Milestone / Phase Gate Reviews

At the completion of a major project milestone or phase, the team should take a short pause to ensure that the prior work was completed successfully and that the project team and the client are ready to proceed to the next major phase. Here are some of the activities in the phase gate review meeting.

Backward looking

  • Deliverable approvals. You should make sure that all of the deliverables that need approval have, in fact, been approved. Sometimes this final approval may even take place at the phase gate review meeting. If the deliverables from the prior phase are not approved, then the project may not be ready to enter the next phase.
  • Budget and schedule review. The project budget should be reviewed to validate where you are at within your total budget estimate. Likewise you should look at your schedule to see if you are on schedule and take some corrective actions if necessary.
  • Review project issues. You should validate that all outstanding issues have been resolved or that there is a plan in place to resolve them
  • Review project risks. This is a good time for a risk control meeting. You should validate that your prior risks are being successfully managed or you need to revise your risk plans. You should also look for any new risks to your project.

Forward looking

  • Validate schedule and budget estimates. You should project out from now until the end of the project to make sure your current estimates for final spending and deadline are still valid. If they are not you can update the information now.
  • Validate the Business Case. This is a time to check that the original Business Case is still valid. It is possible that an increase in the project deadline or budget may mean that the Business Case no longer makes sense. It is also possible that the business value of the project has changed.

The phase gate review is a good opportunity to cancel a project that no longer makes sense.

  • Check that resources are available. In many projects, the types of resources and the skills of the resources changes from phase to phase. This is an opportunity to validate you still have the resources required to complete the remainder of the project.
  • Validate your sponsorship. It is possible that the interest and commitment of the sponsor has waned since the project started. It is also possible that the sponsor has changed. Use this time to validate the priority of the project with the sponsor and cancel the project if the sponsor is no longer committed.
  • Obtain official approval to proceed. The official approval to proceed means that all work done up to this point is okay and the team can concentrate now on the work associated with the next phase or next milestone. Once you have validated that all of the prior work is complete and correct, plus you have validated the commitment to proceed, you should obtain a formal approval to move to the next phase. In other words, the phase “gate” is now open to enter and pass through.

If the project is on schedule and on budget, plus maintaining the right level of quality, it is likely that the review meeting will be non-eventful. However, there are many scenarios where this review meeting may result in some tough decisions on how, or if, the project should continue. A couple potential concerns include:

  • The project is projected to exceed authorized budget. The sponsor and other management stakeholders need to determine whether the project should continue with incremental budget or whether the remaining work needs to be scoped back to meet the allocated budget. This may be a decision that the sponsor can make or it is possible that the sponsor will need to appeal to an organization steering committee for more funding. If a project budget overrun is small and incremental, the Steering Committee probably needs to go ahead and approve the excess. However, if the cost overrun is substantial, it may require that the entire Business Case be re-validated. A project that makes great business sense at a certain investment level may not make as much business sense at a higher cost level. It is always a dramatic step to cancel a project that is in progress, but if the business case no longer supports the investment, canceling the project may be the right course. The money that is already spent is considered “sunk.” The question is whether the additional funding is better spent on this current project or whether the money would be better spent on the next high priority project.
  • The project is projected to exceed its deadline. Some projects may not exceed their budget, but they may still miss their required deadline or they will end up taking longer than estimated. This situation has the added complication that this usually means that resources are tied up on this project rather than being able to start on new projects. This is a concern for all subsequently scheduled projects because they are being delayed not by lack of budget but by not having the required resources available.
  • The project is extended by scope changes. Some projects run over budget because of scope changes. If a project is extended because of scope change requests, another project that was scheduled to start may get delayed because the resources are unavailable. If the scope changes are substantial, the entire Business Case may need to be re-validated. tenstep

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