What is a “stage-gate”?

More management jargon?

Do you come across people using the term “stage-gate”? If so, are you sure they really understand what they are talking about? Do they understand what this term means and where it comes from? All too often, I find people use as the term as yet another piece of management jargon and don’t really understand it (just like “workstream”!)

This is the type of muddle people come up with:

Example A starts well, in that there are a number of stages depicted. Unfortunately we know nothing about where the decision points are. Where does the project start or end? Also, the stages are called “stage-gates”, further confusing things.

Bad practice A

 

Example B has the same issues as example A except that a number of decision points have been added. This, however, doesn’t clarify matters much, for example, is stage gate 1, the first stage of the project or the activity before the project starts?

Bad practice B

 

Example C has all the issues raised in examples A and B, except in this case it seems the decision points (gates) are labeled as “stage-gates”.  I wonder what the stages are called – gate-stages? Notice the numbering, which infers that the “gates” are decisions at the end of a stage, rather than decisions to start a new stage.

Bad practice C

Where it came from.

“Stage-gate” is actually a registered trademark devised by Robert Cooper, to describe his stage-gate process for new product development. If you do a web search for R G Cooper or “stage-gate” you’ll find lots of good articles. If you read them, you’ll see that there is no such thing as a “stage-gate”; it is simply the name he gave to his new product development process.  Like my own work on project management, he talks about “gates” and “stages” as being different but related.

Depicting frameworks
In the Project Workout I use circle, arrow and diamond icons to ensure that the above mistakes do not happen. This form of iconography is now enshrined in the latest British Standard (BS6079 Part 1). If you haven’t seen it, then you really should get a copy.

  • A circle depicts activities which happen before a project starts or after it is completed.
  • A diamond represents a gate.
  • An arrow represents a stage.

Like this extract from a figure in the Project Workout:

Extract from the Project Workout.

 

Summary

So, if you are designing a project lifecycle for your project, don’t fall into the real-life traps highlighted in the bad examples above above; make sure you understand the difference between a gate and a stage; avoid “stage-gate” (you may have to pay royalties!) and make sure your depiction of the lifecycle is clear and unambiguous.

More help?

  • Book: Chapter 3 of the Project Workout tells you all about project lifecycles, helping you to design one that works for your situation. Chapters 5 to 11 describe the detail for each stage and then in Chapter 12 it tells you how you can tailor it.
  • Articles: You’ll also find some articles you can download from the community pages of my projectworkout.com site.
  • Video: Here is a video taking you through the project lifecycle in the Project Workout
  • Click for yourself: you can investigate the model in the video above yourself. Go to the community pages in my projectwout.com site.
  • Another blog on the topic:Lifecycles and fuzzy back-ends.

About Robert Buttrick
Robert Buttrick is the author of the Project Workout. He has been providing advice and guidance since the publication of the first edition of his best-selling “flagship” book, the Project Workout in 1997 and now its 4th edition. The principles laid out in the publications, take a holistic view, ensuring that culture, systems, processes and accountabilities are mutually compatible. The book has been translated into French, Korean, Chinese, Russian and Romanian . . . but not yet into Latin! Robert received a Distinguished Service Certificate from BSI for services to national and international project management standards; he is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Chartered Engineer and an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management. He currently works as a consultant and is a Visiting Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick.

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