Implementing Stage-Gate Part 2: Designing Your Stage-Gate Process

Collaboration is the key to designing a well-functioning Stage-Gate process

Welcome to part two of our three-part “Implementing Stage-Gate” blog series. If you’ve been following along closely thus far, you’ve likely learned that implementing Stage-Gate® doesn’t just happen overnight. For starters, you need to get all of your key stakeholders onboard and then work in lock step with your task force to define your Stage-Gate requirements. Once you’ve got this in place, you can begin building a Stage-Gate process perfectly tailored to your business.

Just as a friendly reminder, implementing Stage-Gate is roughly a three-part process:

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

Here, we will focus on Part 2: Designing your Stage-Gate process. While this may sound like the “fun” or “easy” part of Stage-Gate implementation, if not done correctly, you’ll likely end up with a process that doesn’t drive the results you expect. As Robert Cooper so aptly puts it:

“Your task force’s most important goal is implementation of a world-class new product process. But if your goal is merely to design the perfect innovation process, you’ll probably succeed at that goal but fail overall. From the minute your task force meets to map out your new process, every effort must be made to ensure implementation. And that means you must involve and engage the user community—gatekeepers, team leaders, and project team members—in the design of the new process.”
> Robert G. Cooper, Winning at New Products, 5th Edition, 2017


Stage-Gate design in two critical round

Today, people seem to want to make fast and swift progress in practically everything they do. Unfortunately, implementing Stage-Gate isn’t as easy as simply lifting a generic model from a book or copying what another company has already implemented. The truth is, every business is different and, as such, every business must identify what the right Stage-Gate process should be to achieve its own business and productivity goals.

Additionally, as we’ve said many times before, all key stakeholders, especially those within your core task force, must be involved every step of the way. Ownership is one of the biggest obstacles to implementation and adoption. When the people who will ultimately be affected by Stage-Gate feel like they’ve had their hand in defining the process, they’re much more likely to get onboard once it has been implemented.

This is why we oftentimes like to break Stage-Gate design into two distinct rounds:

Round 1: Conceptual Design

Set aside one to two days to work closely with your task force and tackle the first phase of Stage-Gate design decision-making. The purpose of this is to get the entire task force on the same page, so they can go back to their respective teams to get buy-in and additional input afterward. Generally speaking, the task force should leave this work session with the following:

• Reiterate Stage-Gate mandate from senior leadership
• Map out and agree to a conceptual model of the new process
• Identify a clear purpose for each “stage” of the process
• Outline what activities take place at each “stage”
• Determine the actions at each “gate” as well as who the “gatekeepers” should be
• Agree on next steps

Immediately after, and while the information discussed is still fresh in everyone’s minds, be sure to draft and finalize a working plan that adequately summarizes all of the decisions made by the task force during the work session. This is the document that each task force member will eventually use to “show and tell” progress with their respective extended teams as well as with senior management. The goal here is to elicit feedback and gain buy-in from everyone involved. This can take up to three weeks to complete, so be patient as the work gets shared around.

Round 2: Detailed Design

Now that everyone, including senior management, has had the chance to weigh in with feedback and approve the conceptual design, it’s time to add some proverbial meat to those bones and create a detailed design that will guide your implementation. There are a few core components of this process that must be addressed at this time:

Stage descriptions: The specific actions that take place at each stage.  
Deliverables: The results and deliverables associated at the end of each stage.
Gate descriptions: The specific criteria to be met before passing a gate.
Gate procedures: The gatekeepers (i.e. decision-makers) at each gate and the process by which they evaluate project progress against predetermined gate criteria.
Organization: The makeup of the cross-functional teams and decision-makers (team leads) at each stage as well as its evolution throughout the entire course of a project. 
What’s “in”: The criteria for determining which projects will be governed by the new Stage-Gate process as well as which will not (if any).

As you can imagine, this process, given its detail and complexity, can typically require a few rounds of reviews and refinements—including check-ins with extended teams and senior leaders—before gaining final approval. You should expect to go through approximately three rounds of review before you can tie a bow on your new product process documentation and finally begin building an official Stage-Gate implementation plan—which just so happens to be the final task at this part in the process.

With all this work complete, you are now ready to move onto Part 3: Implementing your Stage-Gate process (coming soon!).

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