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Tollgate Review Definition: Lean Six Sigma

If you’ve ever been on a long road trip, you know about tollgates. They’re barriers that spread across a stretch of road, compelling drivers to stop their cars and pay a toll before they can continue on their journeys.

Lean Six Sigma tollgates follow the same principle. Think of them as strategically placed checkpoints along your project roadmap. They require you and your team to pump the brakes, review your progress, and ensure you’re on the right track before you start the next leg of your project.

Here, we’ll look at the tollgate review process in more detail, so you can walk into your first tollgate review with confidence.

Purpose of a Six Sigma Tollgate Review

Tollgate reviews serve several crucial purposes within the Lean Six Sigma Process. These are as follows:

  • Ideal opportunities to share progress with sponsors and stakeholders
  • Pause and assess work done, identify any issues or risks, and remediate them before they escalate
  • Open the floor for help and guidance from sponsors and stakeholders
  • Triple-check the required work, building a solid foundation for success

Here’s an example to put things in context. Imagine you’re part of a cookie manufacturer, looking to make your chocolate chip cookies more chewy and chocolatey. After each stage in the improvement process, you and your team will hold a tollgate review to check that everything is on track.

This means coming together after you’ve collected customer feedback, brainstormed ways to make your cookies yummier, tested your ideas, finalized a plan, and put it into action. By checking in at these crucial points, you’ll get a quality, delicious product at the end of the process.

Who’s Involved in a Tollgate Review?

Alongside you and your project team, the following people will attend every Tollgate Review:

  • Black Belt and/or Master Black Belt
  • Project Sponsor
  • Stakeholders

These individuals are, in a way, the tollgate you need to get permission to cross. At each review, they’ll analyze the information shared to see if your project will deliver a return on investment. That’s why it’s crucial to put your best foot forward and craft compelling, data-backed presentations.

When Do Tollgate Reviews Happen?

Tollgate Reviews happen sequentially throughout the Lean Six Sigma process. There are three tollgates within each DMAIC phase, meaning fifteen in total. Each review typically takes between 30 minutes to an hour, and follows the below structure:

  • Presentation: Overview of what was accomplished during the current project phase, highlighting relevant metrics and data showing you achieved designated deliverables.
  • Risk assessment: Outline issues spotted that could impact success. Present proposed mitigations, but remember Sponsors have experience and expertise, and can offer solutions to help.
  • Question period: Sponsors and Stakeholders ask about the project, and together, you decide how to proceed.
  • Decision of go/no-go/go: Provides you direction on moving forward.
  • Documentation: Add the Tollgate Review outcome and follow-up actions to the project charter once the meeting concludes.

Tollgate Checklist: Green vs. Yellow vs. Black Belt

To standardize the Tollgate Review process, having a checklist template you can use for each review is helpful. Depending on your role and belt level, you’ll be responsible for different elements, and the complexity of your project will differ.

To make it easier, we’ve developed free tollgate checklists to help you with this. Click below to download your free template for:

How to Prepare for a Tollgate Meeting

You want to enter your tollgate meeting full of confidence. That means putting in the time to prepare.

First, talk to your sponsor about how they like to receive information. Do they prefer a step-by-step walkthrough? Or maybe they want the key findings upfront. Understanding and meeting their expectations is essential.

Once you’ve collated your findings, send an agenda and supporting documents to attendees a few days before the meeting so they can prepare.

Lastly, keep in mind that tollgate meetings are discussions as well as presentations. While it’s natural to want to impress your stakeholders, remember they’re also there to help. If you have questions or have identified any issues, ask.

After all, you and your sponsors both want to make your Lean Six Sigma project a success.

Key Elements of a Tollgate Review: The 15 Tollgates

Each of the DMAIC phases has three tollgates, for a total of 15. Here’s what you need to do for each one.

Define Phase Tollgates

  1. Voice of the Customer Analysis: Listening to the Voice of the Customer is essential to solving the right problem. Gather data from sources like social media and customer forums to build a picture of your customer segment and their expectations.
  2. Process Mapping: Map the current process you’re looking to improve. Take note of metrics like cycle time, errors, and cost.
  3. Create the Project Charter: The Project Charter is a living document that outlines, in five or so pages, your business case, problem and goal statements, the scope, tollgate meeting dates, roles and responsibilities, and potential constraints to be mindful of.

Measure Phase Tollgates

  1. Select your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Using your Project Charter, Process Map, and Voice of Customer, agree upon your KPIs.
  2. Data Collection Plan: Establish a detailed Data Collection Plan, including details on how to present it.
  3. Measure baseline performance: With your key metrics and data collection methods in hand, it’s time to evaluate how the process in question is currently performing.

Analyze Phase Tollgates

  1. Identify the opportunity: Compare baseline performance to the vision set in your Project Charter to quantify potential opportunity.
  2. Brainstorm and narrow root causes: First, brainstorm all possible root causes for the problem at hand. Then, use tools like Fishbone Diagrams and Variance Analyses to narrow down the potential culprits.
  3. Cement root causes: Using all the evidence you’ve gathered, you’ll now have a robust idea of the parts of the process that need improving.

Improve Phase Tollgates

  1. Solution generation: Present and discuss potential solutions you’ve come up with to solve the problem.
  2. Solution selection: Hone in on the best solution for the job by conducting several tests, including collecting pilot data, running a cost/benefit analysis, and developing a new and improved Process Map.
  3. Plan for implementation: Following approval, it’s time to design and implement your plan, considering factors like the timeline, resources, and contingencies.

Control Phase Tollgates

  1. Devise a Monitoring and Control Plan: Document the new processes, procedures, and policies related to your improved process. Include an overview of your project that’s easy for the process owners to understand, along with a continuous improvement plan.
  2. Create a Response Plan: Write a Response Plan, identifying the steps to take if your process doesn’t meet your set requirements.
  3. Education, rollout, and Continuous Improvement: Close the project by passing on these plans to the Process Owner and team.

Examples of Tollgate Review Questions

Ahead of your first Define Phase Tollgate Review, here are some example questions you’ll likely receive from your Sponsors:

  • What are the business reasons for pursuing this project?
  • Does the project link to strategic business goals?
  • What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • Have you collected Voice of the Customer data?
  • What are the expected end results?
  • What are the expected completion dates for each phase of the project?

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