13 Mar 2023
Working with clients on their new product development processes, I’ve seen that gate meetings can become significantly more productive by combining stage gate theory with established Oliver Wight concepts.
Getting the gate process right focuses discussion, aids decision making and helps the de-risking of projects.
Bob Cooper’s Winning at New Products describes building 'gates with teeth”, but when you combine his ideas with continuous improvement and cross functional collaboration, you get a process that doesn’t just de-risk projects, it drives growth, improves performance, and ensures alignment with the business’ financial outlook.
Here are some concrete actions you can take to implement six features of gates, which deliver improved performance of your stage and gate process for new product development.
The gate meeting isn’t a project update – it’s decision time. This means managers need to come prepared to cull projects that don’t meet the gate criteria. Similarly, teams need to understand their project won’t make it through unless they present compelling data to support the case to continue.
Actions: Be clear on your process. Ensure the team is aware of what is required to be ready for the gate decision and the go/kill criteria well ahead of time so they can come prepared.
Gatekeepers base the go/kill decision on what is presented to them at the gate. So, the assumptions underpinning any information presented at gate meetings must be robust. If not, the go/kill decision might be the wrong one. But assumptions are only as good as the data they use. Consequently, teams need to base their assumptions on reliable data sets and be prepared to identify their sources.
Actions: Set high standards for the data that is underpinning the outlook of the new products. High quality assumptions are built iteratively, over time. Adopt a continuous improvement methodology for gate preparation to ensure that the assumptions will improve. This can take the form of post launch reviews, discussion and development with customers, and making sure input changes are documented and learned from.
How do you know if teams are building robust assumptions to underpin their gate presentations? By measuring outcomes against forecasts. This measure can aid accountability, which is a core driver of the high-quality data and assumptions we noted in the previous point. Forecasts are, by definition, wrong, but that doesn’t prevent a team from improving on the last attempt.
Actions: Make teams accountable for continuously improving their outlooks. Post launch reviews must monitor outcomes against targets built from the outlook presented within the business case. Build a culture of continuous improvement by having targets that not only deliver on the criteria in the business case, but also improve accuracy of the results over time. Convert your forecasts into targets to drive further accountability.
Teams need to deliver the right information at each gate. This means the requirements for each gate need to be very clear and communicated to teams well before the gate meeting. Poorly prepared teams may hope wordcraft might win through where well-articulated assumptions don’t, leading to over-elaboration and waffle. But that is not useful for decision makers. They need to have clear, concise information to be able to identify what is important quickly, and generate their reviews on their scorecards efficiently.
Actions: Use well-constructed templates that inform teams what information is required at the gate and guide them to deliver it succinctly. Insist that templates need to be fully completed. Reduce the waffle by putting a word limit on fields.
You might have noticed that clarity and objectivity are recurring themes. These factors are especially relevant for gate criteria. Business filters based on strategic fit, business impact, supply feasibility and market opportunity could be considered as the basis for gate decisions for all gates through the process. These factors can be used for both project prioritisation and a go/kill decision. Gates provide the opportunity for reviewers to rate a project against these factors and scores are tallied to determine a project’s overall attractiveness. Combining the attractiveness and the project financials together builds the overall business case for the project.
Actions: Use scorecards for gate reviewers so the company can progress past the voting model. Everyone should know which criteria projects will be judged on at the gate. Integrate your business cases with the financial plans of the business through Integrated Business Planning.
6. A resource plan must be presented at the gate
A gate is an important check point to ensure the visibility of all resources required for the next stage of the project. A resources plan should be presented at the gate meeting to assure decision makers that the correct information on resources is in place and ready for subsequent decision making at the product (portfolio) management review (PMR). If there are resource conflicts, teams must understand that the final go/no go decision and prioritisation is made at the PMR.
Actions: Team presentations must include information on resource requirement for the next stage. To further aid this, an overall portfolio review process at the PMR should be carried out, where resource is aligned with strategy. That’s a big task to be covered in another article.
At the end of the day
In summary, your stage gate process is only as effective as its gates. If the team is well prepared, the criteria and deliverables are clear, and the process is well defined, there will be little ambiguity as to whether a project will pass or fail a gate. Well-constructed gates reduce the risk associated with new product development, and when combined with Oliver Wight principles, your process will continue to improve and be aligned with the entire business.
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