Talking Stage Gates

Talking Stage-Gates with Hostess Brands

14 min read16th of September 2021

A stage-gate (sometimes called a phase gate) is a project management technique, ideal for large organizations with projects that involve large teams, multiple departments and numerous stakeholders. Typically, stage-gates break up large projects into a series of stages with gates between them. At each of these points, work is reviewed to decide whether the project is able to move to the next stage.

About Hostess Brands

Hostess Brands manages some of America’s most iconic bakeries and brands that have delighted customers for more than a century. These include Hostess®, Twinkies®, CupCakes, Donettes®, Ding Dongs®, Zingers®, Danishes, Honey Buns, and more. 

Today, they achieve vast success through continuous innovation of their brands. As Hostess Brands continues to grow, the commercialization of new and ingenious products will present more challenges about how to prioritize different ideas and carry out strategic advancement into adjacent product categories in the most efficient manner possible. 

We spoke with Jean Foreman, Director of Enterprise Activation and Jeremy Vance, Vice President of Information Technology about how they are leveraging Cloud Coach stage-gates to help solve their project management challenges.

With a vast background and deep understanding of PMO development, Jean was hired by Hostess Brands to formalize a true Project Management Office(PMO).  Utilizing best practices and closely partnering with IT, Jean worked extensively with Jeremy in carrying out her PMO strategy.

Selecting the right SaaS solution

Cloud Coach: Why did you ultimately decide to move forward with Cloud Coach to facilitate your PMO and stage-gate processes? 

Jean: From my other tools I used in the past, Cloud Coach was the one that met most of the requirements from a PPM perspective. One of those major requirements was that it had to be integrated. In other words, it had to support the Stage-Gate process within the PPM module. It was also important that it was something that we could use, that was Hostess. In other words, it had to meet the Hostess process, not just out of the box PPM. 

Jeremy: For me a large driver was because Cloud Coach is built on Salesforce which is a nice low code environment where we’ll manage Cloud Coach along with our Sales Cloud CRM. Another aspect is the potential future use cases. For example, we could have a PMO initiative come from an opportunity or a request from our Sales Cloud area. Once that opportunity is firmed up it can then feed into here. So rather than having to move data off with that we can look into integrating Cloud Coach with those activities with very little development. The other reason is I knew there was going to be dashboarding needs all over the place and we’re already users of Tableau, which plays nice with Salesforce. So it fits well with the rest of the enterprise ecosystem.

Being native to Salesforce, AppExchange products like Cloud Coach can make use of Salesforce’s easy to use administrative settings. Therefore, the solution is carefully developed to not compromise on the configurable nature of the platform.

Developing the Hostess stage-gate process

Cloud Coach: Can you tell us why stage-gates were such a focal point in your pursuit of standing up a brand new PMO for Hostess Brands?

Jean: So probably about 16 months ago we developed our “Innovation Stage-Gate process”. It was for the innovation part of our business because we didn’t have a formal approach to how we did product programs. In other words, it was like people would not really put a timeline structure to a project related to our product innovation efforts. There was no set structure to how we did the projects. 

It would always be, “Oh, it only takes 12 weeks to actually commercialize something.” Those were the comments that I got when I first started here. So when we went through and talked to all parts of the company and mapped out all the processes, we realized the Stage-Gate process really needed to have discipline so that people could stay in the current lane they are in. That’s how I refer to it. So when you’re in the feasibility stage, you need to be working on only feasibility. What was happening was people were working on feasibility, development and execution all at the same time. With Stage-Gates we can focus on where we actually are in the project.

phase gate process

Similar to the visual above, Hostess will utilize phases within a stage-gate project that can consist of standardized tasks instilling the correct activities to take place in the phase while the actual gates present the specific requirements and information needed before moving on to the next stage. For business processes that have a standardized order of operations, organizations often find that stage-gates can promote stronger attention to the active deliverables at hand.

Why are Gates so vital?

Cloud Coach: Can you share a little bit more about the gates specifically?

Jean: So that’s when we have the formal approval process, meaning we have a meeting called ‘Innovation Gate Review”. That’s when you actually go in and say, “Is this approved to move forward? Is it canceled?” Then we’ll record that. We’ll be using Cloud Coach to record the decisions that were made when it went through the gates, where we are in the process, so that we can actually manage the whole process.

Jeremy: I think one of the things that the Stage-Gate process does is cut down a lot of the politics. That’s the big one, right, because in any organization there might be someone that says, “I’m the loudest voice. I know all the backdoor ways and I’ll get this project all kicked off and moving”, but in reality the project may not be feasible. They may not have other necessary stakeholders weigh in. I can say we have had it happen where people will come up with projects and ideas that probably, if you have looked at some of the feasibility upfront, those ideas wouldn’t have made it as far down the road. It then wouldn’t have gotten so much political capital built up behind it that now we’re stuck doing those projects.

Project failures can create large monetary losses for any organization. In fact, studies show $122 million is wasted for every US$1 billion invested into projects due to poor performance (PMI). Not only can stage-gates enable projects to be run more efficiently, but it can also safeguard against executing the wrong projects before valuable resources are allocated and further capital investments are made.

Carrying out Process with Stage-Gates

Cloud Coach: How important will it be for the stage-gate processes to be followed? 

Jean: It’s incredibly important because now that we are putting all of our projects into Cloud Coach, this is where all of our priorities are being tracked. So if other initiatives are brought to us from other parts of the organization it also has to live in Cloud Coach, otherwise we can’t manage them all in a consistent manner. 

Cloud Coach: Should it compromise the ability to be flexible from a tactical perspective?

Jeremy: Tactics without a strategy is the noise before defeat. So if you’re doing stuff without a strategy, you’re just making noise. Commercially, strategy without tactics is just a lot of noise with no execution. So yes, both are important and the two go together but stage-gates force a consistent decision-making process at a level where your most important decisions are being made. 

Cloud Coach: And in order to make those decisions in the best way possible, you still need to have as much information as possible in the system.

Jean: Exactly, if it’s not in there, we don’t know it needs to be worked on and resources aren’t going to work on it. So how could we prioritize it?

Jeremy: Because here’s the pieces, you either have a process or you don’t. If you have an exception process, then why don’t I just use the exception process all the time? So without stage-gates everything can go through the exception process and then your back to…

Jean: …the hot mess we started with.

Variations in delivery methods on a ground level are always expected and often necessary. However, stage-gates provide standardization where organizations need them the most. Gate requirements and approval can be enforced in Cloud Coach across stage-gate processes while the related project plans can be run using different project methodologies such as waterfall, agile, water-scrum-fall, and checklist projects. All without compromising the key decision points that will have the biggest impacts over the success or failure of your projects and portfolios. 

You can find out more about stage-gates on Salesforce by reading our blog here

If you would like to know more information about Cloud Coach stage-gates, or would like to request a one-to-one demo, you can contact our sales team at: [email protected]

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