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July 2nd, 2018
Using a stage gate process to nurture the best ideas
by Angela Eves

In this new blog post, our Brand Mentor Angela Eves talks about how to flip the often dreaded ‘stage gate’ process to help you nurture the best ideas

Mention the words ‘stage gate’ to a group of marketers and you may hear them groan. The thought of having to fill in a gate document to ‘tick the box’ fills them with dread. They have worked hard on their NPD project so the last thing they want is for the gatekeepers to interrogate and over-analyse it.

The issue we often encounter is that the stage gate process in their business emphasises the gate and the approval sought. Their effort is put into getting through the gate without too many bruises. And the stages are little more than black holes between the gates, in which the document gets completed.

But a stage gate process works at its best when the attention spins 180 degrees and the stages become the focus. It’s in the stages themselves where teams nurture ideas by consulting consumers and customers, and undertaking activities to inform whether the project should go forward. The gates then become decision points where the gatekeepers review the project team recommendations, deliverables and risks and agree whether to move forward to the next stage.

So how do you flip a stage gate process from one that concentrates time and energy on the gates to one where the stages come to the fore?

Often, the answer lies not in the process itself but in the behaviours of the project team members and the gatekeepers. Processes don’t perform on their own, they are only as good as the people using them. An effective process only emerges when teams embrace the right mindset and behaviours.

So, in our experience, what are the top 5 behaviours crucial to ensuring the success of a stage gate process and delivering value through innovation? These are:

· Consumer and customer at the heart
· Objective decision making
· Cross-functional team ownership
· Discipline and rigour
· Upfront thinking

Consumer and customer at the heart – Any innovation and product change should start with a real consumer or customer insight. Understanding what your consumers and customers want or need will help you to create innovation that sticks in the marketplace and creates long-term value for the business.

Objective decision making – Too many projects on the go can result in slow speed to market at best, or compromise and failure at worst. Taking decisions based on agreed criteria enables businesses to prioritise projects and keep the road clear so that the key projects can move quickly. The only real way to achieve this end is to be objective in our decision making and make clear recommendations to stop projects if they no longer fit with the business, brand or commercial strategy.

Cross-functional team ownership – For innovation to succeed we need to harness the expertise and enthusiasm of the cross-functional team. To ensure projects move through the stage gate process, without unnecessary cost and resource expenditure, every team member should commit to the same level of project ownership.

Discipline and rigour – There’s no point having a process or set of documents if they’re not utilised consistently with discipline and rigour. Decision-making and project prioritisation is difficult enough and if the right information isn’t available to make the decision, it can become impossible. Doing things in a new or different way because a project is a ‘one-off’ will undermine the process very quickly.

Upfront thinking – With any endeavour, the time and effort you invest early on will significantly reduce the likelihood of re-work and failures further down the track. Working hard and proactively in the stages is more likely to deliver success at the gates. After all, we know that cutting corners may save time in the short-term but add costs in the longer run.

Building these behaviours into a process that’s well understood and consistently applied by the business will encourage the focus on better decisions, a more efficient use of resources and ultimately a higher rate of project success in market. Which marketer doesn’t want that?