For a team manager, one of the simplest and most effective ways to structure your team’s project management effort is to introduce gate-process methods. They are not rocket science, they are not state-of-the-art, but they work. If are manage a group of projects, and you want long-lasting improvements in project management, then you should be looking at gate-process methods.
Gate process methods break a project into stages and gates:
• A stage is a block of work in a project (sometimes called a phase). It’s run by the project manager, and typically will be several weeks long, sometimes several months long.
• A gate is a decision point. The board makes a go / no-go decision, based on the work done in the current stage, the plan for the next stage and the overall viability of the project. It’s called a gate for a reason: if no-one opens it, then it stays shut. That’s important. If the board don’t take a explicit decision to proceed, then the gate stays shut and no more resources should be used on the project. The project must stop.
Many best practice project management methods are gate processes. For example, Prince2 is built around stages, but Prince2 is flexible – it allows for a variable number of stages. Prince2 doesn’t use the word “gate”, but it has end-of-stage decision points which are gates – the project board must explicitly approved the next stage plan. Gated methods also are a part of best practice portfolio management guidance. In the same family as Prince2, the MoP guide (Management of Portfolios) highlights the importance of gated methods, saying that “quick wins can demonstrate the value of a portfolio management approach. The first steps commonly include applying staged release of funding so that investment of resources is associated with confidence in successful delivery. Also pay particular attention to a rigorous start gate…”
Prince2 is a generic gate process method, applicable to any type of project. There are other gate process methods which are specific to various industries and project types.
❑ One of the most developed stage gate methods is PetroGate, a method used in the oil and chemical industries. For example, a major chemicals company starts all major investment projects with up to four stages and gates. Gate four is the key decision point – at this gate, the investment budget is approved.
❑ In IT, various IT methods for solution development such the v-model have been translated into stage-gate project management methods. For example, the IT project teams in a major bank used a stage-and-gate method to boost the reliability of the handover to operations at the end of the project. The final gates checked that the right work had been done prior the hand over to the support teams and the project closedown.
❑ In New Product Development, many companies implement a funnel approach to product development using stages and gates. They generate hundred of ideas and start lots of projects. Weak ideas or unprofitable products fail to get beyond gate 1 or gate 2. If a hundred projects are started, perhaps only 20 or 30 get into prototyping and development and under 10 get though the final gate which approves the product launch in the marketplace.
❑ In the construction industry, gated methods are used. As construction projects can be long, some industry methods can have many stages (ten or more). But if it’s a renovation project, there may be fewer stages, and if it’s a demolition project, there may be only one or two stages.
Be careful when you deploy gate-process methods. Avoid the traps
• Each project is unique, you should not force all projects into a rigid structure. 80% of your projects may follow your standard method, but 20% of your projects should definitely not (but could still use a generic gate-process approach such as Prince2)
• Understand overlaps. Stages are sequential, but some teams need overlapping “phases”. (Prince2 explains how to handle this, although in the current 2009 version the vocabulary it uses is confusing)
So if you are a team manager looking to boost project management efficiency, check out gate-process methods. One good starting point is Prince2, because it is a general purpose gate-process method, which you can tailor to your company or industry needs. Take a look … open the gate to more effective project management.