How to improve your new product development process

31 Jan 2023


It’s no secret that picking winning products can be tough. When you’re under pressure to deliver growth and meet your innovation targets, there is always the temptation to start working on every idea in the hope that something will deliver. This strategy can work if you have the right new product development process and culture in place. But how do you know if you’re getting the process right? And how can you recognize if you’re getting it wrong?

From my own experience coaching clients on their new product development processes, companies under pressure often build ‘time saving shortcuts’ into their process to improve speed to market and project quantity throughput. These shortcuts can easily compromise the process and cause problems, such as: 

  1. Teams working themselves to the bone, spending hours in project meetings with a growing sense that nothing they do is delivering growth
  2. Go/no go decisions are based more on company politics than what is best for business

Why you need a well running and effective, stage-gate process
A new product development stage-gate process focuses a company’s limited resources on winning opportunities and is the best-in-class approach to solve these issues.  However, when businesses are under pressure to deliver, they often ignore the most basic reason for using a stage-gate process in the first place – the stage-gate approach works by doing the required planning and decision-making upfront before the expensive execution work begins. If you skip the planning stage, your business may deliver new products faster, but you can end up with products that don’t deliver growth and working on projects that never end, or even worse, spending millions on equipment you will never use.

How to improve your stage-gate process
The stage-gate process, along with its required planning, shouldn’t be seen as bureaucracy and an obstacle to success, but it can be difficult to make it both simple and effective. Here are two ways you can improve your stage-gate process:

  1. Say “no” more often than not
    When every project scoped is getting through, it’s time to take stock. In this situation you’ve got a tunnel not a funnel. So how can you fix it?  Some gate keepers say no to everything. This “rejected until proven worthy” approach does have advantages. People who’ve experienced it have told me that while it makes it very difficult to get projects through the stages, it forces them to test their assumptions, articulate their pitch well and outline the benefits of their suggested course of action very precisely. In short, they had to prepare very well before going into the gate reviews to have any chance of getting their project through.

    Saying no to everything isn’t necessarily the best way, but it can compel people to change the way they work. What it does mean though is that the stages and gates operate as the de-risking mechanism they’re designed to be and the projects that do make it through are more likely to deliver the desired outcomes.
  2.  The stage-gate process isn’t a democracy
    Some companies take a vote to determine which projects pass through the gate. But that compromises the process. Inevitably gate keepers vote on the merits of the project for them and their department. Voting brings every interdepartmental conflict into the new product development process, when the only consideration should be what is best for the business.

    Good gate design will have the ranking criteria built in. When the gates are working properly, when the criteria are well-designed, discriminating, and adhered to, decisions should be based on facts, clear and testable assumptions and not opinions.

    Good planning isn’t bureaucracy but continuing to run a compromised process is. 

Oliver Wight has been helping companies improve their new product development speed to market and decision-making processes effectively and sustainably for over 50 years. Get in touch with us here to find out how we can help you. For more free resources on this topic, including white papers click here.


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