Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Optimizing the Stage-Gate Process: What Best-Practice Companies Do

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Optimizing the Stage-Gate Process: What Best-Practice Companies Do

Article excerpt

Most product developers have installed new product processes by now, according to a study of the best practices by the Product Development & Management Association (1). Consequently, the question arises: what's next--what is the next set of best practices that can be applied to the conception, development and launching of new products?

The PDMA found that nearly 60 percent of the firms it surveyed use some form of Stage-Gate[TM] process for new product development (2). These firms, the study concluded, "are more likely to have moved from simpler Stage-Gate processes to more sophisticated facilitated or third-generation processes....".

But other than third-generation processes, which incorporate flexibility, focus, fluid stages, fuzzy gates, and facilitation (3), what else are leading firms doing to enhance the effectiveness of their new product process? This two-part article reports our observations and experiences in working with more than 500 companies, and on some of the new practices they have incorporated into their new product processes. These include:

1. Adding a Discovery stage at the front end of the process to generate breakthrough product ideas.

2. Harnessing fundamental research more effectively.

3. Improving project selection and becoming more discriminating in the projects undertaken. This translates into incorporating more effective Go/Kill decision points ("tough gates") and moving toward portfolio management.

The first two practices are covered below; the third is discussed in Part II, forthcoming in Research * Technology Management.

After a decade of development focused on product extensions and "quick hits," the quest for the super-idea--the "home-run," breakthrough idea or major innovation--has become a vital management issue. A good new product idea can make or break a project; indeed, ideas are the feedstock to the new product process. But don't expect a well-oiled new product process to make up for a shortage of quality ideas. If an idea is mundane to start with, don't count on your process turning it into a star!

What some companies are doing is replacing the traditional "light bulb" or ideation stage with a much more proactive "Discovery Stage," as in Figure 1. Here are some of the actions that take place in this new stage:


Idea Capture and Handling

Ideas are everywhere, inside and outside of the company. The trouble is, they often lie fallow; no decisions are made on them, and no actions are taken. Leading companies, such as Guinness Breweries, establish a proactive idea capture and handling scheme, as shown in Figure 2. Here's how it works (4):


* Ideas are fed to a focal person (normally the new product process manager) who then carries the ideas to Gate 1 for an initial screening. Note that there is only one on-ramp to the process--all new product and product improvement ideas go via this route. The only exception is "free time" or scouting projects, in which the employee uses his/her own free time to advance the idea (in such a case, install a self-managed Gate 1 at which the employee does his/her own initial screen).

* Gate 1, the Idea Screen, consists of a small, cross-functional group of mid-level managers who meet bimonthly or monthly to review the ideas. Ideas are evaluated on a scorecard consisting of visible criteria (typically Yes/No and 0-10 scaled questions).

* If an idea is rejected, as most are, the idea submitter receives written feedback--how the proposed idea fared on the Gate 1 criteria and why. Feedback is important to ensure a steady stream of ideas from would-be idea generators.

* If the Gate 1 decision is a Go, the gatekeepers nominate a small cross-functional team--perhaps two or three people--to move the idea into the preliminary stage, Scoping. Obviously, the Gate 1 gatekeepers must have authority to approve these resources on the spot. …

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