Structure of Gates in a Phase Gate Process

by | Jun 8, 2023 | Blog Post

The purpose of the “Gates” in a Phase Gate, or stage and gate style process is to ensure that the project is being executed properly. “Gates” are like quality control checkpoints – they are meetings between the project team and senior management to assess the quality of the project, provide go/kill and prioritization decision points, and approve the action plan and resources for the next stage.

Gates provide a funnel where mediocre projects are culled out at each successive gate. They also ensure that a project doesn’t move forward until it is ready to do so. If / when a project does move forward, gates make sure that it is the right thing to do and that circumstances haven’t changed in the environment. This confirms that the project is still a good investment and fits with organizational goals. If it doesn’t, teams and gatekeepers can put a stop to the project.

A successful gate review usually consists of the following components:

Establishing the Process.

The first thing you need to do is establish the process. This involves getting the team together, discussing terms of reference, setting dates, and discussing the kinds of questions that are going to be asked along with the criteria that will be used to assess the evidence.

Planning Meeting.

The second step is the planning step where the planning members get together and plan how they are going to conduct each of the reviews. Who will the review team need to meet? How long do they want to spend? What sort of questions do they want to ask? What sort of information they are going to request in advance of the review? Essentially, what criteria are they going to apply to each gate?

Evidence submission.

Step three is evidence submission, where the project manager will collate a set of evidence to present to the review team or gatekeepers. The team members will individually review that evidence and they will formulate their own initial judgments but critically will collate together a set of questions that they’re going to want to place to the project manager and the project manager’s senior team members at the gate review.

Gate Meeting.

The fourth component is the gate meeting itself. This is where the review team sits down with the project manager and the project sponsor and ask their questions. Whilst this can be a question-and-answer session, it shouldn’t be seen as an interrogation. Instead, it should be conducted collaboratively. The purpose of the review is not to challenge the project manager but to find out how aware the project manager is of the state of their project. Are there any issues? How prepared is the project manager to tackle those issues?

At each gate review meeting, there will be a gate presentation (also known as a gate document or gate paper), which is often in a PowerPoint format and includes all the information needed to make a gate decision.

Documentation needs to look back at what the project has achieved and see if it’s ready to move on. Documentation also needs to look forwards to assess whether it’s still the right thing to do.

So, what information should the review team, or gatekeepers be looking at to make their decision?


Format of the Gate Meeting

Gates have a common format:


This is a set of required “deliverables” that the project team and project leader must present to the gatekeepers (such as the results of a set of completed activities). These deliverables are visible, are based on a standard menu for each gate, and are decided at the output of the previous gate. Management’s expectations for project teams are thus made very clear.


This is a set of criteria, hurdles, or questions against which the project is judged on to make the go/kill and prioritization decisions.


The outputs of the gate review are the results and next steps. The review team decides to do one of the following:

  • Go: The project is ready to move to the next phase.
  • Kill: The project is not worth any more effort.
  • Hold: The project is temporarily halted. It has merit, but other projects need to take priority.
  • Recycle: Changes need to be made before the project can proceed. This is a conditional ‘go’.

If the project gets the green light or a conditional ‘go’, then the project manager creates an action plan for the next phase, requests resources to move forward, and defines activities, tasks, and deliverables.

Types of Gate Criteria.

The success of the gate review depends on the ability of the project manager to establish gate criteria. Gate criteria are designed to be used by the leadership team at the gate meeting. After the project is presented and debated, each criterion is discussed.

There are three types of gate criteria:

1.      Readiness-Check:

These are ‘yes’/’no’ questions that check whether the key tasks have been completed, and that all deliverables are in place for that gate. Questions are openly debated by the gatekeepers, and a ‘no’ answer can signal a recycle to the previous stage – Meaning the project is not ready to move on. Checklists are usually used for the readiness check —for example: Is the product definition complete? Has it been signed off by the project team?

2.      Must-Meet:

These are the objectives that the product must meet at a specific gate. Typically, these criteria simply require a “yes” or “no” response. A single ‘no’ signals a kill decision, and the project is knocked out of the pipeline. Again, checklists are the usual format for must-meet items— for example: Is the project within our business’s mandate?  Does the project meet our policies on values and ethics? Is the project technically feasible (better than 50 percent)?

3.      Should-Meet:

The ‘should-meet’ questions are best handled on a physical scorecard. These are highly desirable project characteristics (so a no on one question won’t kill the project). They are used to distinguish between stand-out projects and minimally acceptable ones. These should-meet items are typically in a scorecard format. And the resulting project attractiveness score is used to make go/kill decisions and help prioritize projects at the gates.

These criteria are often scored by the gatekeepers independently of each other at the gate meeting (paper and pen or computer-assisted scoring). Scores are tallied and displayed (for example, on a video projector) and the differences are debated. A consensus go/kill and prioritization decision is reached, and if go, the action plan is approved and resources committed to the project team.


Who Is Included in a Gate Review?

Each review includes a gatekeeper who is responsible for making sure the product moves forward with the organization’s commitment to scope, resources, risk, and other priorities. In larger organizations, the gatekeeper can be a project manager, a supervisor, or the head of the project or program management office. It’s best if the gatekeeper is not the project manager or project sponsor because they have a vested interest in the project’s success. The rest of the committee includes senior managers, sponsors, and other project managers. The goal is to conduct a cross-functional or multifunctional review to ensure the product meets the necessary conditions for success.


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