Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stop Gates & Check Points

One section of the PM overview that I thought was interesting was the use of stop gates or checkpoints. I have a variety of thoughts about this.
First, I think instituting standard periodic progress reviews is good, and something that should be done more often. Theatrically, most of the review process happens when the show is bid, and casual reviews maybe done for production meetings, but it isn’t a formal process. With the projects I do now, the formality differs on the job, how large it is, the time span that the work occurs over, as well as other variables. But it is not a very formal process either. Perhaps the two most formal attributes would be the initial estimating process, and then the final punch list items.
I think one of the issues with checkpoints is that things often move through the shop so quickly, that the PM has difficulty keeping up. One project manager may have 3-4 (or more) jobs on the floor. The job lead assigned to each only (sometimes) has that one job to worry about. Also, the fast pace often means that a project isn’t fully developed, drafted, items ordered, etc. prior to being given to the shop floor to build. Thus logical transition points for checkpoints become blurry.
The other thing is that in many situations where I work, and in theatre, while keeping tabs on process is critical, the choice between moving forward or stopping the project isn’t realistic. Where I am at now, once we have won the bid, and accepted the award, there is no stopping the project. Monitoring progress is critical, making steps to maintain schedule / scope, and quality despite changes is important, but the point of checkpoints is to maintain those items, not to determine whether to proceed or not. Occasionally there are internal projects that could be subject to internal review and possible elimination (Should we re-engineer the kabuki system? Should we build more winches? ). But it is a critical difference to compare the two, when one process will allow a project to stop, while at other times, the only resolution is how to maintain or regain progress on a project that MUST move forward.

Finally, it is interesting that officially, the project manager working on the project can't make the decision to proceed at a formal checkpoint or stop gate. While this might make since for internal projects that need to be sanctioned by someone higher in the company, it isn't something I encounter either in theatre or in my pm situation. Progress reporting and realligning project goals to maintain schedule scope and quality is a continuing process, of which I am responsable. There are situations where I would need approval (needing additional resources or overtime) but there are no formal points in a typical project process (one the bid is accepted) that I work in where the project must be reviewed by my supervisors to proceed. I think needing to do this would be very challanging in the project environment here, mostly due to the fast pace that most jobs have through the shop.

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