Stage-Gate Confessions of a PLM Project Management Expert

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walking-crosswalkA recent APQC best practices study “Transformational Change—Making it Last”, found that “only 30% of organizations find their change management programs effective.”

What are the keys to success? According to the report, “best-practice organizations keep the emphasis on change objectives through structured reviews and targeted measures of progress that help reach long-term goals.” More specifically, according to Michael Repetto, Business Director at AIR International, “success depends upon adapting product development’s traditional stage-gate process to prioritize and manage transformational change efforts."

Arena: How do you project manage your product lifecycle management (PLM) processes?

Repetto: We’ve been using a stage gate process for 15 plus years. It’s basically a program management product development system.

Stage one is when we quote a customer.

Stage two is where all the activities associated with releasing the product design happen.

Stage three is all the activities associated with testing and building the prototype, getting it tested, and then getting to the point where you can release the design for production.

Stage four is where the parts or the tools and assembly lines are getting made. Those things start coming in. And then you start doing your production validation testing.

Stage five is all about production readiness. Everything associated with getting the assembly line, getting your workers hired and trained. Getting all your quality documentation finished. All the things I mentioned, PFMEA's* control plan.

Stage six is typically done three to six months after production starts. And it's kind of what we call our lessons learned stage and what we need to share with other programs.

*A Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis (PFMEA) is a structured analytical tool used by an organization, business unit, or cross-functional team to identify and evaluate the potential failures of a process.

Arena: So, what happens at the end of each stage?

Stage-Gate-Blog-2Repetto: At the end of each stage, we have a stage gate review. So let's say in stage three, maybe two weeks before we need to kick off our long lead production tools, we'll have a stage gate review so the general manager, the finance manager, engineering manager, quality manager and so forth, will all be involved with the review.

The product or program team, will put together a PowerPoint presentation, and the stages might have between 30 to 75 tasks that need to get done. Each slide requires an ‘okay’ as complete and then they update the PFMEA. Then they add a link in the Excel file (that was a PFMEA). If you want to report out the status of it, or there’s questions, you click on that link and go and look at it.

We then rate it red, yellow or green. Green, for example, is everything that is on time and is meeting a customer's specification and the performance is good.

Let's say you know we're not meeting the customer's specification — then that's red. And you're raising the flag to management, saying we need help. Maybe it's bringing in help from the outside, or from another site.

Arena: How did Arena Projects help?

Repetto: What Arena Projects allowed us to do was to put all of those tasks and checklist items into Arena PLM. It allows the program team to go through those tasks as they're going through the program. They don't have to cram for the exam — it's all there. It has the due dates on it so they know when they have to get the stuff done.

There's one single version of the truth and it's official. So if you see that Joe is late on this particular item, everybody can see that. You can see when Joe has updated his items, so there's no question about it. And sure there's a little bit of cramming that goes on, to use the college term, but you don't have to develop your own PowerPoint presentation. We review the checklist in Arena Projects and walk through the items.

And we talk through it. If anyone wants to see any evidence, we'll click on the file, because it's linked from the task or milestone, and boom we can see it. It's all right there. We've done stage gate reviews using Arena Projects with the suppliers in China. They're 12 hours ahead but they see the same thing we see, which is really nice. It keeps us all on the same page and it's really helped out for multi-site programs.


Stage-gate project management is an important structured approach to managing transformational change. It’s also a universally recognized project management methodology.

To learn more about AIR International’s success, click here.

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About the Author

John Papageorge
John Papageorge has worked at some of the biggest names in the high tech industry, launching products and programs for companies, such as Oracle, HP, Cisco, and Microsoft. John's passion ... Read More 

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