Real Life Example of Tollgates

DMAIC Tollgate reviews, also called milestone meetings or phase gates, are one of the most important skills a practicing six sigma professional needs for success. Think of tollgates as your prime time to rehearse deliverables to management and for management to insure the project is on course.

Managers, sponsors, champions, master black belts, and other stakeholders participate in the tollgate review as the ultimate traffic light. In other words, they say whether the project is green to go for the next phase in DMAIC or stop you at red if more time is required to work out kinks. In the worse circumstances, management can discontinue the six sigma project if target goals are not met. Therefore, it is crucial that your tollgate presentation is clear, concise, and answers critical questions your audience may have.


DMAIC Tollgate Reviews usually occur at the end of each phase of a Six Sigma Project although it is possible to have multiple reviews per phase. Here we communicate progress to stakeholders and demonstrate that the project is proceeding in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Project Owners Guide How to Preparing for a DMAIC Tollgate Presentation

First, know your audience and the format they prefer for presentations. Some sponsors prefer the “peel-the-onion” approach. In other words, start with a general overview of the project such as the problem statement, then dig into the specific points of your presentation. Other sponsors wants the most important details up front in order to make more room for follow up questions. When in doubt of which presentation style to take, talk to your project sponsor. A pro tip to have highly successful tollgates is to align expectations with he project sponsor in advance. Not only will this streamline the milestone meetings, but it will improve your chances of passing each tollgate off the bat.

Second, pinpoint the deliverables that need to be shared for the tollgate review. Ask yourself “did enough activities occur during this DMAIC phase?” Questions like this are important because it confirms whether or not all promised deliverables were achieved. A list of expected deliverables are included further on in this article. Generally speaking, every tollgate may include:

  • Project Charter
  • Performance based goal statement
  • High level process map such as SIPOC diagram
  • Cost benefit analysis
  • Cost of Quality
  • Graphs and data related to current phase

Lastly, have visuals prepared for your audience. This can come in the form of handouts, a PowerPoint, graphs, or other diagrams. Your documents will also be best received if sent in advance.

Sponsors Guide to Presiding Over Tollgate Reviews

Six Sigma Sponsors are accountable for the progress made in Six Sigma Projects. Therefore, tollgate reviews are key to insure project goals remain on target. As stated by Marv Meissner, Professor of the Practice in Villanova’s Certificate in Lean Six Sigma program, “The sponsor’s responsibility during a tollgate meeting is to provide guidance, insights, and suggestions.”1

Next, focus on one milestone at a time. For example, if the project is wrapping up the DEFINE phase, only focus on activities that pertain to DEFINE. Or if you are in the MEASURE phase, avoid back tracking to DEFINE phase deliverables since all actions related to the DEFINE phase should already be complete. This will allow meetings to progress in an orderly fashion.

Another detail to remember is that it is okay for sponsors to coach project owners during milestone reviews, but it should never be the focus of the meeting. It is normal for Six Sigma Belts to seek the sponsor’s guidance during the throughout the project. Most coaching should occur in meetings outside of the milestone review.

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DMAIC Tollgate Conference Room

DMAIC Tollgate Reviews Expected Deliverables

The below lists are deliverables that ought to be presented during the tollgate. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. For more ideas on what can be included, checkout Six Sigma DMAIC Quick Reference (isixsigma.com). The article includes a list of questions that sponsors may consider to determine phase completion.

D: Define Tollgate Review

  • Full project definition
  • Project charter, which includes the sponsor, champion, and other stakeholders
  • Are project meetings held on regular cadences?
  • Does the team have the required resources?
  • Identify the Clients, their needs and requirements
    • Who are they?
    • What do they need? (try a 1 word answer)
    • What is absolutely critical to success? (Use a Critical to Quality Tree)
  • Make a Process Map
  • SIPOC
  • Measure Tollgate Review

Analyze Tollgate Review

Improve Tollgate Review

  • Implementation of basic improvements
  • Was a DOE (Design of Experiment) created?
  • Improvement solutions picked
  • Pilot outcomes

Control Tollgate Review

  • Revised control processes in place.
  • Control Charts (SPC)
  • Completed process documentation
  • Hand over process from project lead to process owner
    • Includes updated process maps and Standard Operating Procedures

Things to Remember

If a DMAIC tollgate review ends with management choosing to forego a project, that is A-OK. For example, you may feel that there are lots of defects in a project during the Define phase. However, the Measure phase may prove that there are far less issues then originally thought. In this instance, it is better for management to recommend projects with better returns on investment than continue on the present project.


Sometimes management will recommend a change of scope in order to focus on the most vital aspects of the project. Keep an open mind to their counsel.

Additional Resources

The author does a great job at emphasizing the dos and do nots.

There’s no volume with this video, but the amount of detail presented is very beneficial. It outlines what a successful tollgate will include.

Citations

  1. “Six Sigma Tollgates Provide a Reliable, Logical Way to Approach Process Improvement.” Villanovau.com, Villanova University, 10 Nov. 2020, www.villanovau.com/resources/six-sigma/tollgates-of-six-sigma-project/

Contributors

  • Tanner Zornes

    I earned my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt through IASSC. SixSigmaStudyGuide.com's guided course has helped me gain confidence to pass my exam and earn my certification. I currently apply Six Sigma in aerospace manufacturing to drive efficiencies and reduce costs. Ask me how the Six Sigma Study Guide can help you pass your exam. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tanner-zornes-b9871b106/

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    I originally created SixSigmaStudyGuide.com to help me prepare for my own Black belt exams. Overtime I've grown the site to help tens of thousands of Six Sigma belt candidates prepare for their Green Belt & Black Belt exams. Go here to learn how to pass your Six Sigma exam the 1st time through!

Comments (4)

Good day. I would like to check the following:
1. Who performs the tollgate reviews?
2. Which of the DMAIC phases are signed off by Finance? I am of the opinion that is only D, I &C
3. When does the project cycle time end? At the end of Improve? Surely the the responsibility moves from belt to process owner, and during Control phase, the process owner tacks the primary metric, and reacts to deviations through application of the control plan?

Hi Chris,

In my experience, the project manager, usually the Black Belt or Master Black Belt performs the tollgate review. The participants include the sponsor, champion, and a key steering committee comprised of key stakeholders identified during the define stage (Process owners, etc).

In terms of Finance sign off, remember that Finance as a department is an artificial construct of corporate organization. Six Sigma DMAIC can be used by a company of any size, including those who may not be organized with a Finance department. If by Finance you mean a checkbook owner function who has to sign off on spend, I would imagine all phases as all phases will require spend. At the very least Define.

I think the project ends when resources are best spent elsewhere. Sometimes that occurs because the project succeeded in the Improve phase as you describe. Practically speaking, some process owners will not accept the end of a project until the process is shown to be under control for some period of time. In that case the project team would still be running throughout control -for example, until whichever SPC techniques are used to clinically demonstrate the process is in control.

Sometimes analyze reveals that all possible improvement items don’t meet the ROI goals of the sponsors.

If you’re looking in the most generic terms, I’d suggest that project cycle time ends when stakeholders like process owners and sponsors agree that the project is over.

My experience is that when the solution implemented meets the objective set forth in the Define phase, then the project is over. Control shifts to the product owner, or manager of the process. If they see a new problem arise as they control, then it would be submitted as a new project.

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