During the 1990’s and through the 2000’s, “Winning at New Products” by Robert Cooper has served as the bible for product developers everywhere. In his book, Robert Cooper demonstrated with compelling evidence why consistent product development is so vital to corporate growth and how to maximize your chances of success. Cooper outlined specific strategies for assessing risk, marshalling the appropriate resources, engaging customers in the pre-development discovery phase, evaluating your project portfolio, ensuring true cross-functional collaboration, and, most importantly, applying a rigorous process for making sound business decisions at every step-from idea generation to launch. This methodology has now been followed by thousands of companies worldwide. The “Overview of a Generic Stage Gate Process” figure shows an overview of a generic stage gate process.
From this overview of the stage gate process the next step is to implement the methodology. As always the devil is in the details. For a good discussion of those devilish details, the chapters in Technology Management: Case Studies in Innovation, edited by Robert Szakonyi, are a great resource.
When starting the project a Start Gate is held based on a project request form provided by any party. This may be an inventor, technologist, marketing or sales professional, manufacturing for strategic planning person, etc. Typical questions needed to pass the starting gate, using simple answers or best guesstimates, are shown in the “Example of a Project Request Form” figure.
Once a project is started it is managed by providing the project team a set of activities to conduct, with the objective of appropriately answering the questions related to the next design review or Gate in this management process. Generalized activities are shown in the “Example Overview of Specific Project Stage Activities” figure and general questions for each stage/gate are shown for one company in the following “Example of General Gate Questions” figure.
Companies have customized the specific project activities and gate questions to both match their business environment and management appetite for getting into the weeds of project management. It is at this level that problems with the State and Gate process develop. Many times a company decides that the success rate of new projects is too low and that the solution is more management oversight. This is often a mistake. “It is the last act of dying organizations to create a new enlarged edition of a rule book for doing things right” (adapted from G.W. Gartner in his book The Individual and the Innovative Society). That said, the ”Example Stage Activities” figure is provided as an example of activities a company might choose from when designing the activities for its own Stage Gate process. The ”Example Stage Gate Questions” figures below are provided as an example of questions a company might choose from when designing the questions to be addressed during its own Gate review meetings.