Cross-functional, high-investment new product development (NPD) decision-making can be challenging. Data required for informed decisions are often late in coming or difficult to understand, leaving project proponents and executive stakeholders feeling ill-prepared. In the absence of good information, team members and others commonly try to influence support with loud voices and little fact.
This situation is familiar to many organizations trying to manage their innovation portfolio. The question they grapple with: How do you gain access to needed information and objectively sort through it to make the best decision for the company?
One general pre-requisite to enabling innovation decision support is the adoption of a viable innovation process methodology. The Stage-Gate® model is among the most widely used. Stage-Gate is a conceptual and operational road map for moving a new project from idea to launch. It’s essentially a blueprint for managing the new product process to improve effectiveness and efficiency. The traditional Stage-Gate process has five stages and five gates. If the process is executed effectively, Stage Gate meetings serve as decision-making forums where projects meet with one of four potential fates: go, kill, hold, and recycle.
There are a number of practical and easy steps that can help ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of Gate meetings.
- Assure timely deliverables. Request that all gate deliverables be submitted electronically, no later than ten days prior to the date of the gate meeting. For gates that involve examination of a product prototype, ensure that gate keepers have access to the prototype prior to the meeting.
- Remember that not all deliverables are created equal. Deliverables required for a particular gate meeting should provide information specifically relevant to the gate decisions to be made at that meeting. The list of deliverables for gate #1 should not be the same as the list of deliverables for gate #3.
- Review, red flag, and reschedule when necessary. If a deliverable is not submitted ten days or more in advance of the meeting, the process owner should consider changing the meeting date. The process owner should also review deliverables for quality and completeness. If the materials aren’t up to par, a red flag should at least be raised. In some cases, it might make sense to reschedule the gate session.
- Keep the gate meeting focused. Conduct the gate meeting with a constant focus on the objective of the session. Only discussions relating to the objective at hand or relevant to the next process stage should be allowed.
- Make sure that decisions are crisp, visible and immediate. Team members have likely worked on their projects for months with heart and soul. It is important to leave gate meetings with clear decisions and well-defined next steps.
Improving gate meetings can help an organization achieve new levels of success in bringing innovative new products to market. As your business becomes more complex and competition grows, you have enough to worry about without suffering the consequences of poor gate meetings.
Stage-Gate® is a registered trademark of Product Development Institute Inc.