The widely used Stage-Gate® methodology can be a good start. It offers a flexible, straightforward framework that applies to pretty much any type of project, and can be implemented quickly and with minimal fuss. The Stage-Gate methodology allows you to better structure your PMO.
What is Stage-Gate?
Stage-Gate is a widely used Project Management methodology in which you consider everything you need to do to complete you project, and break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Each piece is called a “Stage” (or sometimes a “Phase”), with the most common breakdown looking something like this:
- Ideation / Discovery
- Concept / Business Case
- Testing / Validation
At the end of each Stage is added a decision point called a “Gate” where the (parties prenantes) stakeholders review what has been done and decide either to continue or to stop the project.
Wait: why would I want to stop my project?
There are plenty of reasons why it might not be the best thing to continue with a project:
- The thing the project is supposed to create is no longer needed (it happens more often than you think!).
- The environment has changed and you need to focus on other projects with a higher priority.
- In the process of completing the phase, you've realised that the project is too big to be done in one go, and need to break it down into several smaller projects.
- The results of the stage are not what you expected, and can't be used for their intended purpose.
Having the choice of stopping the project at the end of the stage is also very helpful in getting the project started in the first place: too often, you will look at the effort, budget and commitment necessary to complete a given project, and realise it's so huge that you never get started.
Knowing that you will be starting with just a piece of the work at first (and that you can stop at the end of the stage), means that the commitment is a lot smaller: the scope is more manageable, and you will probably find it easier to get the go-ahead from your hierarchy.
Finally, having a gate at the end of a stage is good protection against “zombie” projects: you know those projects that were started in a different time and age, and that limp on because nobody is willing to kill them? There's also the “black box” projects that were never questioned and finally deliver a product or capability that is out of sync with today's world, or no longer needed.
Stopping out-of-alignment projects in time is important because it frees up much needed resources for other, more important projects that will have a bigger impact on the company's bottom line.
In this short video, Dr. Robert Cooper, creator of the Stage-Gate methodology and a pioneer in the field of new product development best practices, explains the fundamentals of the Stage-Gate methodology and how it came into existence.
How exactly do you know that your department or organization is ready for Stage-Gate?
Setting minimum criteria (especially quantitative criteria) that would qualify a department or a company for Stage-Gate would be both useless and counterproductive. It is much more interesting to consider the reasons why you would like to structure your processes, and the end result you are looking for.
Some of the classic situations we've encountered are:
- Your organization is growing quickly, and it is no longer possible to continue managing projects on an ad hoc basis. You need a way to structure your teams' work, and help them work together more efficiently, and get results quickly.
- Your teams are increasingly working cross-functionally, and they need a way to, work, synchronise and communicate better.
- You have been given high growth objectives, which are going to require you to stretch. You need to prove that you can deliver.
- You know you need to step up your PMO processes but most methodologies seem out of proportion with what you do. Maybe you've had some projects that failed to deliver the intended goal, or you feel your department is making the same mistakes over and over because they have not truly learned the lessons from past projects, and you want to remedy that. You are looking for a simple, straightforward way to develop your project management processes.
- Your company has gone through a merger or an acquisition, and you need to integrate the PMOs of the two entities to realise the sought-after economies of scale.
Stage-Gate can help with all those needs, from the largest Fortune 500 companies, to the smallest entrepreneurial firms, as Dr Cooper explains in this video:
Stage-Gate® is a registered trademark of Stage-Gate Inc.