’s goals. The project and product will grow from the idea and concepts to a selected solution capable of being produced, delivered and will add to the company’s bottom line. Gates are review points for the just completed project phase, did we do what was desired, as well as a forward look is there still a reason for this project, will it be profitable?
We provide an example of gates below:
- Voice of Customer
If you are in the automotive industry, you may recognize the following from the AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group) APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning):
- Product design and development
- Process design and development
- Product and process validation
- Feedback and corrective actions (across all phases)
Gates and Objectives
In this example, the first phase we are gathering the customer needs, we will have activities associated with this objective and we will have objective measurements to assert we have met this objective. The project will balance these customer needs against the ability for the organization to profit from the endeavor. This phase may include activities such as customer clinics, interviews or market studies.
Gates as a Review
This review considers the objectives that were intended to be achieved in the phase, with the data and metrics from the phase to ascertain if the objective of the phase was indeed met. The board will use that information to prognosticate ability of the entire project to meet the overall objective. It helps us understand whether the next phase of the project should be funded. The results will answer questions such as:
- Did we build a base (in this phase) upon which the next set of activities of the project can be successful?
- Should the project continue on to the next phase?
- Should the project scope remain the same?
- Should the project be terminated because of market situation?
The gate review is performed by the adjudicating body through an evaluation of the expected results and individual items delivered compared to the actual – measurements and data.
Gates are not Solely Administrative
This is not just, or at least it should not be just an administrative action or sanctioning. There should be some review of the evidence. That may also include occasionally challenging the veracity of the evidence, but should always involve an actively engaged review. Boiling this down to a merely administrative sanctioning, absolves the decision makers of their responsibilities to the corporation via oversight. Moreover, this reduces the ability for an objective evidence based evaluation and distills the work down to a check list. I bet this is one of the reasons project go through gates, when they perhaps should not. Experience suggests it is not uncommon to move through a gate (all is well mentality) and on the other side we find key elements for the next phase missing or errant. Sometimes it is only green on the surface.
 Automotive Industry Action Group, Advanced Product Quality Planning and Control Plan (APQP), (Southfield, Michigan, AIAG 1995) p. 5