Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

What's Next? after Stage-Gate: Progressive Companies Are Developing a New Generation of Idea-to-Launch Processes

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

What's Next? after Stage-Gate: Progressive Companies Are Developing a New Generation of Idea-to-Launch Processes

Article excerpt

The original Stage-Gate system was created in the 1980s, based on an in-depth study of successful "intrapreneurs" within major corporations as they drove successful new products to market. Their practices and the lessons they learned provided the foundation for that early stage-and-gate model. Over the years, Stage-Gate has evolved and incorporated many new practices (see, for instance, Cooper 1994, 2008, 2011). Some companies have also developed their own versions of Stage-Gate, building in some positive elements, but also some negative ones.

Today we see that the Stage-Gate process has generally had a positive impact on the conception, development, and launch of new products (Cooper 2011, 2013a; Cooper and Edgett 2012). But there are also criticisms, some the result of the nature of the process and others of the way companies implemented the system. The world has changed a lot since the first Stage-Gate system was implemented--it is now faster paced, more competitive and global, and less predictable. In this context, Stage-Gate has attracted a number of criticisms: It is accused of being too linear, too rigid, and too planned to handle more innovative or dynamic projects. It's not adaptive enough and does not encourage experimentation. It's not context-based--one size should not fit all. Its gates are too structured or too financially based, and the system is too controlling and bureaucratic, loaded with paperwork, checklists, and too much non-value-added work (Becker 2006; Lenfle and Loch 2010). Some authors have taken issue with these criticisms, arguing that most are due to faulty implementation (Becker 2006), while some deficiencies have been corrected in more recent evolutions of Stage-Gate (Cooper 2011). But issues do remain, and thus a handful of leading firms are rethinking and re-inventing their idea-to-launch gating system. Through my ongoing study of benchmarking best practices, presentations at the annual Stage-Gate Innovation Summit, and personal interactions with leading firms, I've constructed an overview of likely directions for the next generation of idea-to-launch systems.

The Next Generation Idea-to-Launch System: The Triple A System

At first glance, the practices and recommendations of firms creating new idea-to-launch systems look a lot like the traditional process; there are still stages where work gets done, and there are still gates where decisions are made. But the details of the process and its function are quite different: What emerges is a more agile, vibrant, dynamic, flexible gating process that is leaner, faster, and more adaptive and risk-based. This is what I call the Triple A system--it is adaptive and flexible, agile, and accelerated (Figure 1).

A1--Adaptive and Flexible: The next-generation idea-to-launch system is adaptive. It incorporates spiral or iterative development to get something in front of customers early and often through a series of build-test-revise iterations. The product may be less than 50 percent defined when it enters development, but it evolves, adapting to new information, as it moves through development and testing. The system is also flexible insofar as the actions for each stage and the deliverables to each gate are unique to each development project, based on the context of the market and the needs of the development process. This is the opposite of an SOP (standard operating procedure) approach to product development, which prescribes standardized actions and deliverables. There are also fast-track versions of the process for lower-risk projects. And in the next-generation system, a risk-based contingency model dictates that appropriate activities and deliverables be determined based on an assessment of project assumptions and risks. Finally, Go/Kill criteria are flexible--there are no standard sets or universal criteria for each gate--and gates are integrated with portfolio management.

A2--Agile: The next-generation system also incorporates elements of Agile Development, the rapid development system developed by the software industry. …

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