To manage your business strategy, you use stages to define the deliverables needed to be completed to enable the process to pass through the stage gate to the next stage. This article discusses why, and how, an integrated, collaborative approach to managing Stages and Stage Gates is the only sustainable and cost effective way to consistently achieve the stated objective of business compliance to your defined strategy. Additionally, your integrated approach delivers these benefits, among many others:
- Ensuring that each mission-critical step is completed and signed off and documented
- Obtaining a live, always current Readiness assessment
- Avoiding delays by using notifications to ensure that the right people are alerted
- Stage Progressing happens automatically upon sign-off of process steps
- Having a clearer awareness of the number of different roles and people involved
- Avoiding tedious maintenance of a spreadsheet, often with delayed data
- Driving directly into other business processes: ex. budgeting, scheduling, KPIs
- Having a consistent place for Strategy business rules and lessons learned
Stage management in business strategy is the equivalent of scaffolding in a construction project. A lot of effort is required, but it’s use is not evident in the final product. However, poor staging or scaffolding makes completing the project that much harder, less safe and expensive. So, anything that can help a business team manage their stages and gate deliverables will directly impact the bottom line KPIs of the business.
To illustrate the staging process, we’ll consider the business strategy to manage a scope of work, such as a Change Order or a Work Order, say for a Pump’s maintenance. The company’s business strategy for work management requires that each scope package starts in the Preparation Stage. Once the deliverables for that stage are completed, the scope package moves into the Execution Stage. Likewise, when deliverables related to Execution are completed, the package moves into the Completion Stage, where the remaining required deliverables are completed. These 3 stages and the gates that the work process moves through are shown in the Stage-Gate illustration:
3 simple stages – would imply that this is a simple enough process. But to complete stages, we must first complete the deliverables within each stage.
In our example, the Preparation Stage has 3 Deliverables that each need to be completed. The Execution and Completion stages each have one. These deliverables are described in the Stage-Deliverable-Gate diagram:
To get to the Gates, we now have 3 Stages and a total of 5 deliverables. Things are a little more complicated than just the 3 stages. Also, each deliverable requires a number of steps, or processes, that need to be done in a defined sequence. We’ll explore Processes next.
Each Deliverable requires a set of Process steps to be completed. For each of our 5 deliverables, associated process steps are described. For simplicity in discussion, this layout does not show the relationship between these steps. Here is the Stage-Deliverable-Process-Gate layout:
To get to the Gates, we now have 3 Stages, 5 deliverables with 15 processes. Things are now a whole lot more complex – but this accurately shows the desired business strategy. For example, would you want to simplify the process by removing one of the steps? Which would you remove? Each of the steps is in the process as a result of hard-earned lessons learned over years of experience in your business process. So removing one of them would not be wise. However, things are about to get a tad more complex: How would you definitively know that each step is completed? You would need to have someone sign-off on that step. This leads us to the Assignments aspect of the business strategy, where we assign responsibility for each step to a Role in your organization.
To ensure that each Process step is completed and approved, if needed, appropriate Roles need to be assigned to each, along with its RACI responsibility. At a minimum, each step is assigned a Responsible role. On some, more significant steps, you may also want a supervisor to be Accountable for the process step as well. Each of the process steps in our example are assigned a Responsible role (R). A few also have a Accountable role (A). To help illustrate how many people these roles may cover, we have named people for each role. This is illustrated in the Stage-Deliverable-Process- Assignment-Gate diagram:
To get to the Gates, we now have 3 Stages, 5 deliverables with 15 processes and 18 Assignments. Each of these assignments is delivered or executed with a Sign-off checkbox for the Responsible or Accountable role. There are now 11 different people in this list – each of whom contributes to completion of the business process.
It should be clear that following a business strategy carefully necessitates this level of discipline, and achieving this with a spreadsheet tool is a problem. You need an integrated solution, which will ensure simplicity for your team of collaborators, while ensuring no crucial step is missed.
While we are here, we should discuss the simple way that you can also incorporate an earned value-based progressing approach, that also contributes to helping you know if you are in danger of overloading your team with workload. Each Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed (RACI) sign-off can be associated with a level of effort, defined in hours, that helps you determine the value of the business process. This value is a good way to determine your personnel requirements, for each required role, at the start of a project or program. We’ll call these RACI Values.
Default Values for each RACI responsibility may be defined in a single location:
Each RACI Role can have an associated value. This is used as a default on each process step that uses a RACI Role. Process steps may be weighted to increase or decrease the value from these defaults. Now that we have defined values, we can see what the planned value is for each of stages, deliverables and processes involved in our business strategy.
Planned Value (for Indirect work)
As each sign-off’s value is applied to the process step, you can see the planned value build up in the Stage-Deliverable-Process-Assignment-Value-Gate table:
Additional weighting against value may be applied based on the stage, deliverable or process step complexity or other factors. Here the total planned value is 17.5 for a single work order! No one needs to type these in – the numbers are used based on consistent business rules, and thus are consistent, predictable and believable. Now that you have the planned value, how do you progress or status this work so that you can earn value? Each sign-off results in its value being earned.
Earned Value (based on sign-off progress)
As each sign-off is done, the process step is progressed and its background color changes to Green, unless an Accountable sign-off is needed, in which case it turns to Orange. The background color of linked Deliverables and Stages and Gates go from Red to Yellow to provide a visual cue that the Stage, Deliverable and Gate requirements are in the process of being completed. When the stage and gate ‘go green’, it means that all of the deliverable requirements have been sign-off and the work actually proceeds automatically into the next stage – with no need for additional manual intervention. Here is an illustration of the Stage-Deliverable-Process-Assignment-Value-Earned-Gate layout now:
The Earned Value column is also a measure of the progress on this indirect scope of work. As stages, deliverables and processes can be logically linked, your integrated solution can also fix expected, scheduled or Target dates to each process step, and report progress against the Target. This is currently done manually in a Readiness Assessment spreadsheet in companies that care about Readiness. Your integrated solution delivers a Readiness assessment based on facts on the ground – there is NO place to hide!
The Final Act
As you can see, staging gets complicated quickly. This is a reason why so few organizations actually do it at all. Many talk about doing it, but don’t, due to the complexity described here. Maintaining a spreadsheet to do this with input from 11 different people would simply not happen! So . . you need an integrated solution that presents the opportunity to sign-off to the right people at the right time. People doing the work do not need to have all of this ‘noise’ in front of them. The solution should do its job quietly, ‘under the hood’. Each Role should get their required sign-off requests delivered to them in a focused, easy to review list, so that they can quickly review and sign-off their mandate. The end result is, you have all of your business processes followed. And you know who did what, and when. You know what step is holding things up. You do not need additional staff to simply manage stages and gates and deliverables and perform Readiness assessments! And you know, before a meeting, exactly what’s been done, as the integrated solution reacts in ‘real time’. You can now be forward-looking to address up-coming bottlenecks, rather than trying to catch up on what has already happened. You are moving from being reactive to proactive. This is a good thing – for you, your team, your partners (vendors, contractors, service providers), your plant, your company, the shareholders.
Take a bow! You earned it.