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:
- Project Charter
- Performance based goal statement
- High level process map such as a SIPOC diagram
- Financial measures (eg Cost Benefit Analysis, Cost of Quality)
- Critical to Quality measures.
- 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 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.
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
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.
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.
- Some interesting points here. This is a good conversation between seasoned practitioners on how these play out in practice.
- a great list of questions to be asked while creating your tollgate presentation and to be asked.
- (another great list of questions.)