If you have ever been to a symphony, you have seen the maestro direct a grand orchestra—and he or she is there for a purpose. First, the conductor receives recognition for all the hours spend in rehearsal—which is highly deserved. He or she enables the orchestra to start playing together, even if they know the piece well enough not to need the conductor once they’ve started. The conductor can also remind the orchestra during the performance of how the piece should be played. Turns out, a maestro of music has a lot in common with process managers.
If you are a process manager, your job is to establish a process and discipline for how the gate meetings are conducted, ensure adherence to help teams pick and finish the best projects, and provide direction and recommendations to others as needed, while being flexible.
Gate meetings are the decision points of every successful Stage-Gate® process. As Dr. Bob Cooper, the creator of the Stage-Gate process and co-founder of Stage-Gate International, says, “As go the gates, so goes the process.” So, if gate meetings are the most important part of the process, what can process managers do to ensure they are successful? Is having gate meetings enough, or is there more to it?
As an experienced Stage-Gate practitioner, I can tell you that it takes a confident process manager to facilitate and manage the gate keepers inside and outside of the gate meetings. Typically, the process manager is often a mid-level manager. They have just enough authority to be recognized as the go-to person for the project leaders and teams, but not quite enough authority to feel completely comfortable laying down the law in a gate meeting setting—which can be very challenging and unproductive. A good method to help process managers find their voice and balance their authority is to learn what I refer to as the 9 rules of engagement.
Become the Maestro to Direct the Way Gate Meetings Should Be Run
The 9 rules of engagement are a foundation for developing unique guidelines for members of the gated process, with the process manager as the maestro. The rules are meant to set expectations and establish a sort of discipline for both the gatekeepers and project teams, including how they are to behave before, during, and after the meeting. These rules give the process manager a fighting chance to hold successful, productive gate meetings.
In this three-part blog series, I will share the 9 rules of engagement. Let’s take a closer look at the first three.
Rule 1: Schedule the meeting and set firm rules.
The volume of projects process managers have in flight dictates the cadence and frequency of gate meetings.
Schedule the meetings and invite all the gatekeepers, even if you don’t know if they need to attend. Publish and share the schedule to all project teams so they are aware. Communicate that only those projects scheduled to be reviewed on that date will be on the agenda.
Set firm rules. Gatekeepers must attend, in person or by proxy. If they don’t, they must accept the decision reached at the meeting. Similarly, project teams must not be given a pass because they are not ready to share their set of deliverables.
Rule 2: Arrive prepared.
As a process manager, you need to institute the practice of getting deliverables to the gatekeepers before the meeting at least three days in advance. This approach seems practical, right? However, change is often difficult, and teams may struggle to meet deadlines, wanting to make changes all the way up to the gate meeting. Get cooperation from leadership and project teams.
I recommend setting firm guidelines and using technology that promotes communication across the team, so deliverables can be posted and distributed in one place. It will allow process managers to send information and instructions to gatekeepers and allow gate keepers to submit questions to the project team leaders prior to the meeting.
Having this practice in place will keep meetings focused on the issues impacting each project while avoiding the tendency for meetings to become detailed project reviews versus the short, succinct business decision meetings they are intended to be.
Rule 3: Use a pre-set list of criteria.
Do not allow hidden agendas or gut feelings to hijack gate meetings. Create standard scorecards. Scorecards provide gatekeepers guidance on what questions to ask and what criteria to use to evaluate each project. In my previous blog, Improve Meetings Out of the Gate, I discuss the benefits of using scorecards and provide common scorecard criteria—check it out at the link provided.
Once the process manager develops the scorecards for each gate, use them to get the gatekeepers focused on the right evaluation criteria. Again, leverage technology that allows scores to be tallied quickly and displayed back in the form of a bar chart or spider diagram. This will highlight differences of opinion and drive conversations around the areas of disagreement, promoting collaboration and group decision making. Gatekeepers who have a firm understanding of the purpose at each stage and gate will be less likely to ask the teams for information that they are not prepared to deliver.
Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Schedule and involve the right stakeholders, set expectations, implement scorecards, be flexible, and course correct as needed—you will find that the entire team will appreciate the order gate meetings will begin to take on to keep things on track.
Stay tuned to The Planview Blog for rules 4-9. I’d like to hear from you. As a process manager, what challenges are you currently experiencing when conducting your gate meetings?
Stage-Gate® is a registered trademark of Stage-Gate Inc.