Got a Complex Project? Use Stage Gates

project management

Got a Complex Project? Use Stage Gates

project management

Projects can be tricky things, and sometimes you’re not really sure what they might deliver. This can be particularly true for projects where you want to develop something brand new, test it, and then deliver it broadly.

Consider a research project that wants to extract compounds or elements from waste material and use it in industry. At the very beginning, you don’t yet know what extractions will be successful, or which compounds can be utilised in future.

In instances such as this, you may not be able to really know all the details to set clear objectives and scope in the planning stage of the project. How will you test it? When? How long will it take to fix defects? What is the target for your ‘broad’ delivery? What will you do if the test fails or the research doesn’t provide the answers you expect? It can get really tricky without knowing what to do next or if things are going the way you want.

If you can’t answer these questions when designing your project, what do you do?

Why “Stage Gates” Are Important in Getting Projects Right

If you find yourself in this situation, you might want to build in a few Stage Gates to your project plan. Stage Gates are like stopping points where everyone looks at what’s happening, checks if it’s going as planned, and decides what to do next. They help us stay on track and ensure we’re doing things the best way possible.

Making things Safer and Smarter

Stage Gates are predefined points within a project schedule that mark the project’s transition from one phase to the next. These Gates act as pivotal moments where project progress is evaluated against criteria before proceeding to the next phase. Think of them as decision points, allowing stakeholders to assess, discuss, and make informed choices about continuing, modifying, or even discontinuing the project.

Stage Gates serve as proactive risk management tools. By assessing risks at various stages, teams can identify potential roadblocks early in the process before it gets too late to change.

In our earlier project example, using Stage Gates at the right points will let you review the initial research findings for each different mineral and provide a clear decision point on whether the implementation phase will still work the way you originally expected. They can help ensure you don’t go too far into your plan without reviewing if anything needs to change, and confirm if all stakeholders are still comfortable with progressing.

Stage Gates have been used in many university projects that develop complex technologies and equipment, such as telescopic instruments. Design reviews, test acceptance, and installation gates all allow critical stakeholders to agree that the project is on track, that funding is still available, and the next phase should be commenced.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Clear communication is paramount to the success of research initiatives such as those conducted at ANU. Stage Gates facilitate transparent communication channels between researchers, faculty members, and stakeholders involved in space, physics, manufacturing, and scientific projects. They facilitate comprehensive discussions on project progress, challenges, and strategic decisions, fostering a culture of collaboration and accountability.

If you have a large project and are unsure where to start, contact to see if ANU Enterprise can assist.