One of the most widely used methods to manage the innovation is the Stage-Gate process, which is an operational roadmap for moving product from ideation to launch. The Stage-Gate framework was developed in 2004 based on the findings on a research project aimed at understanding the factors that separate successful innovation projects from failures. Implementing a Stage-Gate process can lead to better project outcomes and reduced project timelines. Large global organizations such as Procter & Gamble, Emerson Electric, and 3M rely on the Stage-Gate framework, but it is also used by countless small and medium sized enterprises.
In this first article we will describe the main components of the Stage-Gate process. Upcoming articles will elaborate more on the Stages and the Gates.
The Stage-Gate Framework
The Stage-Gate framework consists of four elements:
1) The project team: a cross-functional team responsible for executing the different tasks on each Stage.
2) The Stages: a set of activities designed to help decide whether the project should progress to innovation pipeline.
3) The Gates: decision points where Gatekeepers review the deliverables generated by the team and agree on whether the project should be killed or moved to the next Stage.
4) The gatekeepers: key stakeholders from different business areas that own the resources required by the project team to move advance on their project.
There are two main benefits that organizations can achieve while implementing a Stage-Gate process. First, they are able to identify, before serious financial commitment is made, those new ideas that should not be pursued. Secondly, the process assures that viable ideas get the necessary resources to be developed. Thus, defining a rigorous Stage-Gate process allows firms to minimize wasted-effort, and to maximize the probability that ideas with the highest market value will advance within the overall project pipeline.
The general goal of a Stage is to reduce project uncertainties and risks. Each Stage focuses on specific dimension of the project (See Figure 1). Earlier stages tend to require general information about the project (e.g, uncover opportunities and generate new-product ideas) whereas more advanced stages require more detailed information to make an evaluation (e.g, product definition, project justification, and a project plan).
The Stage process is incremental in terms of commitment and effort. Each stage costs more than the preceding as more financial resources are human capital might be required for the project to move from one stage to another.
Figure 1. Five Stage Process defined in Cooper, 2008.
The number of stages needed depends on the complexity of the project: the higher the risk, the more stages are recommended. For example, Exxon-Mobil Chemical has designed a three-stage process for up-upstream research projects, whereas a four-stage, four-gate system was adopted to handle fundamental research and technology development.
Following each stage is a gate, which is a go/stop decision point. Gates serve as evaluation points to prioritize projects and define resources allocation. There are three main artifacts that are used in this decision making progress:
Deliverables: what the project leader and team bring to the decision point (e.g., the work done during the current stage).
Criteria against which the project is judged: These include must-meet criteria or a checklist designed to weed out misfit projects quickly; and should-meet criteria that are scored and added based on a point count system used to prioritize projects.
Outputs: a decision (Go/Kill/Hold/Recycle), along with an approved action plan for the next stage (an agreed-to timeline and resources committed), and a list of deliverables and date for the next gate.
For major new product projects, the gatekeepers should be a cross-functional senior group—the heads of marketing, sales, technical, operations, and finance. Since senior people’s time is limited, consider beginning with mid-management at Gate 1 and end with the leadership team of the business at Gates 3, 4, and 5. Likewise, for practical reasons and given executives’ busy schedules, consider setting one day per month aside (perhaps tied in to another senior meeting) for the leadership team to meet and handle Gates.
Cooper, R. G. (2008). Perspective: The Stage‐Gate® idea‐to‐launch process—Update, what's new, and NexGen systems. Journal of product innovation management, 25(3), 213-232.