Implementing Stage-Gate Part 1: Defining the Requirements

The 6 key steps for kicking off a successful Stage-Gate implementation

In this series thus far, we’ve looked at what Stage-Gate® is, how it works, its pros and cons, and, finally, what elements are critical to address before ever beginning your Stage-Gate implementation. Now, it’s finally time to dig in and really get the implementation underway.

As a quick refresher, implementing Stage-Gate requires working through three key stages, which we will tackle one-by-one over the course of the next three articles:

Part 1: Defining your Stage-Gate requirements (current article)
Part 2: Designing your Stage-Gate process
Part 3: Implementing your Stage-Gate process

Today, we will focus squarely on Part 1: Defining your Stage-Gate requirements. It’s important to keep in mind that although we’re approaching these stages here in a linear fashion, they oftentimes overlap in real-life. So, be sure to stay flexible throughout the entire process.

Identifying your Stage-Gate requirements upfront is critical

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that just because there’s consensus around the room for change that everyone is actually on the same page about what that change should entail.

The truth is, recognizing a need and identifying how to address it effectively are two very different things. This becomes infinitely more complex when you’ve got a number of different people with different needs and objectives weighing in on the conversation as well.

That’s why taking the time to define your Stage-Gate requirements upfront will help you and your team assess all of your options objectively—and create a clear path forward for your Stage-Gate implementation. Doing so is also a great strategy for building consensus among your team. It ensures that all involved understand the process, what the outcomes will be, and what will be expected from them from start-to-finish.

Building the foundation for your Stage-Gate implementation

Although every business has its own unique goals, needs, and challenges to overcome, there are a few best practices to ensure a successful Stage-Gate implementation every time.

Here are six steps you must put into action before getting too far along in the process: 

Step 1: Seek commitment from senior management

We’ve already mentioned this once before, but we’ll say it again here: without having senior management stakeholders on board from the very beginning to drive a Stage-Gate initiative forward, the road to success will likely feel like an uphill battle. Additionally, seek out the support of one to two very senior-level people who can serve as executive sponsors for your Stage-Gate implementation. Having them as the “face” of this work will only help to speed up the process and eliminate any barriers or obstacles that stand in the way.

Step 2: Build a task force

Now that you’ve got support from senior management, it’s time to build your core team—a lean, action-oriented team of approximately 10 people representing all business functions, product areas, and geographies relevant to your Stage-Gate implementation. The idea here is to make sure that you have all the necessary “voices” present throughout the entire process. Not only will this avoid information from slipping through the cracks or getting lost in translation, but it will also ensure that no one critical to the initiative’s success is ever left out. As Robert Cooper so aptly puts it: “The vital thing to remember is ownership. If people have not had a hand in crafting the process, there’s not much likelihood that they’ll willingly adopt it.

It’s equally important that you get buy in from senior management to allocate part of the task force members’ time to work specifically on this initiative. A Stage-Gate implementation is a lot of work, especially in the early stages. If task force members are too busy with their day-to-day work to focus on the implementation, your progress will move at a snail’s pace. You need everyone involved to be 100% committed to the effort. 

Step 3: Host a kick-off seminar

This is basically an easy way to ensure that the entire organization is informed and involved early on during your Stage-Gate implementation. The biggest challenge to most organizations as they undergo such implementations is that the task force can quickly get “tunnel vision” and unintentionally forget to communicate progress at key milestones. This can early on, causing them to be more critical and skeptical of the initiative overall. Even worse, in the absence of information sharing, they may start to assume that all these plans are just grandiose ideas that may never amount to anything.

Remember, in cases like this, the people within your organization are essentially your customers. You need to manage their expectations and give them enough information so they can eventually become your biggest cheerleaders as you prepare to launch. Help them understand why these changes are so important and how implementing them will positively impact the business as a whole as well as their day-to-day work. Also, feel free to invite them to suggest solutions; this will only help boost your efforts for getting organizational buy-in.  

Step 4: Conduct an internal audit

When you’re ill, you can’t get better if you don’t diagnose the issue at hand—and identify the proper remedies to get you on the road to recovery. The same goes for your internal processes. While it may be easy to approach new process implementation from memory alone, it’s actually better to take the time to assess and dissect past projects in order to identify what worked well and what didn’t. Reviewing past measures of success objectively in this way will give you a solid foundation on which you and your task force can provide real, tangible solutions. Not to mention, this will give you quantitative data to show how implementing Stage-Gate will alleviate many of the issues or challenges confronted across your organization in the past.

Step 5: Assess industry best practices

When you’re diving head first into a Stage-Gate implementation, it may feel like you’re a pioneer doing it all on your own. The good news: many other businesses and organizations have already tackled this work in the past, which means there’s a lot you can learn from their past experiences. If you have a direct contact into a business that recently implemented Stage-Gate, for example, take advantage of it. Learn from their mistakes and their successes. If not, read up on relevant literature surrounding Stage-Gate and best practices for its implementation. But don’t spend too much time on this front, as it can be very difficult to conduct this kind of “field research” properly without massive budgets or extended timelines. The purpose of this is to get more knowledge under your belt to help raise your chances for success. The last thing you’d ever want to do is go into a Stage-Gate implementation blind!

Step 6: Identify next steps

This may seem obvious, but it’s oftentimes overlooked. Once you’ve done all of your due diligence to get your Stage-Gate implementation requirements in order, map out an action plan. It doesn’t need to be overly detailed or complicated. In many cases, a simple list will suffice. However you choose to go about it, your action plan must paint a clear picture of how you’ll get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. This will help ensure that everyone on the task force is clear about what role they will play in moving this process forward as well, from planning straight through to launch (and likely beyond). It’s also the best way to get everyone prepared to tackle Part 2: Designing your stage gate process.

> Robert G. Cooper, Winning at New Products, 5th Edition, 2017

Stage-Gate® is a registered trademark of Stage-Gate Inc.