Phase gate, commonly known as stage gate, is a principle of project management that can be leveraged in many lines of business such as investing, new product development and manufacturing. At the most basic level, phase gate is a strategic way to break down an intricate process into more simplistic and workable phases, which are then broken down by checkpoints.
But what advantages does phase gate offer the manufacturing industry?
Many employees of manufacturing companies face various safety risks on a daily basis ranging from electrical malfunctions to machine safeguarding. Implementing a phase gate process can improve working conditions and safety simultaneously. When a manufacturing process is broken down, training and work instruction can be more specialized. For example, the onboarding process, often composed of many different phases, can be managed through a phase gate process. On the production floor, employees can be assigned to a specific phase of production based on their training and experience. The development of new equipment can also be effectively managed through an automated safety review.
The process efficiencies gained through implementing a phase gate process lead to cost savings. By checking product development and output at regular intervals, companies can successfully regulate personnel efficiencies and reduce the risk of production waste from product recalls and manufacturing flaws.
Identifying and managing a successful phase gate process is key to quality products with little to no variability between batches. In manufacturing, even more so than in other industries, customers depend on product consistency. Implementing a stage gate process ensures the product is checked regularly at several points throughout the production process to catch any errors that may occur.
Document Management: A requirement for successful phase gate processes
Documentation is the first step when it comes to implementing a successful phase gate process, and this documentation needs to be managed. Standard operating procedures, audit reports and corrective and preventive actions (CAPA) must be accurately documented and controlled. This is not possible without a document management system that allows for automation.
Companies should look for user-friendly document management systems with features that automate and streamline phase-gate processes. Upon finding the right system, a company is able to not only adhere to proper document governance standards, but also do so efficiently.
Document management systems allow companies to layout the process that works best for their organization and then integrate it directly into their training materials, tools and technology. Deploying a company-wide manufacturing workflow template and setting it up with the right people involved ensures product reviews occur at the right points throughout the production process with minimal delay and disruption.
Authorizations and Approvals by Checkpoint
Whether the phase gate process your company selects calls for a single approval, multiple approvals or tiered approvals, they can be automated to match the requirements of your business. Implementation specialists work directly with clients to determine and customize each ‘gate’ within a process. This ensures the right people are authorizing and reviewing each stage of production. With the right communication, such as an automated email or mobile reminder, people will know exactly what is needed of them and when so that they can be more productive and focused when doing other tasks.
Decision Tree Integrations
A document management platform also allows companies to determine to which phase a document or project should be sent depending on the phase gate and approval status. For example, if a product is not approved due to quality reasons during phase 2, a correction workflow is initiated with predefined steps to correct the issue. On the other hand, if the product is approved at phase 2, it will move along to production phase 3. Incorporating decision tree logic keeps the process moving smoothly even when issues arise.
Auditing and Traceability
Detailed audit logs are vital for good stage gate processes and safe, compliant manufacturing. Document management systems allow companies to automate audit report processes and pinpoint the cause of problems should something go wrong. Should a production issue or product defect occur, it’s important to be able to detect where the problem originated. Was it due to a faulty procedure document? If so, who wrote it, who approved it and who published it? If an older version of operating instructions was used, a document management system will let you know how many times it was viewed and by whom. Accurately controlling the many documents that go into a manufactured product is essential.
The management philosophy behind phase gate is easy to understand and appreciate. The ability for such a process to ensure employee safety and product quality, all while saving the company money, is a dream come true for the manufacturing industry. In practice, implementing and automating a successful phase gate process in a manufacturing environment takes deliberate planning and cloud-based technology integrations that are easy for users to apply on a day-to-day basis.
Christian Weil is a Deployment Specialist at AODocs.