Real Life Example of Tollgates

Six Sigma Deliverables generally take the form of tollgate reviews.

What are DMAIC Tollgate Reviews?

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. Tollgates are an analogy to places on the highway where you need to slow down and pay a toll before proceeding. In Six Sigma practice, there’s no need for a project team to pay a toll, but it’s rather a mechanism to review progress with sponsors and stakeholders and ensure the project is on course. A natural way to do this would be at the end of each phase of a DMAIC project.

When do DMAIC Tollgate Reviews Happen?


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 if stipulated in the communication plan. Here we communicate progress to stakeholders and demonstrate that the project is proceeding in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Note: These meetings are referred to as phase-gate reviews. A wise Six Sigma practioner is aware of the common pitfalls of phase-gate reviews and ensures that their tollgates don’t fall into these errors.

Who Participates in DMAIC Tollgate Reviews?

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 they stop you at red if more time is required to work out kinks. In some circumstances, management can discontinue the six sigma project if target goals are not met. Therefore, it is crucial that your tollgate presentation is clear and answers critical questions your audience may have.

Project Team’s Guide in Preparing for a DMAIC Tollgate Presentation

The project team are the people on the Six Sigma team who are doing the work. A Six Sigma project may be lead by a Green Belt, a Black Belt, or a Master Black Belt.

Note from Ted: in my experience Green belts often lead smaller-scale six sigma projects as part of training exercises while the more “critical” projects are run by a Black belt. In each case, mentorship and guidance is usually provided by a Master Black Belt.

Your goals for a DMAIC Tollgate Review are as follows:

  • Inform your sponsors and stakeholders on progress.
  • Answer any questions that arise.
  • Seek help from sponsors and stakeholders (eg removing obstacles, additional resources, access, etc)
  • Receive permission to proceed to the next phase and continue the project.

Note from Ted: I always felt that tollgate reviews were akin to a start up presenting to a venture capital firm. You want to clearly state where you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what your intent is going forward. You want to partner with your sponsors to determine if you’re on the right path, if a pivot is needed, and to see if you’ve “earned the right” to continued funding.

Tips for an effective 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 want the most important details up front 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 the 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 occurred. A list of expected deliverables are included further on in this article.

Generally speaking, every tollgate may include:

Lastly, have visuals prepared for your audience. This can come in the form of handouts, a PowerPoint, graphs, or other diagrams. Your presentation will be best received if document aids are 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 ensure 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.”

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 because 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 and throughout the project. Most coaching should occur in meetings outside of the milestone review.

Lastly, the project sponsor should outline expectations of phase outputs that the project owner can use to build their presentation BEFORE the start of the DMAIC Phase. Doing so will help project owners stay on target through the entire six sigma project.

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DMAIC Tollgate Conference Room

DMAIC Tollgate Reviews Expected Deliverables

The below link includes deliverables that ought to be presented during each phase 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 outline is broken down into two columns. The first columns are deliverables the sponsor should expect to see from the milestone meeting. The second column are questions the sponsor should ask during the DMAIC Tollgate Review.

DMAIC Tollgate Outline Excel

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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.

Helpful Links

Authors

  • 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/

  • 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 (7)

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.

I have some questions.
1. What to do if a sponsor makes decision to stop the project after the Define phase?
2. How long can the Define phase last (minimal and maximal time frames)?

Hi Kate,

Good questions. I’ll make some assumptions in order to answer them. Please let me know if I should change them and I might have to give a different answer.

When I ran a team we had a systematic way of identifying projects and prioritized them based on ROI and time-value of improvements.

When a project was ended (I don’t mean pivot but rather a full stop), we simply redirected resources to helping close out other on-going efforts (because more done is better than more in-progress) or we packaged up any work that we had done, archived it, and took the next most viable and valuable effort off our backlog.

Define phases can last a few days or a few months. It depends on how ready information and resources are at the beginning and the comfort level of the sponsors. Sometimes you can get through other phases but learn something crucial that makes you revisit the Define phase in portion or return your entire project to the Define Phase again.

Similarly to your first question, if your organization has a good improvement management system in place where you ‘tend the garden’ regularly, then it’s a lot easier to get through define smoothly and quickly.

Best, Ted.

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