Implementing Stage-Gate Part 3: Implementation
“Implementation is by far the longest, most difficult, and most expensive phase.”
– Robert G. Cooper
Welcome to the final part of our three-part “Implementing Stage-Gate” blog series. For those of you who have been keeping up, you’ve learned that implementing Stage-Gate® requires a lot of important work upfront and stakeholder collaboration to ensure its success in the long run. These are the keys to ensuring a smooth implementation once everyone’s on the same page.
As a quick refresher, keep in mind that implementing Stage-Gate comes together in three parts:
And now that you’ve done all of the hard work to get your Stage-Gate design in place, it’s time to focus on Part 3: Implementing your Stage-Gate process. There are a lot of things that go into a successful Stage-Gate implementation. Here, we’ll focus on three key success drivers that you’ll have to address from the very start:
1. Onboarding projects (new and existing) into the process
2. Boosting adoption by seeking organization-wide commitment and buy-in
3. Communicating about the new process regularly
4. Training people on the new process and how to use it effectively
1. Onboard projects
You’ve created a new process. Now, you’ve got to put it into action — which can often be the hardest part of the process because it involves a lot of change, ergo getting everyone across your organization to participate in the process. There are a few ways to go about this, some that provide less of a “shock” to everyone involved:
• Piloting: This is the most common launch approach, wherein a few select projects are onboarded into the new Stage-Gate process at the very start. This is a great technique to implement if you want to work out the kinks or troubleshoot any critical issues before deploying Stage-Gate uniformly across all projects.
• Cut-Off Date: You can consider this a bit of a staggered approach, wherein teams can opt-in to the new process on a rolling basis until a specific date rolls around at which point all projects must begin onboarded into the new process and/or have cleared a “gate” within a specific period of time (i.e. within six months from launch). This is a great way to let different teams take ownership of the process on their own terms, identifying when and where it makes the most sense to begin the transition.
• “Welcome Gates”: This is a more non-threatening approach that allows teams to get their projects onboarded into the process without requiring the completion of all deliverables at this initial entry point (i.e. “welcome gate”). It’s basically a way to ease entry into the new process without stressing teams about the tasks and deliverables typically associated with a new Stage-Gate process. However, once teams have pushed their projects passed the “welcome gate,” the future life of the project must adhere to the rules of the new Stage-Gate process.
• Combination: Obviously, each organization is a little different, so there are also times when a combination of the above approaches makes sense. It’s up to you and your team of key stakeholders to decide what will work best to ensure widespread adoption.
“The greatest change in behavior is required not at the project leader and team level but at the decision-making level. Managers who tend the gates face the greatest learning challenges. Thus, the buy-in of middle-level managers is critical to the success of Stage-Gate implementation.”
– Robert G. Cooper
2. Boost adoption
As we’ve mentioned many times throughout this three-part blog series, implementing Stage-Gate cannot be successful if you don’t have commitment and buy-in from stakeholders across the entire organization. This goes well beyond gaining the support of senior leaders, even though their vocal support of the new process will undoubtedly be critical for adoption.
It almost goes without saying that, for Stage-Gate implementation to be a success, everyone at every level across an organization needs to be invested in the new process. Otherwise, all your hard work at developing a new process is more than likely doomed to fail from the start. This is why we strongly encourage getting extended “task force” teams to provide input and feedback during the design process. Involving teams early on is a great way to avoid potential adoption challenges in the near- and long-term.
Even so, there are a number of things that can stifle adoption. Fortunately, these can almost be entirely avoided. Here are a few key ways to drive commitment and buy-in from the very start:
Be clear as to “why” your organization needs a new process
New process implementation shouldn’t ever feel haphazard. There are likely multiple reasons why your task force embarked on this journey in the first place. Make sure those reasons are communicated clearly as you begin implementing the new process. When people understand that a new process is being put into place to solve bigger organizational issues or needs — whether it’s to make your business more competitive, drive better decisions throughout the life of a project, or remedy the root causes for past project failures — you’ve got a greater chance of securing buy-in from everyone involved.
Address concerns upfront
Some people are more opposed to change than others. That’s just part of human nature. You must take every opportunity to ease the concerns of potential naysayers. Project managers may feel that their projects will be scrapped as a result of the new Stage-Gate process while others across the organization may see the new process as purely bureaucratic, making it harder and less efficient to develop and launch new products in the future. Although these concerns are antithetical to Stage-Gate as a whole, they are still valid concerns. Your role in this is to demonstrate how your organization will implement Stage-Gate in a way that avoids this altogether. Again, in follow up to the point above, it’s important for everyone to understand that the new process hasn’t been implemented just for the sake of implementing a new process; it was implemented to help organizations overcome roadblocks and challenges. Just be sure to explain — and back it up with supporting evidence and facts — all the reasons why the new process will actually benefit the organization in the long run.
