In this series, we will take a closer look at the role and responsibilities of the project manager. Previously, we discussed the planning of the project as well as its scope. For a project manager, it is likewise important to stand back and visualize the whole life cycle of a project, from its beginning to its end. Most of the time, this is done through the division of the project into four stages: initiation, planning, execution and closing. In this article, we will take a look at the project life cycle while focusing on a tool that can help the project manager stand back and reflect on the progress—the so-called Stage-Gate Process.
From initiation to closing
The initiation is all about the organization of the project and the definition of the project charter. The goals and objectives are outlined here. Once this stage is completed, the planning takes place. In the planning stage, we identify the task and their dependencies and set up a schedule. Resources needed for the project are part of the plan as well. How decisions are going to be made throughout the life cycle of the project is defined at this stage as well.
In the execution stage, the project manager monitors the progress being made. Communicating and reporting, as well as correcting and controlling is an important part of the execution process. The execution stage is over once the product is delivered to the customer. This is not the end of the cycle, however. While most of the work has been done, the final stage of closing should by no means be neglected or dismissed. This is the time to enjoy the moment of celebration and document what went well. At the same time, it is essential to comment on what went wrong and how past mistakes can serve us to perform better in the future. This is a crucial stage, not for the project, but for the project manager and his team, the time to learn and improve on the personal and team level.
Not all of these stages are of the same length. The length of each stage depends on the type of project. Some projects require a quite long period of planning while their execution stage takes only a short time, such as cultural events. Other projects, the more routine ones, will most likely have a very short planning stage while their execution will take a significant time. Likewise, the individual stages may repeat themselves. For example, during the planning stage, we may need to go back to the initiation and change the project definition. During the execution of the project, there may be a need for correcting the plan altogether.
There are tools to help the project managers work through the project life cycle and have control over its flow as well as clarity on the content. One of them is the Stage-Gate Process.
Phase-Gate Process, also knowns as a Stage-Gate Process is a technique used in project management to divide the project into phases called gates. Each gate is a point where the assessment of the quality of an idea takes place. The gates have two or more criteria for the project to pass to the following stage. If the criterium is not met, the project remains at the current stage for further work.
There are five phases or stages with four gates in between them, as shown in the following diagram:
The Phase-Gate model includes scoping, business case, development, testing and launch stages. The sixth stage, also known as Phase 0, is included as well.
Phase 0: Idea
Phase 0 includes the process of selection of projects, brainstorming and group thinking. The market investigation takes places at this phase as well. Some experts consider it Phase 1 as communication with customers and stakeholders takes place at this time as well.
Phase 1: Scoping
In this phase, the SWOT analysis is performed to define the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the project. Likewise, different tools are used to evaluate the competition and potential markets. The scoping phase is followed by the first gate – a checkpoint that determines the quality of the scoping process and determines whether the project is ready to move into the following phase.
Phase 2: Business Case
The second phase of the project according to this model is all about planning. This stage may take quite a long time and is very demanding due to its complexity. The result of the stage is tangible and includes a thorough analysis of the product with a clearly outlined definition, building of the business case and the plan of the project as well as a review of feasibility, that is, the rationale behind the pursue of the project.
Phase 3: Development
Once the previous phase passes through the gate and is deemed satisfactory, the project’s design and development can take place. Marketing and production plans are developed at this point, the target audience is selected. Specific milestones are established, often following the SMART model: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. The ultimate goal of this phase is to come up with a prototype of the product.
Phase 4: Testing
While some literature does not mention testing specifically, it is one of the main stages in the funnel of the Phase-Gate Process. It consists of near testing, focused on the discovery of any issues that a new product may have. The second type of testing is field testing in which partners and customers may participate. Market testing is the third type of testing executed in this stage. While considered highly optional, market testing helps determine the preparation of the product to enter the market. The result of the market testing is to get a forecast on sales and, if necessary, adjust the marketing plan.
Phase 5: Launch
The last stage in the Phase-Gate Process is the product lunch. This phase consists of final marketing strategy decisions as well as training of the sales team, price determination and distribution.