When you run a Lean Six Sigma project, you generally have regularly scheduled Lean Six Sigma project sponsor meetings. In the Operational Excellence community, we typically call these Tollgate Reviews however you may know them as Stage Gate Reviews or Milestone Meetings. Regardless of what you call them, they are a key element to the success of your Lean Six Sigma project, however these meetings come with their own set of challenges. For one, they are always limited in time simply because project sponsors are busy people. Secondly if they are not approached and prepared for correctly, you will find that rather than helping your project move along, they hinder and can threaten the success of your project.

Knowing you have limited time, it is crucial that you are very prepared for these meetings, but in the right way. The most important thing to keep in mind is – what are you asking your project sponsor to do? Project leaders tend to struggle when they go into these meetings because they want to show their sponsor all of the great work they have accomplished. It’s tempting to show lots of charts, graphs, tables and results because this will certainly help your sponsor feel confident in your ability to run the project. The risk associated with this approach is that it takes a lot of time and sponsors tend to operate on a different level than project managers.

Sponsors are used to seeing Lean Six Sigma projects from an elevated level with a summary rather than going through lots of detail. For project managers detail is essential to run a good project, but for sponsor meetings, you need to rise to their level and ask “What does the sponsor want to see?” You have a limited amount of time, so only go in with the highlights rather than all the detail.

I once coached a really smart and talented Lean Six Sigma Black Belt in Peru, and their culture tends to like lots of data, graphs and charts. I also had familiarity with the project sponsor and I knew he was not a detail person, so I attempted to run interference before the first tollgate review. While reviewing the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt’s presentation which contained 40+ slides of data but no summary, I asked why he included so much information. He felt it was important for the project sponsor to understand this information before showing him a summary. The Lean Six Sigma Black Belt was adamant that this was the right approach and went against my advice to simplify his presentation. Unfortunately, the tollgate review did not go very well due to information overload.

Whenever I am coaching a Black Belt in this situation, I ask them “Who is their customer for this meeting?” With 40+ pages of data, you are telling the customer what they need when you should be listening to your customer and what they want. Project Managers need to be aware of the different styles and levels of project sponsors and understand what their “customer” (sponsor) wants. Don’t try to force them to adapt to your style, instead cater to their level. You will find you have much more successful tollgate reviews if you recognize your stakeholders and project sponsors as “customers” and not as team members.