What is a Phase Gate process and how might it improve your management of projects? Of course there are many ways to describe this process, but one simple explanation based on how some of our customers have utilized it is that it’s a formal sanity check at the end of chosen phases of your project, where a decision to proceed or to not proceed to the next phase is determined. These would be phases that you and your stakeholders have defined as being particularly important for decision makers to double-check that not only have the agreed upon deliverables for the phase been met, but also that certain on-going project parameters are not so off base such that the continuation of the project must be called into question; relevant parameters include organizational priorities and overall mission, time, or cost. Just because a project made sense to undertake back when the business case or project charter was drafted, does not mean that it is in the organization’s best interests to continue at this specific point in time. And if the previously agreed deliverables are not verified to have been met, then stakeholders and/or a steering committee must decide if subsequent phases must be put on hold until these are successfully completed (and verified!).
Phase gates should be engaged at a point before a project becomes a project (at the portfolio selection stage), during the execution of the project or development of the product, and through the project closure stage before all is wrapped-up. A sample of status choices available to the decision maker are Approved, Rejected, Deferred, Rework, and a default value of No Decision.
How you choose to implement this in a BrightWork project site is open to your own creativity coupled with capabilities built into SharePoint. If you are using SharePoint Server 2010, you can use the built-in Approval workflow, a workflow relatively easy to configure using a form-based configuration method (no SharePoint Designer required!). There are some very nice options available to you with this out of the box workflow, including the ability to specify under which conditions it should initiate, who should be assigned the gate decision task (including multiple assignees), whether the approval process should run in parallel or serial, and the specific request text for the email sent to the approvers. Now if you’re not content with the changes you can make through the browser-based form configuration tool, start up your SharePoint Designer, rollup your sleeves, and dig as deep as you like into further, more granular changes to this workflow (with proper permissions of course). Using SharePoint Foundation instead of SharePoint Server? You too can benefit from a tools-based gate process through the creation of an approval related workflow you create from scratch using SharePoint Designer. It need not be overly complex, and there are many examples of approval workflows out in the wild. BrightWork customers can even get inpsiration from some of our other project site workflows including the one attached to our Project Request Manager site template which is available for download at no extra cost. Where you choose to implement this workflow in the project site specifically also allows for great flexibility and is open to personal preference. Maybe you’d like to see the various gates enumerated in a gate list all its own, with descriptive columns exposed through various views, or maybe you’d like to embed the gates directly in a project task list, with completed phases automatically dropping out of view once completed. Whichever method you decide, once this is all configured and tested in a development project site, you can package it up as a BrightWork template for future reuse with ease.
Hopefully as your organization’s project and work management processes continue to evolve, you will consider adding in a dose of phase gates using the winning combination of BrightWork and SharePoint, which are always at the ready to evolve along with you.