The design team for the new project sits around the conference room table, staring at the screen showing that only one key exit criteria remains before completion of the CDR, or critical design review tollgate.

“We will not have confirmation regarding the shock and vibe test for the device for another two weeks. We were scheduled to be on time, that is, until the hurricane hit the testing facility last week. This exit requirement will have to stay open until then.”

The program manager shows strong signs of aggravation. “I can’t believe this is happening. We need to move into the production setup stage soon if we have any hope of meeting our time to market goals.”

“Well, we have a decision to make. If the shock and vibe test fails, we could be looking at a total redesign, which would make any work we do going forward moot. I have seen enough projects fail multiple times in shock and vibe and would recommend waiting.”

The program manager knows she has a large problem. On one hand, the exit criteria of the shock and vibe test has not been met. Going forward to production preparation without confirmation holds a large risk. On the other hand, if the product does not get to market by a particular date, all of this work will be for nothing. 

How important is this exit criteria? 

An overview: What is exit criteria?

Exit criteria is a condition that must be met prior to closing out one phase of a tollgate process and entering the next phase of a tollgate process. It is commonly used in development or problem-solving processes but can be applied to others as required. 

By identifying and monitoring exit criteria, project managers can minimize the amount of risk involved in a design, development, or problem-solving project. 

In theory, the team waits to move to the next phase of development until all tollgate exit criteria have been successfully met and closed. In practice, it is common to take on risk by allowing some exit criteria to remain open for a short amount of time as the team continues to the next phase, based on the amount of risk the open exit criteria represents.

3 benefits of attending to exit criteria 

Minimizes risk

The primary reason to use exit criteria is to minimize risk going forward in the project. 

An exit criteria may call for the testing of the material used, or a waterproof test, or a shock and vibration test, or a power leakage test, or any other number of tests that are vital to prove validity of the design. 

What if the team moves forward, just to find out that one of these tests failed, and that the team must go “back to the drawing board” regarding the design? All projects have risk, but following the exit criteria within a tollgate helps mitigate that risk.

Gets all departments involved with the introduction of a new product

When designing a new product, it’s key to get certain departments involved as early as possible. 

For example, certain exit criteria involve showing the design team’s progress to the production team. The production team may have great ideas for the design team to consider. When the design is not shown to production until the end of the project, there may not be time to incorporate the good ideas that the production group possesses.

Makes it easier to know when you’re ready to go to the next stage

Clear exit criteria for each of the phases of DMAIC take the guesswork out of moving forward. When exit criteria for each phase is not understood, the team may leave the phase too soon, possibly leading the team to have to backtrack and make corrections or updates.

3 exit criteria best practices

  • Do as much as is in your power to complete your exit criteria for each tollgate within your process. To skip exit criteria is to assume risk, which is what the exit criteria is trying to minimize or eliminate in the first place.
  • Be sure to include the required communication for new products or process changes in your list of exit criteria.
  • Whenever you can assign a quantitative value to exit criteria, do so. When qualitative values are used, it can be difficult to confirm at a tollgate review meeting that the exit criteria have been met.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about exit criteria

What are some examples of exit criteria?

For design and development teams, some examples include any form, fit, or function requirements, software testing, budgetary requirements, customer interactions, internal communication requirements, material and process testing, unit testing, acceptance testing, production preparation actions, and safety planning. 

For process improvement, it commonly involves management buy-in of the problem statement, specific data collection, team agreement regarding root cause, implementation action item list completion, and control plan kickoff.

Does exit criteria exist outside of design and problem-solving efforts?

These are the fields where the term exit criteria are most common. That being said, any process that requires a test value to be met prior to the product moving to the next step contains exit criteria. The use of a checklist is another example of exit criteria, if the product or service cannot continue along the process until all checklist exit criteria are met.

Should you move forward having not met your criteria, knowing it will be a considerable amount of time until you do?

There will be times when an exit criterion is held up, for one reason or another, from being completed on time. When this occurs, the team has a difficult decision to make. To move forward without the exit criteria being met involves risk. The risk is that even given more time, the exit criteria may never be met, and it may impact customer satisfaction or requirements. 

For example, if the risk of not meeting time to market requirements outweigh the risk of not reaching the exit criteria in question, the team may decide to move forward and monitor the exit criteria progress closely until it is met.

Exit criteria helps minimize risk in the process

Whether it be development, process improvement, or another process, exit criteria help us understand what the current conditions are, whether expectations have been met, and that there are risks associated with continuing in the process when exit criteria are not met.

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