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 on the way. This article will describe what a Tollgate is, how it is used in your project, and some hints on how you can prepare and not get hung up at your Tollgate.

Overview: What is a Tollgate? 

Tollgate and 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 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 and progress
  • 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, or you can decide to kill the project.

Although you may be provided with a detailed checklist of specific questions and activities, here is a high-level summary of what you’ll be asked at the different Tollgates:

  1. Define: Have you and your team defined the opportunity from both business and customer perspectives?
  2. Measure: Do you and your team understand or have you gathered the right data to help understand the process? Have you baselined the current process performance?
  3. Analyze: Have you and your team identified the key factors (critical Xes) that have the biggest impact on process performance? Have you validated the root causes?
  4. Improve: Have you and your team developed improvement solutions for the critical Xes, piloted the solution and verified that your solution will solve the problem?
  5. Control: Have you and your team implemented the solution as well as a control plan to ensure the process is robust to change?
  6. Validate: Although not an official part of the DMAIC methodology, you may, about a year after you have closed your project, be asked to validate your results. You may be asked the following questions, “Is the process still in control? Are the benefits being realized?”

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

  1. Review the objective of the specific Tollgate
  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 decision
  12. Determine action items and next steps 

3 benefits of Tollgates 

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, 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 will keep you moving forward and on track.  

2. Stops 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. Facilitates 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 important to understand? 

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

1. Understand 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. 

2. 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. 

3. Appreciate the role of Tollgate attendees 

Fellow attendees at your Tollgate 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 

A Tollgate review is intended to be a positive experience for everyone. Unfortunately for our example, Mark, it was not. Although Mark’s project was of great importance to the company, he failed to do proper preparation for his first Tollgate. 

First of all, Mark was not totally aware of who was attending his Tollgate, nor was he aware of how they felt about the value of his project. Mark also did not do sufficient preparation for his presentation with his Master Blackbelt. Mark’s project sponsor had not reviewed the team’s accomplishments prior to the Tollgate. The stage was set for a potential disaster.

And the Tollgate was a disaster. Mark was not aware that one of the senior people in attendance felt threatened by the project that Mark was working on. She immediately attacked his work, and since he had not properly prepared, his responses were poor. His sponsor was of little help since he hadn’t reviewed what the team had accomplished so far and didn’t really understand what the senior leader was talking about.

Most of the other attendees were cowed by the senior leader, so there was no support from them. Mark’s saving grace was that his Master Black Belt was very experienced and not intimidated by the senior leader. He pushed back, and Mark got to live another day. The project was successful, and the company reaped a $6,000,000 hard benefit. Mark never repeated his slip-ups again.

3 best practices when thinking about Tollgates 

Most experienced Six Sigma practitioners have figured out how to prevent Tollgates 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 that 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 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 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

Must I do a Tollgate after each phase of DMAIC? 

Yes. You need to pass the Tollgate for all the phases. If you skip one, you 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 take? 

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

What is the purpose of a Tollgate? 

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 

Tollgates 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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