Developing a robust stage gate process is a vital part of many new product development (NPD) and introduction (NPI) regimes. But the digital tools you use to set up and manage your approval gates, can have a profound effect on your ability to iterate, develop and optimise your practices over time.
Stage gating provides structure, efficiency and repeatability to the NPD cycle
At its most effective a new product development and introduction process is driven and managed by a cross-functional team reviewing their progress at regular intervals against formal and documented objectives.
These formal reviews, often known as stage gates or approval gates typically ensure:
- Delivery timetables are being monitored and met
- Deliverables for each phase match requirements
- Budgets are not being exceeded
- New project requirements can be added if necessary
- Informed stop/go decisions can be taken
Approval gates help businesses move more seamlessly from ideating and prototyping to New Product Introduction - ensuring that they can do so in a disciplined, collaborative and commercially viable way.
Stage gating in the high tech industry
In high-tech industry, projects can break down into various stages including: ideation, design planning, design and development, testing/verification, validation, launch/manufacture and ongoing improvement.
All these stages can be bookended by approval gates that can first define and then ensure particular requirements are met in each phase, before they are officially ‘signed off’ and fresh resource is committed to the next stage.
Seven Stages of New Product Development
Digital phase gating tools can help
Digital tools can help you define project requirements and automate the approval process. Indeed they can be seen as essential for developing the kind of robust and structured approach you need for effective NPD. Relying on a mixture of emails, google docs, and spreadsheets are simply not going to cut it.
But depending on the kind of sector you are operating in, or simply the unique way your individual business is set up; you do need to have the flexibility to mould them around your own processes.
Why not just use Dropbox as a document management system?
It’s not always as straight forward as this, though, with the digital tools available on the market often restricting, rather than enabling businesses in their processes in an increasingly agile world:
“Many of the gating systems that companies use today have their roots in the 1980s and 1990s and frankly are too cumbersome, too linear and too rigid to deal with the realities of today’s fast-paced world.”
From Winning at New Products, Robert G Cooper
The gating systems we encounter in the market place today, often reflect a rigidity that’s not helpful for a company who still needs to iterate and optimise their ways of working.
For example, a software system might only let you set up a process with exactly five ‘approval gates’, when your business might need more or less than this.
Similarly, these systems might restrict the types of documents that can make up the contents of a ‘stage’ that needs to be approved. This can make life difficult when it comes to migrating the contents of an existing system to a new one, or if you need to use a range of specialist documents in your decision-making processes that everyone needs to be able to see and comment on.
What does flexible stage gating look like?
We would argue that the digital tools you choose for phase gating should give you complete flexibility to define and structure your approval gate systems according to the unique requirements of your business.
This means giving non-coders the tools to define the number of gates required for NPD and produce a standard set of document templates which can define the requirements for each stage of the process. The tools you choose should allow your business to automate their collection, review and approval and then trigger new phases of development; ‘publishing them’ to the business as a whole when they have been signed off by all required stake-holders.
In this way, businesses should be able to create robust and unique workflows for each part of an NPD process while using them as the template for their next project.
But crucially, having the flexibility to change the structure and specific requirements for each phase of a project,- can help you tweak and optimise your approach to NPD over time, bringing incremental improvements to the way you work, based on past experience.
The challenge for most companies is to find a ‘blueprint’ for innovation, so initial market successes can be followed up with more of the same. This means finding a way of operating that is consistent and repeatable, but one that can flex with you as required.