Phase gate or milestone reviews are one of the common project governance processes utilized within project management. These reviews are typically employed to provide the project team and importantly the executive steering group the ability to validate progress and ensure key processes are being followed and that the project remains on track to deliver against its objectives.

These milestone reviews should be seen as a process, thus requiring inputs, an activity and an output. Commonly the output is to proceed to the next phase of the project or to undertake some the remedial or recovery activities to put the project back on track.

Within different businesses you will find that these milestone reviews vary in their frequency and format. What is suitable for one company or project/deliverable may not be suitable for another. In some instances documentation or evidence of project maturity is required to be demonstrated. For example:
• The risk register is usually developed throughout the project but will be at different levels of maturity during the different project phases.
• By contrast a product development project may see the maturity of the design increase during the project life-cycle.

It’s not uncommon for projects to gear their project review cycles around design maturity this allows the business to ensure the designs and other areas of the project are keeping pace with one and other.

Whilst there is bound to be a natural nervousness from the project manager community, Phase reviews should be seen as a good thing, they provide executive overview of project performance and are an avenue for escalation and seeking assistance. It’s not uncommon for projects to fail milestone reviews where robust acceptance criteria are applied. This should not be seen necessarily as a failure of the project manager merely a requirement to ensure that good governance is being met. Where this occurs it is often common practice for the steering group to allow a period of time for corrective action is to take place before holding a subsequent rerun of the milestone review.

When thinking about your own milestone reviews consider what your inputs to the process are. For example:

• Project documents
• Key deliverables
• Risks & issues

It’s important to consider the role of the steering group and determine what their key actions are – ensuring that everyone is aware of their roles (and any dependencies that they have) is important in making sure the review goes off smoothly.

Finally, it’s also worth considering your desired output from the phase review, for example do you think the right move is to approve your project to its next phase or is there a particular issue that needs bringing to light. As project manager considering and planning for your own expectations of the milestone reviews will allow the process to take place smoothly.

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