Project Management

Facilities Management

Stage-Gate Workflow Model


The Waterloo regional Project Management Institute (PMI) meets monthly in our Peer-to-Peer P2P PM Connect group.  As a co-Champion, the organization of monthly topics as well as the content and presentation forms part of the Champion roles and responsibilities.  In keeping with this expectation, I presented at our March 2016 seminar how to introduce new management philosophies.

I first encountered Stage-Gate® work flow management by way of reading published material authored by Dr. Robert G. Cooper.  I have included these references in the bibliography slide in the presentation deck.  I had originally read the material on or about 2003 driven by a growing desire to better understand the inner workings of the methods and processes for getting work done.  I was at approximately the 18 year mark in terms of on the job engineering experience in design and project engineering management; yet, I had never encountered a process system that even attempted to emulate the Stage-Gate system.  This is not to say that I hadn’t experienced a structured work environment.  I experienced structured stages of activity and periodic reviews, but the expectations were never made known early enough to have any real hope of achieving the intent.  It was as if the reviewers purposefully sprung their expectations on the execution team at the last minute to exercise an air of supremacy and control.  It also seemed to me that some managers sought to prove that the organization had failed them such to the tune that their departmental shortcoming was the product of inadequacies in the team; not their personal performance.  A clear redirection of blame.

So…you’d think that if the team failed the review, then management would have taken action…right?  Nope….the team just kept on working until the next review.  More and more, what I found was that a failed review was handled by management as an orchestrated slow death by starvation.  Team members would progressively get re-assigned, purchase orders would not be executed, and so on until the job just fizzled out.  There was no sign of a clear decision to go, stop, or re-work.  To this day, I have yet to witness a project that was decisively stopped when it needed to be killed.

I was certainly converted by what Dr. Cooper had developed, and proceeded to promote Stage-Gate in the various roles that I have held over the past 13 years.  My approach was to set progressive and incremental expectations so that targets in the early stages recognized the “end game”, but were initially relaxed in the early gate reviews.  This would do two things, (1) ensure early recognition of stakeholder expectations and (2) make it possible for the team to incrementally work to the final expectation.  As an example, if the product build cost at production launch was expected to be $1,000.00, then the concept stage would be considered on track if it was within an agreed margin of the extrapolated cost.

In almost all cases, the initiative was met with resistance from management stating that structured work flow and gates are intrusive to creativity and impediments to serving the customer. In some cases, the corporate organization didn’t have a documented work flow; in other cases a generalized work flow was established, but no gating criteria was set.  In both cases the primary roadblock was setting the gate expectations prior to the start of work execution leading to the gate.  In short, the gate committee comprising of management would not contribute expectations in advance of the gate review.

This presentation provides a bit of background of Stage-Gate, and introduces structuring, a basic model, and a process to customize the model to suit a corporate mode of product or service introduction.  Having this workflow wrapper developed, the corporate projects currently in work can be seamlessly integrated into the Stage-Gate workflow model.

Please have a read of the attached presentation package.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and any stories you would like to share on the subject.