Tollgate reviews are a critical activity for the successful completion of your project. As with any journey, you want your project journey to stay on the path, heading in the right direction, and meeting important milestones along the way. This article will describe what a tollgate review is, how it is used in your project, the benefits of passing your tollgate reviews and some hints on how you can prepare and not get hung up at your tollgate review.

Overview: What is a tollgate review?

Tollgate reviews are associated with the use of the Six Sigma DMAIC methodology. The letters or phases in DMAIC stand for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.

Your Six Sigma project will follow these steps or phases. Each phase will have a set of activities and deliverables you must complete before moving on to the next phase. The tollgate review is a formal process that sequentially reviews and assesses your project’s progress through each of the DMAIC phases.

The following people may be present at your Tollgate Review:

During this review process, you will:

  • Make a formal presentation of what you have accomplished followed by questions and discussion
  • Assess the status of your project
  • Review your activities and accomplishments and test for alignment
  • Revisit the assumptions of your Project Charter
  • Make a go/no-go decision along with your Black Belt, Master Black Belt, Champion, Project Sponsor, and or Senior Staff on moving ahead to the next phase of your project

If you make a no-go decision, you will either have to take further actions in order to pass the tollgate review a second time, or you can decide to kill the project.

A tollgate review will usually take from 30-60 minutes to complete. The recommended agenda is:

  1. Review the objective of the specific tollgate review you are seeking to complete
  2. 15-30 minute project presentation
  3. Highlight any changes to the project charter
  4. Project benefit update
  5. Follow the DMAIC roadmap
  6. Tools used, results, conclusions
  7. Review project status
  8. Project plan, barriers, issues
  9. Review project plans
  10. Tollgate review questions and discussion
  11. Tollgate review decision
  12. Determine action items and next steps

3 benefits of tollgate reviews

A tollgate review has saved numerous projects by realigning and revising the direction it was moving in. Although it might seem like an inconvenience for you to prepare and present at a tollgate review, it is definitely in your best interest, and that of the project, to do so.

1. Keeps the project on track

By stopping and reflecting after each phase of DMAIC, you will prevent any detours that could slow your project down or keep it from being successful. Discovering and removing roadblocks during the tollgate review will keep you moving forward and on track.

2. Stopping bad projects

Not all projects are destined to be successful. By allowing you to make interim evaluations and assessments about the viability of the project, you will avoid finding out at the end that your project had no chance of being successful. It’s frustrating to find that you needlessly wasted months of your time and that of your team, working on a project that would never deliver the desired results.

3. Better results

During the tollgate review, you’ll receive input and feedback from the other people in attendance. By using that input, you will be able to synthesize these ideas into your analysis and recommendations and come out with a better result.

Why is a tollgate review important to understand?

You should view a tollgate review as a positive activity intended to help you and your project be successful. Understanding the purpose and value of the specific tollgate review will help you traverse the often tortuous route of a DMAIC project.

Required deliverables

The tollgate review checklist will give you guidelines as to what is expected of your project at that point in time. Inconsistent or contrary project accomplishments will have a detrimental impact on the progress of your project.

Preempt roadblocks

By understanding what the expectations are for you and your project, you will be able to make the necessary course corrections to avoid delays and mishaps in your project.

Appreciate the role of other attendees at your tollgate review

Fellow attendees at your tollgate review can provide invaluable assistance in your project’s progress and completion. Appreciate that they are there to help provide input and feedback.

An industry example of a tollgate review

A tollgate review is supposed to have a favorable outcome. Unfortunately for Arlene, it was not. Arlene failed to properly prepare and wasn’t aware of who was attending her tollgate review. Since she didn’t know who was coming, she didn’t know what everyone’s thoughts were on her project. Arlene also failed to review her presentation with her Black Belt or Sponsor.

Since she hadn’t prepared, Arlene  was unaware one of the senior people coming was very negative about her project. He immediately attacked the work the team had done. Since she had not properly prepared, Arlene’s responses were disjointed and didn’t address the issues. Arlene’s Sponsor and Black Belt couldn’t help since she never briefed them.

Unfortunately, because of the position of the senior manager doing the attacking, the rest of the attendees went along with him and killed Arlene’s project. Her manager was very disappointed and it delayed her certification because she had to do a different project..

3 best practices when thinking about tollgate reviews

Most experienced Six Sigma practitioners have figured out how to prevent tollgate reviews from becoming a negative and unproductive activity. Here are a few hints that will help you avoid some of the common failures in a tollgate review.

1. Know your audience

Make sure you understand who will be in attendance and how they feel about your project. You want to know whether you can expect them to be supportive of your project or if they may attack your work and that of the team.

2. Prepare, prepare and prepare

Be sure that you have fully reviewed your project deck with your Black Belt or Master Black Belt. Have all the data and supporting documentation for what you and the team have done in that DMAIC phase. Be prepared for any questions you can imagine might be asked. Your project sponsor should be your biggest ally, so prepare him or her so they are not caught off-guard or blindsided.

3. Don’t be defensive

There is much you can learn from the tollgate review attendees. Listen to their input and feedback and incorporate it as you feel appropriate. Don’t be defensive. Except for an outlier now and then, the attendees want you and your project to be successful because it will benefit the organization, and possibly themselves.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about tollgate reviews

Must I do a tollgate review after each phase of DMAIC?

Yes. You need to pass the tollgate review for all the phases. If you skip one, you may have the unpleasant experience of having gone down a blind alley, and you will have to back up and rework what you have already done.

How long should a tollgate review take?

They usually last 30-60 minutes if the standard agenda is followed.

What is the purpose of a tollgate review?

A tollgate review is a process for objectively evaluating the quality of project work at various stages of the DMAIC process. It provides the opportunity for voices external to the project team to provide input and feedback.

Summing up a tollgate review

Tollgate reviews are a chance for you to review and reflect on the progress of your project. You will likely be expected to do a tollgate review after each step of the DMAIC method. The outcome of a tollgate review is a decision for you to move ahead to the next step, do some revision and changes, or to kill the project.

A number of different people representing various elements of the project process will be in attendance. Their role is to offer you some feedback and input and to help you make the decision whether to go or no-go on your project. You will have a set of checklist questions to help you evaluate your progress and whether you and the team have completed the desired and required deliverables for the appropriate DMAIC phase.

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