Using the Six Sigma Tollgate

Recently, I went through the process of using DMAIC as a way of defining your marketing funnel. We looked at Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control and  utilized these basic principles to walk a customer through the marketing funnel. In other posts, I discussed the ability to create a shorter cycle time by decreasing the non-value time in between each of these stages. One of the methods of doing this is to have a strong call to action for a prospect to move from one stage to the next. However, how do you know if a customer is ready to move from one stage to the next?

A lesson that marketers can learn from the Six Sigma Methodology is the utilization of the Tollgate. The tollgate is use to clearly define measurable objectives that will allow a prospect to pass through the gate or to the next stage, or be held until the objectives are completed. Consider how many times that a prospect enters another stage of your marketing funnel and has not experienced the previous stages. When this happens, do you find yourself explaining at the last moment certain objections that should have been dealt with previously? The tendency to slip into the next phase can be common early in the timeline. The desire to move someone quickly through the funnel and to the buy stage or the “close” will often compromise your original standards set. Our typical response is to flood the prospect with the additional information, or make additional sales calls to explain the situation. More than likely this situation will cause the process to be held and dealt with as a “special” situation. Other times, a tollgate is created on an as needed bases causing further confusion downstream.

Overview of a Tollgate: Tollgate Reviews help determine whether all the goals within each stage have been achieved successfully and whether the project can progress to the next stage.

Preparing for a successful Tollgate Review: Many reviews fail due to lack of preparation. If you are going to have a tollgate review, prepare for it. This should include a minimum of a check sheet, milestone list, deliverable documents, etc. for review. This could even be an automated process that the customer knowingly or even unknowingly completes.

Let the numbers be your guide. Spend time developing good metrics and methodologies for their capture. If you do Tollgate review process is as simple as you either made the numbers or you did not. If you leave metrics be general like using the words most in lieu of a defined number, you will create an ineffective tollgate. If you always find exceptions to allow someone to pass through the gate defeats the purpose of the tollgate. Stopping the line, will take some courage initially and that is why many times management or an independent party, in Six Sigma it is the Black Belt, must press the button.

A Tollgate is exactly what it sounds like. The gate comes down and you must pay the toll before continuing. Now, what makes this such a strong feature is how many times do you ever pay the toll without knowing where you are going?


9 thoughts on “Using the Six Sigma Tollgate”

  1. I have some experience with Tollgates in the area of software engineering. We called them Quality Gates though, but the principles were the same.

    My experience with them was two-fold. On the one hand it put a lot more pressure on the development team. We had the client who was looking over our shoulder and then we also had the regular reviews. We kind of had to plan our project around the upcoming gate.

    On the other hand it kept the whole team disciplined and focused on the deliverables though. Our whole focus was to pass the quality requirements of the next gate and when we got through, we knew that we were still on the right track and that our output was good. That was always a big relief.

    Looking back at it from another perspective, the Tollgates created a game for us that we wanted to win. It challenged us. At the same time we easily met the client's expectations (which isn't a given in software engineering since projects usually fail and end up in frustrated teams and clients).

    In the end we had a very happy customer and a stressed out, but happy development team.

    Thanks for the great article.. it made me remember a great exprience in my life and I learned from it all over again, from another viewpoint. :)

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