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Successful Project Manager V: Phase-Gate Process

04 Mar 2021
Successful Project Manager V: Phase-Gate Process

In this article, we will take a closer look at the roles and responsibilities of the project manager before we discuss the project life cycle, from initiating to closing. For a project manager, it is likewise important to visualise the whole life cycle of a project, from its beginning to its end. In addition, we will focus on a tool that can help the project manager pursue and reflect on the progress of the project called the Phase-Gate Process.

Who Is the Project Manager?

Briefly, the project manager is the person who carries out the work of the project in order to meet the project’s goals and objectives. He is responsible for the project’s success or failure. He has one shared goal with his team: to complete the project successfully, on time and within budget, besides high-quality deliverables. A project manager has the most critical position in the project; this position comes with an important level of responsibility, accountability, ownership, and authority. Some of his roles:

  • Defines project roles and responsibilities.
  • Manages project priorities.
  • Makes decisions throughout the project.
  • Manages the project activities and identifies risks.
  • Performs project tracking.
  • Monitor project progress and communicate with stakeholders.
  • Motivate and mentor team members.

Project Life Cycle

A project life cycle is a representation of the phases of the project that it typically goes through from the start point to the end point, either a successful or unsuccessful project. Every project has its own unique life cycle that can follow predictive (traditional), adaptive (agile), or hybrid methods. This life cycle is made up of phases created by the project manager. So, the purpose of the project life cycle is to create an easy framework to guide the project successfully from start to finish.

Project Phase

A phase is a collection or set of related project activities that have been done to build one or more deliverables to move the project toward completion. The number of project phases depends on the industry type, size, and complexity of the project. The phase is done when one or more deliverables (outputs) of this phase are accepted by the customer. In general, below are the four major phases of a project:

  1. Initiation: understand and define the project goals or objectives. An appropriate response to these objectives is documented in a business case with the recommended solutions. Once approved, the project is initiated, the stakeholders, deadlines, priorities, risks, and major deliverables are identified on an elevated level, and the project charter is developed. Once the project charter is approved, the project manager is ready to move to the detailed planning phase.
  2. Planning: is where creating a comprehensive project outline and the essential steps to meet the project’s objectives. Here, the project’s requirements, resources, activities, tasks, and dependencies are defined, the schedule is developed, and the budget is determined. Once we identify the work, prepare the schedule, and estimate the cost, it is a suitable time to identify risks, establish a plan of communication with stakeholders and provide quality targets.
  3. Execution: where the project plan is turned into actions to perform the work of the project. In this phase, the project manager monitors and controls the progress of the project, measures the performance of the activities and compares the results to the plan so that corrective actions can be taken if needed. Moreover, the product sponsors and stakeholders should be kept informed of the project status and its progress. Once the project deliverables are produced, they should be reviewed for quality and measured. In case the customer has accepted the deliverables, then the project is ready to close.
  4. Closing: in this phase, the deliverables are delivered or released to the customer. Here, all the contracts with suppliers are terminated, the project resources are released, and all the stakeholders should be informed about the project closure. Also, one more important and last step in this phase is to conduct lessons learned to transfer this project experience to future projects.
Stakeholder Management - Phase-Gate Process

Project Life Cycle vs Product Life Cycle

The project life cycle is different from the product life cycle. The product life cycle starts at the beginning, where the idea of this product is created and continues after launching in the market till it becomes discontinued.

Project Life Cycle - Phase-Gate Proces

As the above figure clarifies, not all the stages are of the same length. The length of each stage depends on the type of project. Some projects require quite a prolonged period of planning, while their execution stage takes only a brief time. Other projects, the more routine ones, will have a truly short planning stage while their execution will take considerable 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 project's execution, the plan may need to be corrected.

There are tools to help project managers work through the project life cycle and control its flow and clarity on the content. One of them is the Phase-Gate Process, also known as Stage-Gate Process.

Phase Gate

It is a review at the end of each phase where a decision is made to continue to the next phase. It is used to guide the project from conception to launch. The project manager can decide to move forward, make modifications, or end the project.

The phase gate methodology is committed to limiting project error and increasing information based on decision-making. It is sometimes used to bring a product to market quickly, and it is typical when the project team is large and from different departments.

Phase-Gate Process

Phase-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 criteria are unmet, the project remains at the current stage for further work. As soon as the stage is complete, it is followed by a checkpoint “Gate.” These stages are as follows:

Phase 0: Idea

It is the stage when brainstorming and group thinking take place to form the project. Market investigation takes place at this phase, in addition to communication with customers and stakeholders to seek input. Sometimes it is called phase or stage 1.

Phase 1: Scoping

In this phase, a SWOT analysis is performed to define the project's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Likewise, different tools are used to evaluate the competition and potential markets. This phase is followed by a gate (checkpoint) that determines the quality of the scoping process and whether the project is ready to move to the next phase or stage.

Phase 2: Business Case

In this stage, a feasibility study is performed. The result of this stage is tangible and includes a thorough analysis of the product with a clearly outlined definition of where the business case is built. A detailed project definition, analysis and plan are part of this stage.

Phase 3: Development

It is the stage where marketing and production plans are developed, and the target audience is selected. Specific milestones are established, often following the SMART model. The end goal of this phase is to produce a prototype of the product.

Phase 4: Testing and Validation

It is one of the main stages in the phase gate process. It consists of testing and trialling the product, focused on the discovery of any issues that the new product may have to make edits and apply final changes if needed before validation. Also, in this stage, the field is tested to check which partners and customers may participate. In addition, a market test is performed in this stage to determine the preparation of the product to enter the market. A sales forecast is a result of this phase to adjust the marketing plan where needed.

Phase 5:  Launch

This last phase or stage consists of final marketing strategy decisions, where the product is finally launched to the market as soon as the stakeholders have signed off on the approval of the product.

Phase-Gate Process

The names of phases or stages and their numbers can vary depending on the project industry or sector. Otherwise, between these stages, there are the gates or checkpoints where the decision of each stage can be given by the project manager and limited to the following:

Gate Decisions - Phase-Gate Process
  • Go: The project manager gives the team the “go-ahead” to move to the next stage.
  • Kill: The review did not meet expectations, and the project is cancelled or dead, which means it failed and “must end.”
  • Hold: The project manager pauses the project temporarily, but it may still have potential.
  • Recycle: The project is not ready, and additional work may need to be done before the project can move forward.


So, to decide whether to move forward or cancel a project, it is important to understand the project progression in detail. For that, we can count on the phase-gate process to help us make decisions due to its efficiency in confirming whether the project continues to meet its objectives and goals with all the checks and tests in place or will be shut down in some phase.

Reference Literature:

PMBOK© Guide: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 7th Edition. Project Management Institute, 2021.