President’s Corner – Check it out!!  

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    Tollgate Reviews to Capture Stakeholder Approval

     October 2020

 

 

In the hectic pace that can set in on projects, in spite of our best intentions in the beginning, we often find ourselves racing frantically through the end of one phase of work right into the next – especially if we’re a bit behind schedule and need to catch up.  Try to resist racing through phase transitions.  Take the time to stop and assess the work effort in a tollgate phase review.   Neglecting to get formal stakeholder approval of the work can backfire later in the project.

A tollgate phase review is held at the end of a phase of work and allows stakeholders to review progress and status of the work.  Usually a definitive and limited group of “voting” stakeholders is designated to approve of the work performed through the previous phase, and make the decision about whether the team is ready to move forward to the next phase or stage of the project.  Like a good cocktail party, it’s all about who is there.  The voting stakeholder group is very critical, so they must be chosen carefully so that no one can later claim they didn’t get a warranted vote.  Recommended best practice is to not allow voting to be done with a quorum.  Voters should be present or send a delegate who is authorized to vote and speak on their behalf and is briefed to do so.  In addition to the voters, the project manager, (who may or may not be the meeting facilitator), and the project team are present.  Other non-voting stakeholders may also be present.

The process is done in real time – i.e. no one phones in their vote ahead of time or after the fact, and people make their comments in front of everyone in the meeting.  This prevents hiding behind anonymity and tends to bring out better behavior in people.  No one is allowed to vote simply – “No”.  If they wish to vote No, they must also add what it would take to get to yes, and that must be in very clear, actionable terms.  This tends to get stakeholders to formally approve or state objections.  It tends to be a “speak now or forever hold your peace”; “put up or shut up” moment.   At the end of the voting, the facilitator can solicit general comments and praise for the work efforts of the team – regardless of the decision.   If done well, the tollgate review can be a beneficial teambuilding event, formally giving credit and praise where due.  The trick is how to construct the meeting.  The following is an approach I’ve used which usually works well. 

To prepare for a tollgate meeting, the facilitator should document the high level objectives of the phase.  Here again you should take care with this step as this should be backed up with the artifacts of your project.   It is better to be thorough than to be embarrassed by having someone call out an objective later that you forgot about and have neglected from your list.  For each objective, you should state whether the team met the objective according to the original plan, according to an approved alteration to plan, or did not meet the objective.  Presumably, if there are objectives that have not been met, and the team is scheduling a phase review asking for permission to proceed to the next phase; there is a viable scenario such as deferring the objective to a later phase; or cancelling the objective; etc.  Capture any relevant notes/proposals that apply next to each objective.  Below is an example of objectives for a project planning phase:

Planning Phase Objective

A:Met as Planned;

B:Met approved change to Plan

C:Did Not Meet as Planned

Comments

Scope Statement

A – Met as Planned

 

WBS

A – Met as Planned

 

Schedule

A – Met as Planned

 

Quality Plan

A – Met as Planned

 

Communications Plan

A – Met as Planned

 

Risk Management Plan

A – Met as Planned

 

Risk Register

A – Met as Planned

 

HR Management Plan

C – Did not meet as Planned

Due to HR Dept changes to Performance review Stds, we are deferring to next phase in order to incorporate new standards.

 

 

 

 

At the beginning of the meeting, the facilitator should prepare a presentation that walks the participants through the process, and then presents a table like the above to review the work of the phase.  Then the facilitator polls each of the voters and captures their vote in real time, along with comments.  Remember, if they vote No, they must also supply what it would take to get to Yes.  The vote tally and capture sheet could look something like this:

 

Name

Vote

Comment

Mary

Yes

 

Tom

Yes

 

Sue

No

Would like to see at least Roles and Responsibilities sections of the HR management plan finalized.  Then I would be OK approving.

 

 

 

 

After all votes and associated comments are captured, anyone attending is invited to make a comment about the work effort during the preceding phase and these can be captured in the tally chart as well:

 

Name

Vote

Comment

Mary

Yes

 

Tom

Yes

 

Sue

No

Would like to see at least Roles and Responsibilities sections of the HR management plan finalized. Then I would be OK approving.

General Comments

Jim

 

The team did a great job in planning.

Sally

 

Excellent Results!

 

Capturing all this data and commentary during the phase review leaves no doubt where the team stands and gives you concrete evidence that you have permission to move forward.  It can eliminate any capitulation down the road.  It also gets the team what is usually some well deserved recognition for hard work done.

 

I hope this proves helpful and I hope to see you all at a chapter event soon…

Cindy