In the past, it wasn't uncommon to gain a commitment to start a project and then never look back again. Over the past ten years, however, it has become more common to set up specific points in the schedule where the project could be evaluated to ensure things are on track and to determine whether the work should continue.
Sometimes these criteria are called exit and entry criteria and the event is called a "gate." The analogy is that the project comes upon a “gate” and must get approval before the gate can be opened for the project to proceed.
Although there will be multiple gates in a project, the purpose and the nature of each is similar. This makes the gate review similar from phase to phase and even from project to project. Since the process is similar, these reviews tend to be good candidates for a checklist.
Gate reviews are categorized as Quality Assurance since they are focused more on the processes completed rather than reviewing any specific deliverables. The specific deliverable reviews should have been completed earlier.
Here are some of the activities in the phase gate review meeting.
- 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 within your total budget estimate. Likewise, you should check to see if you're on schedule and take some corrective actions if you're not.
- Review project issues. You should validate that all outstanding issues have been resolved or that there's 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.
- 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're not, you can update the information at this point.
- Validate that business case. This is a time to check that the original Business Case is still valid. An increase in the project deadline or budget may mean that the Business Case no longer makes sense. It's 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 change from phase to phase. This is an opportunity to validate that you still have the resources required to complete the remainder of the project.
- Validate your sponsorship. Perhaps the interest and commitment of the sponsor has waned since the project started, or 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.
Once you have validated that all of the prior work is complete and correct, and 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.