The Importance of Gate Reviews in Design and Pre-Construction

Gate reviews are essential to well-managed planning and pre-construction phases of a construction project.  The concept is simple in its execution and elegant in its simplicity.  I caution industry professionals that simplicity does not mean that they should let their guard down.  Often the root of project failure lies in a planning process that lacked discipline and formality.  We all know that real world economics impose severe pressure on project teams compelling fast track planning, frenetic schematic design and rushed design development.  As project leaders, we must not fall prey to the kind of groupthink which rationalizes hasty design decisions.

To avoid the instant gratification of moving projects along rapidly from conceptual design – to schematic design – to design development – to construction documents, we implement phase gate reviews (or phase approvals).  These reviews ensure that the team has rationally confirmed that the current phase has been completed, and that the project is ready to move on to the next phase.  A well-run gate review answers important questions and ensures that key issues are raised and properly reviewed.  Some questions that should be raised and answered during a gate review include:

  • Are all of the Owner’s requirements reflected in the current design documents?  If some are missing, they should be included or formally omitted by the Owner.
  • Is the business case for the project still intact? 
  • Does the project leader believe that the existing phase has been completed?  Is there buy-in from the project sponsor?
  • Have the planned schedule and budget been updated to reflect the information included in the completed phase?  Are these in keeping with the Owner’s expectations?  
  • Have potential risks been identified to reflect the current phase?  
  • Have known project issues been validated?
  • Have constructability issues been addressed?
  • Has the design team validated resource availability and materials selection?
  • Is the team controlling the scope or has the scope become a moving target?

Here is a list of gate reviews on construction projects:

  • Project Approval
  • Conceptual Design Approval
  • Schematic Design Approval
  • Design Development Approval
  • Construction Document Approval

The purpose of a gate review is not to cast blame or to generate unnecessary paperwork.  The intent is to subject the project to strict scrutiny by the team that will be charged to deliver the project per the requirements in an economical manner.  Remember the old but timeless adage, “measure twice, and cut once.”

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