More on stage gates and project reviews

Not stage gate experts...

Not stage gate experts...

Per an earlier post (here), it is important to ask how to ensure that stage gates — and project reviews for that matter — are relevant to the project at hand.  It’s pretty simple IMO.

  1. Make sure that the stage gates match the project phase.  It is amazing how many gate reviews are conducted with a single set of questions.  There should be a general set of questions as well as a phase-specific set.  The questions in a gate review must match the expected deliverables for that gate.
  2. Structure the gate to include sessions that focus on the key capabilities and their associated deliverables.  This approach ties the review more tightly to the expected benefits of the project/program.
  3. Have subject matter experts involved during these capability-focused sessions.  We often pair these SMEs with another PM who leads the review.  They jointly review and prepare the questions.  Then the project reviewers ask most of the questions, while the SME jumps in on follow-ups or asks any technically-advanced questions.

Heresy on Stage Gates

Just say you love Q-Gates and well stop...

Old school Q-Gate

Glen Alleman tells us why he doesn’t like stage gates (here) and a number of readers respond in the comments. 

Per my comment, “gates” (we call them Q-Gates) are pointless if they aren’t closely tied to the status, progress, and forecast of the deliverables in question.  Back in the day, too many “gates” didn’t vary enough during the project lifecycle…too many “gates” were  simply an occasion to run through a generic checklist.  More of a CYA exercise, in other words.

Anyway, check out the post and comments.  It will make you look twice at whether your stage or Q-gates are there only for show.

Innovation portfolio planning — using stage gates to manage risk

Innovation portfolio planning — from a Gary Hamel and Lowell Bryan interview (here) on The McKinsey Quarterly site (registration required) — starts with a plan to build capabilities (earlier post here).   Of course, building these capabilities require projects and programs.

Once you’ve designed your master plan, you can launch a series of initiatives aimed at achieving your goals…. The thing that really stops innovation is risk. CEOs can be terrified of organizational disruption because it can put at risk a company’s ability to meet quarterly earnings, which in turn is often what causes CEOs to lose their jobs. So part of what you need is a bridge so that they can be innovative but also keep their jobs.

The addition of program and project portfolio standards to the PMI standards inventory has been welcome.  The PM community needs to master these disciplines in order to drive good practices like the stage gate approach Bryan outlines below:

[S]tage-gate your investments in organizational innovation, [so] you can first learn what works and then scale it, without taking excessive risk.  None of us are smart enough to see in advance the ultimate answer, because the real answer lies in discovering the operating detail to make new ideas work in practice.  You can see the broad directions, but you… can’t even understand the secondary and third-level consequences of the design decisions you make. Those have to be discovered through trial and error.

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