Eliminate your Stage Gates in favor of Events

I have been struggling on how, or even if I should use Stage Gates or Control Points in the Lean Service Design methodology. In a recent interview with Ron Mascitelli, president of Technology Perspectives and author of five books, his most-recent publication,Mastering Lean Product Development: A Practical, Event-Driven Process for Maximizing Speed, Profits, and Quality, I questioned Ron about this. In this excerpt from next week’s podcast, he explains how he has eliminated them.

Joe:  That’s an interesting take on it, because it’s not necessarily a Kaizen event?

Ron:  No. Other than the fact Kaizen events are a great example of how powerful this kind of intensive collaboration with a high focus can be. But it’s not a Kaizen event in the classical sense of being continuous improvement. It is an execution event, where you have, again, a standard preparation in advance. Everyone, within their role, comes to this very cross functional event with preparation, information, and in some cases completed work. When we get in the event, we follow an agenda of tools, discussion, and prioritization. Then ultimately, we have a standard output that determines the close of the event.

In fact, if we don’t close the event properly, if we don’t reach that outcome, we reconvene in a week or whenever we can, and we continue until we can reach that closure.

I think it’s a very powerful forcing function for timely decision making and for really getting all the voices together, looking at the same issues and problems, and answering the same question.

Joe:  Do these happen at phase gates or control points of the process, then?

Ron:  Actually, in my perfect vision of the world, the events become the phases and gates. Our market requirement event is a knowledge gate, so is our project planning event. The rapid learning cycle event, which is to burn down your early risk on a project, each of these, in a sense, are knowledge gates. So in my perfect word, we don’t use artificial governance gates like concept freeze gate and a detail design freeze gate or whatever they might be. We actually use these events as knowledge gates. But in most companies that already have a comfortable language of governance, we just embed the event at the appropriate phase and it will give you the outputs you need for your existing gate reviews.

Joe:  So it’s really a way of distributing all the knowledge that needs and deciding on what knowledge you need to proceed with. Is that a simple explanation of it?

Ron:  Perfect, perfectly well said. If you think about it, in product development all of the knowledge that is needed to create the best commercial product in the world resides in the heads of the cross?functional groups that you have in your company. It’s all in there somewhere. All they need is a problem to focus on and the ability to somehow pull all of that diverse cross?functional knowledge together in a way that’s optimal. So really that’s what we’re trying to get at here. Really, it’s forcing collaboration, not just names on a list, "Oh yeah, we’ve got a manufacturing person on the team. See here’s Joe, he’s listed down here on the list."

It’s getting them in the room, break down the barriers to communication, have a common vision and a common set of tools they use so that we really do get that consensus input. Product development can’t be optimized without the contribution of virtually every function in the firm at one time or another.

Ron is a Project Management Professional, who has served as senior scientist and director of R&D for Hughes Aircraft Company and the Santa Barbara Research Center. Since founding Technology Perspectives in 1994, Ron has worked with over 100 leading companies worldwide to implement his highly practical approach to lean product development. Before his most recent publication, you might remember Ron from his popular book, The Lean Product Development Guidebook.

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