Benefits of stage-gate for project management and development

The stage-gate model creates a flexible blueprint for developing and executing an efficient and effective project management plan, while minimizing rework and undue burden. Five phases are highlighted.

By Morris Mahoney December 25, 2021
Courtesy: Stellar

Process-related project development can be a lengthy, expensive and unnecessarily complicated process without a solid plan to guide the project from start to finish.

Imagine investing in a large, complex piece of equipment or component for your facility without first confirming the question of how it will be integrated into your existing controls/automation system. If it doesn’t easily “connect” (plug-and-play), then you may need to reengineer the system(s), buy additional hardware/software, and/or delay the project timeline to resolve an issue that should have been identified prior to the purchase. The same holds true for other questions, such as when this equipment should be installed. If it does not align with your overall business objectives and strategy, then there could be negative consequences.

The AIA stage-gate process (also referred to as the phase-gate process) is a project management technique that breaks down complex projects into structured phases to mitigate risk and ultimately minimize (ideally eliminate) the consequences of poor planning.

How does stage-gating work?

The stage-gate model creates a flexible blueprint for developing and executing an efficient and effective project management plan, while minimizing rework and undue burden.

Larger projects are divided into “stages” where specific goals and deliverables are clearly defined. These must be met or addressed before a team can qualify the “gate” as a pass and subsequently continue on to the next stage.

This allows the entire project management team to closely monitor project development, communicate effectively, and add value to a critical process while sticking to realistic and logical timelines.

Every project is different and needs to be handled as such, which is why using a stage-gate structure that is adapted to best meet the client’s needs. The stage-gate approach builds upon past knowledge and experience in project engineering/design and project management. While every project is unique and tailored for the client’s specific requirements and objectives, a typical project’s stage-gate approach can be divided into the following five phases:

1. Preliminary

During this stage, the foundation of a project is established, and the client’s vision, goals, standards, requirements and expectations are discussed and determined. Once completed, a preliminary milestone schedule is generated and the project teams are established. Typical tasks/deliverables completed by the end of this phase include:

  • Initiating project developer and client correspondence
  • Discussing client’s project standards (specifications), needs, goals and expectations
  • Preliminary project schedule
  • Preliminary responsible, accountable, consulted, informed (RACI) chart to identify scopes and responsibilities
  • Assignment of team members (engineering and design, construction, etc.).

2. Schematic design (SD)

After completing the Preliminary gate requirements and receiving the greenlight from stakeholders, the next stage on which to focus is the Schematic Design phase. Within this phase, initial research is conducted to build a basic concept for a tangible project. Here are typical steps/deliverables of this stage:

  • Quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) – Determine food safety protocols and expectations
  • Complete the initial project questionnaire – This will lead to the development of scope documents/material (scope, design basis)
  • Develop a mass balance, as required
  • Develop a set of preliminary block flow diagrams (BFD) and/or process flow diagrams (PFD)
  • Begin to develop the general arrangement (GA) drawing
  • Generate a preliminary utility/equipment matrix
  • Build a preliminary project schedule
  • Generate a project order of magnitude (OOM) budget
  • Understand codes and pertinent regulations that may impact the project.

3. Design development (DD)

Design development refines the conceptual design by honing in on specific process-related elements and details. In many cases, this particular stage is divided into two sections, DD1 and DD2, which represent a 30% and 60% level of completion, respectively. Tasks typical of this stage can include:

  • QA/QC – Determine construction quality requirements
  • Update documents and materials from the SD phase (e.g., GA, PFDs, Utility Matrix, budget, schedule)
  • Gather and/or create detailed equipment and installation specifications
  • Create piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID) sets, as required
  • Involve additional client team members into the design development (Operations, Maintenance, Safety, etc.)
  • Develop all engineering deliverables to at least 60% completion
  • Incorporate additional building and infrastructure design and coordination
  • Requests for Quotation (RFQs) for manufacturing and/or specialized equipment
  • Begin RFQs for the installation, startup and commissioning activities
  • Procurement process for long-lead equipment/components

4. Construction documents (CD)

With the detailed design in hand, constructability review begins. Construction documents are prepared that define the specifications and requirements that make up the project’s components. Other aspects of this phase include:

  • QA/QC – Perform final document reviews, internally and externally (client, vendors and subcontractors)
  • Finalize documents and materials from the DD phase(s), as required
  • Buy out remaining manufacturing and/or specialized equipment
  • Perform subcontractor evaluations
  • Develop installation documents and drawing details
  • Subcontractor request for proposals, bid analysis and selection process.

5. Construction phase services (CPS)

Finally, we put it all together. At this point, we have successfully passed all of the planning and designing “gates” and the team can begin the actual construction/installation process, including:

  • QA/QC – Field installation quality checks (throughout installation)
  • Submittal and Shop Drawing management
  • Field requests for information (RFI) management
  • Construction/installation management
  • Equipment input/output (I/O) checkout, startup, commissioning and training
  • Punch list management and closeout
  • Plant/site acceptance testing (PAT/SAT)
  • Record/as-built drawings.

How will the stage-gate strategy add value to your project?

Some of the most impactful challenges to project timelines are delays that result from having to stop and redesign a component that fails to meet standards. The stage-gate process offers multiple opportunities to check progress and ensure there are no weaknesses during development, rather than after construction begins.

The stage-gate approach reduces reengineering efforts, saves on construction materials, reduces construction time and enhances stakeholder collaboration and communication. It’s a win-win for forward-thinking owners and builders alike.

This originally appeared on Stellar’s Food for Thought blogStellar is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: Director of process engineering, Stellar