Engage senior leaders as new process ambassadors
Although everyone across the organization needs to buy-in to the new process, it always helps if they have role models to follow. These role models needs to be your organization’s senior leaders. They must be able to speak the language of the new process fluently, refuse any requests or make any exceptions for running projects outside of the new process, and use gate criteria in the way they evaluate all projects moving forward. The point is simple: the more they demonstrate their adoption of the new process — and their desire and expectation for everyone around them to follow suit — the easier it will be for others to get onboard.
Choose your pilot projects wisely
It’s always easier convincing people to adopt new processes when they can see real life examples of success that have stemmed from doing so. So, should you decide to implement Stage-Gate with a piloted approach, be sure to choose your projects wisely. In other words, choose projects that are destined to succeed within the new process framework — and can be completed in a reasonable period of time. The goal is to use these repeatedly as shining examples of how and why the process works. Similarly, tap into the pilot project teams as resources for helping other teams achieve the same levels of success through training and mentoring. The more support you provide, the more comfortable people will feel with embracing a new process.
3. Communicate regularly
Simply launching and implementing a new process is just the beginning. You should plan on spending the next year or so reiterating the arrival of the new process to ensure that it’s adopted across the entire organization. This requires communicating regularly with senior leaders, team managers, and all people within the organization affected by the new process. In other words, the more you talk about your newly minted Stage-Gate process, the greater your chance of getting more people on board — and fast! Here are a few quick tips to ensure you get moving in the right direction:
• Ongoing promotion: People won’t change their habits if they don’t know there are habits that are meant to be changed. This is where marketing can play a critical role in your solidifying your Stage-Gate implementation strategy. Whether you create brochures, stick up flyers around the office, create an internal-facing blog series, or run digital ads on your company’s intranet, the point is clear: it’s important to use all available marketing touchpoints within your organization to your advantage. Why? Because the more teams see and hear about Stage-Gate — and, thus, have an opportunity to learn more about what it is and how it will benefit them — the quicker they will be to adopt it.
• Simple Instructional Manual: The emphasis here is on the word “simple.” If a user manual is too long, complicated, or cumbersome, there’s a good chance you’ll lose the attention of the reader within the first page. (And remember, the goal here is to get teams to adopt the new process!) So, as you’re creating working documentation around the new process, be sure it’s kept reasonably short, written in clear and simple language, easy to follow (i.e. organized by steps, like this blog series), and, most importantly, user-friendly. This will be the go-to guide that everyone references, regardless of where they sit in the organization or their level of technical expertise. The easier you make this guide, the fewer roadblocks to adoption you will create.
• “Quick” Guides: As a supplement to the instructional manual, it’s always wise to create a series of “quick” user guides — or “cheat sheets” — that hone in on different aspects of your Stage-Gate process. It’s also a great way to give people a way to check their knowledge of gates, stages, gate criteria, gatekeepers, and other useful information without having to reference the complete instructional manual. These can serve a promotional role as well. For example, a quick guide providing a simple (visual) overview of the full process is perfect for people to print and easily reference at their desks at any time. Aside from being useful, it will keep Stage-Gate top-of-mind at all times, too!
• Roadshow Presentation: During the first year following your Stage-Gate implementation you will “pitching” the benefits of the new process to teams across your organization non-stop. To streamline this process, it’s recommended that you create a standardized, professional presentation that serves two primary purposes: 1) to teach teams about the ins and outs of Stage-Gate in a clear and engaging way and 2) to drive organization-wide buy-in. Keep in mind, however, that you likely can’t undertake this “roadshow” all on your own; you’ll need the support of your task force as well as other managers across the organization to be key stakeholders in this effort, too. Having this standardized presentation in your back pocket will make it easier for virtually anyone to present this information without having to do any of the heavy-lifting themselves.
4. Provide training
This should be obvious, but this is a step that’s all too often overlooked or underestimated. While you and your task force may be pros at Stage-Gate, the teams across your organization — including the managers of those teams — may not be equally as adept at it as you. So, it’s critical that you make training and mentorship a key component of your implementation and adoption strategy. First, this will help people overcome the initial obstacles they face as they begin implementing the new process, all in a stress-free environment where they can ask questions and troubleshoot issues in real-time. Additionally, it’s a great way to save people the hassle and effort of having to learn a new process all on their own, which could otherwise lead to frustration and an unwillingness to adopt the new process. And lastly, it helps you (and your task force) catch user errors early on before they ever can turn into bad habits that could potentially undermine the new process over time. All in all, as with the launch of anything new, training is an important piece of the Stage-Gate implementation puzzle.
This officially brings you to the end of our three-part “Implementing Stage-Gate” blog series. Now you’ve got the necessary tools, tips, and advice to get your own Stage-Gate implementation off to a great start. And should you have any questions or need support along the way, just reach out — we’re always here to help!
Stage-Gate® is a registered trademark of Stage-Gate Inc.