The Farm Gate as a Phase Gate

In project management terminology a phase gate, a design gate, a or stage gate is a pre-planned moment for either a go or a no-go decision.

The go or no-go decision is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult due to the early emotions of hope and optimism during early planning.  The design planning phase, which is sometimes called the honeymoon phase, is the time when engineering and project management skill means everything so as to screen bottlenecks, failure points, time hogs, or behavioral anti-patterns before the project moves on to the implementation phase.  The implementation phase, driven by commitment and dedication, is the drive to product testing.  Testing, to borrow from agricultural idiom, is when the wheat is separated from the chaff.  The testing process requires both patience and perseverance.  When everything clicks, design teams experience the thrill of profitability.  When it does not, plans are made for a closeout.

The Agbot competition was an excellent opportunity to get a realistic view of the team’s ability to create a product with marketability.  The open market is tougher than a well hosted competition.  Competitors in the open market communicate less openly.  Self-appointed critics from the open market are not as qualified contest judges.  Performance criteria are vague compared to contest criteria.  Consequences for failure are far greater in the open market than in a challenge.   And, perhaps most directly affecting the team, a phase gate may be more difficult to set up than a contest involving a set date, time, and a physical farm gate.

With the gates closed and another year done, this team is doing some very serious regrouping.

Special thanks to all of the Cricket project contributors including:

  • Planters offered at a discount by T& T tractor
  • Seed Meters were offered at a steep discount by Precision Planting.
  • Both Florence Hydraulics and Professional Hydraulics in Florence, South Carolina Offered discounts on parts.
  • Monsanto donated test corn.
  • Dillon Tractor donated planter parts.
  • Team Members Andy Herring, JR Edens, and Robby Jowers contributed many hours free of charge.

At the moment, the Cricket is a no-go. The no-go decision is certainly reversible because it has a strong frame, power to spare, and several ahead-of-the-market ideas; however, certain debilitating lock-ins, which led to the downfall of both projects, need to be resolved.  To resolve these lock-ins I relinquished control of the Cricket project with the electronics in tact hoping the Cricket can be made farm-worthy before the window of opportunity on this technology closes forever.

The Yamaha project is a go.  The go decision was made because not only are its lock-ins innocuous, but also the completed parts on this machine function.  Functionality with this machine, operating on a robust wireless network, will last till the machine runs out of fuel.  Its range of operation is confirmed to be half of a mile with a clear line of site.  This machine can be tele-operated and is ready to accept software.  Within the software is an isolation layer which allows the same software to run completely different machines.  This machine is ready for further development of advanced electronic capabilities.