Using tollgates to manage your project in action

Delivering a project on time, on budget and with quality will always be a challenge for any project manager

To consider a toll gate or a stage gate approach can be an effective way to manage a project. It provides you with specific check points throughout the project’s lifecycle and an assessment of the actual progress to date. This article introduce you to how tollgates work and how can you apply them on your project.

Purpose of tollgates approach

A toll gate is a checkpoint in a project where progress is reviewed to decide the completion stage of the activities and their objective achievements.

This checkpoint serves to determine if the project can proceed to the next tollgate also referred as a “go/no go” decision point. 

Key steps:

1.    Determine where the tollgates should be positioned in the project plan

2.    Define objective, measurable criteria for each tollgate

3.    Conduct a review meetings as each tollgate is reached

Benefits of this approach:

?   Excellent method of managing risk: review project progress, determine whether all criteria has been met, agree on the project commencement

?   Ensures the project plan is manageable – break the plan into controllable sections

?   Facilitates better planning – planning for formal review points where higher risk is expected

?   Empower project governance – managing by exception approach

Positioning tollgates

Following project planning and its distinct phases, tollgates and their associated criteria can be identified. There are primarily two ways to determine where to put tollgates:

?   By project phases

?   By key project milestones e.g. system design completed

Once you indentify a position assign a description to each tollgate in order to distinct between them when reporting.

Defining tollgate criteria

The criteria defined for each tollgate enable an objective review of the project’s progress and to decide if the project can continue.  It is essential that any criteria to be measurable. Consider using key phases and completion of key milestones as central criteria. These should include specific aspects  of Change Management or Benefits Management activities.

Mobility Infrastructure project

In response to the increasing global nature of our work EY initiated the Mobility Infrastructure project to deliver a service that could:

?   Simplify tax and immigration challenges

?   Ensure statutory compliance

?   Deploy resources more effectively across borders

Mobility Infrastructure aligns and contributes to two key strategic directions:

1.    Supporting our globalization agenda

2.    Enabling exceptional client service

The following diagram provides an overview of the project phases and associated tollgates for the mobility Infrastructure project:


Tollgate review meeting

As the project approaches a tollgate, a formal tollgate review meeting should be arranged to review progress and decide on how to proceed. All the relevant stakeholders nominally, covered by Steering Committee and project team, will review the tollgate criteria. Conducting this process is about validating the overall project progress against the plan. This enables a general discussion on how the general project should proceed. Following the discussion, one of the three outcomes must be selected:

1.    Go – continue to the next phase

2.    Go – with additional work required– to address shortcomings in progress

3.    No go – insufficient progress


Tips to prepare for a tollgate review meeting:

1.    Review criteria of the specific tollgate you will be discussing

2.    Make a judgment of overall status / % complete for each criteria

3.    Document additional commentary on the status of each tollgate

4.    Develop overall recommendation for the go/no go decision based on overall progress against the tollgate criteria

Tips for using tollgates

1.    The timing for tollgates should be set against project outputs

2.    Consider Steering Committee dates as it may influence when you can review a tollgate outcome

3.    When determining the tollgate review criteria consider: key milestones completion, the phase of the project, the tollgate outcome informs on the project progress

4.    To help assess whether the project can pass through the tollgate, provide recommendations to your Steering Committee

5.    If progressing through a tollgate could result in increased levels of risk exposure for the project, pause the project until the criteria have been met

6.    Seek Steering Committee’s input and guidance on whether to proceed through the tollgate

7.    Keep your stakeholders informed and manage their expectations throughout the process to ensure no surprises.

Throughout a project lifecycle there are many challenges to be addressed and many expectations to be met. In order to successfully conduct a project, project managers should adopt the method of diving it into distinct phases or tollgates. This facilitates more robust checks and controls on progress, risks and issues throughout the project lifecycle. Adopting a tollgate management approach, as its name, when managing a project, makes: project planning easier, enables informed decision making at the Steering Committee level and ensures that senior level stakeholders are engaged in the project plan.