stage gates

The stage gate process: a project management guide

11 min read20th of February 2021

Without the right tools, project management and project execution can be a risky, chaotic, and ultimately expensive process. 

Choosing the right planning method is critical for all organizations, and approaches can vary depending on the complexity of both your project and your organization. 

So, is the stage gate process right for you?

In this short guide we take you through the various steps of the stage gate process and explain the best ways for you to implement stage gates into your next project.

What is a project management stage gate?

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, with decision points or stages along the way. At each of these points, work is reviewed to decide whether the project is able to move to the next stage. The Project Management Institute sets out a more formal definition here:

“A review at the end of a phase in which a decision is made to continue to the next phase, to continue with modification, or to end a project or program.”

PMBOK® Guide – Sixth Edition (2017)

What is stage gate methodology?

Stage gate methodology is built to prevent – or minimize – risk. It allows organizations to determine exactly what the more viable or rewarding opportunities are thanks to its emphasis on information-based decision making.  The strength of stage gate methodology is in its simplicity. By taking a big-picture overview of the product development process, tasks can be broken down into individual phases called ‘stages’. Each of these stages are used to collect information or reach certain goals. At the end of each stage, the process is reviewed and decision makers determine whether or not the project can continue to the next phase.

What projects and organizations best suit the stage gate process?

Stage gates are typically used by larger enterprise organizations.   The stage gate process, built to handle numerous moving parts, is particularly useful for project teams working across disparate departments and locations. For this reason, stage gates are often used for new product developments, software launches and business-wide changes. In our experience, we have found that stage gates are ideally suited to project portfolio management (PPM) and demand management related projects.

What are the top five benefits of using stage gates?

There are a number of business benefits associated with the phase gate process. Here are the top five:
  • Risk mitigation
  • Better resource management
  • Project success
  • Flexibility
  • Improved collaboration

Risk mitigation

The gating process keeps all employees on task, while also eliminating any unplanned or ad hoc edits to the end product. With so many stakeholders involved throughout a project lifecycle, preventing any unnecessary deviations reduces risk substantially for large organizations.

Better resource management

With its inbuilt review phases, there is ample opportunity to re-deploy resources if a project has not met certain requirements. Ultimately, this means businesses can use their people more productively, while minimizing any needless wastage of resources.

Project success

The stage gate process is useful for guiding employees to work on the right task at the right time. Often, organizations undertake new projects without an appropriate business case or justification, leading to common problems like overspend and vastly increased project scopes.

With stage gates, projects are closely monitored at all stages, ensuring the project meets its critical goals with limited change. Regular checkpoint assessments mean that any issues and risks are flagged at the earliest opportunity and allows them to be acted on accordingly.

Flexibility

Stage gate methodology is flexible, meaning it can be adjusted to a variety of circumstances within an organization. Any one organization can implement a variety of stage gate setups to suit the needs of their various departments or business processes. Our graphic below shows how this can look in more detail. 

Stage gates can also be scaled easily. Organization can start with a simple model, applied to a single department or type of project. Over time, the model can be built to handle projects with an increasing complexity.

Improved collaboration

Working on projects with large teams in a variety of locations can be tricky – but the stage gate process is built to not only withstand this strain, but to also actively encourage collaboration internally (between cross-functional teams) and externally (with partners).

What does the stage gate process look like?

The stage gate process comprises a number of stages, each connected by gates, with each stage designed to collect specific information. Traditionally you will find five distinct phases in the stage gate process, each with a gate in between as the image below shows.
phase gate process

Unlike project milestones, stage gates can occur before any task or timelines exist in pre project handing. Instead, stages are driven by checklists and approvals.

With organizations increasingly using stage gates for a variety of projects, you can also find stage gate processes that look more like the image below. Although the image may look more complex than the one above, the fundamental principles remain the same.

stage gate lines process

Can you use stage gates on Salesforce?

Yes, you can use stage gates on Salesforce!

The approval processes in Salesforce can be used to approve or reject at stage gate checkpoints. The logic behind unlocking records when a gate is passed can be complex though, and making a custom-build integration with Salesforce is likely to be difficult and costly. 

Some apps, like Cloud Coach, have stage gate functionality built into their solutions.

Using stage gates with Cloud Coach

Built on Salesforce, Cloud Coach is perfect for managing your stage or phase gate development projects. With best in breed Gantt charts, workflow processes, approval mechanisms and reporting Cloud Coach gives you:

  • Visibility into gate progress
  • Gate approvals before progression
  • Gate reporting and analytics

With Cloud Coach, stage gates are shown alongside percentage completion metrics

stage gate completion metrics

Cloud Coach lets you and your team design and set up your organization’s stage gate processes. Here, users can create multiple processes, create multiple steps per process and also add multiple check list items per step for consistency across your projects.

stage gate checklists

Stage gates and checklists are automatically created according to the stage gate process selection. Gate completion percentage is driven by checklists, and gate approval is driven by the approval process.

stage gate approval


To find out how Cloud Coach can help your organization with the stage gate process, contact us here: https://cloudcoach.com/contact-us/

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