The project framework

Understanding gates and stages


Advances in Project Management Series


By Robert Buttrick

United Kingdom


Projects as vehicles of change

Ignore the reborn discipline of enterprise-wide project management at your peril!  .No longer the preserve of the engineering and IT sectors,  project management is fast becoming a core competence which many organizations require of their employees and an activity every executive and manager should be familiar with.  Projects, in the modern sense, are strategic management tools and this article, based on a chapter from the latest edition of The Project Workout, shows how they can be used as vehicles of change.

Most organizations are never short of suggestions for improvement and your own is probably no exception. Ideas can come from anywhere within the organization or even outside it: from competitors, customers, or suppliers. Actually deciding which initiatives the business leaders should spend time and money on is more difficult. Care needs to be taken in choosing which projects to do, as:

  • there is probably not enough money, manpower, or management energy to pursue all the ideas;
  • undertaking projects which do not align to the organization’s strategy will, almost certainly, create internal conflicts between senior managers, confuse the direction of the business and ultimately, reduce the return on the company’s investment.

Business leaders should consider for selection only those projects which:

  • have a firm root in the organization’s strategy;
  • meet defined business needs;
  • will realize real benefits;
  • are derived from gaps identified in business plans;
  • and are achievable.

Having created a shortlist of “possible projects”, it is important to work on them in the right order, recognizing interdependencies, taking account of scarce skills and resources and bringing the benefits forward whenever possible.

Figure 1 shows illustrates how selecting the right projects will help to achieve the business objectives by realizing benefits to support the business strategy. Two key roles are associated with projects:

  • the project sponsor who wants the benefits the project will provide;
  • the project manager who manages the project on a day-to-day basis, ensuring its deliverables are presented on time, at the right quality and to budget.

Figure 1 Select the right projects to support your strategy

Selecting the right projects will help you achieve your objectives by realizing benefits which support your strategy. (Copyright © PA Consulting Group, London. Adapted with kind permission)


To illustrate these key project roles, imagine you want to build an extension to your house for a home office. To gain the benefits this will bring, you accept the price and the inconvenience of building works. The architect’s role is to design an appropriate solution to meet your needs. As project manager, the benefits he receives for carrying out the work is his fee but he must, however, understand your needs fully to deliver an appropriate solution. In a good partnership, sponsorship and management are mutually compatible. Thus:

  • the project sponsor is primarily “outcome and benefits focussed”; he or she directs the project.
  • the project manager is primarily “action focused” towards the achievement of the outcomes and benefits the sponsor needs. He or she manages the project on a day to day basis.

The framework for managing business-led projects is aimed at making the results of projects more predictable by:

  • being outcome and benefits focussed;
  • building in quality;
  • managing risks and exposure;
  • exploiting the skill base of the entire organization.

As a project progresses, the amount of money invested increases. If none of this money is spent on reducing the risks associated with the project, then it is poorly spent. Your objective, as a business leader, project sponsor or project manager, is to ensure that risks are driven down as the project moves from being an idea to becoming a reality.


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge worldwide. Information about Routledge project management books can be found here.

How to cite this paper: Buttrick, R. (2019). The project framework: understanding gates and stages, PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue I (January). Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/pmwj78-Jan2019-Buttrick-project-framework-understanding-gates-and-stages.pdf


About the Author

Robert Buttrick

United Kingdom




Robert Buttrick has a successful track record for building project management excellence in major organizations and as a contributor to project management methods, best practice and standards. He a UK Principal Expert working on the development of national and international project management standards, for which he received a Distinguished Service Certificate from BSI. He was an author of the 2017 edition of PRINCE® and the lead developer for the UK government’s project delivery standard. He is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a Chartered Engineer and an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management. Robert is currently an independent author, a consultant and a Visiting Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick.

Robert Buttrick is the author of the book The Project Workout: Directing and managing business-led projects, recently published in its 5th edition, by Routledge. You can find more information and a companion web site at projectworkout.com.