During the coffee breaks of our monthly innovation workshops when insight managers, innovation managers and marketers get the chance to mingle and discuss issues, one topic comes up time and time again: “we are investigating dropping stage gates” or “we have just discarded the stage gate process”.
The principles of the five stage gates – scoping, building a business case, development, testing and validation – first started to gather following after Robert G. Cooper published his book ‘Winning at New Products’ in 1986. This model has influenced many companies’ innovation process and still has quite a strong hold. However the grip is loosening and a number of companies are throwing away its shackles.
It seems that there is a growing weigh of opinion, literature and empirical evidence that the ‘stage gate’ methodology doesn’t actually reduce the number of failed launches or guarantee success. In fact, it looks as though it may even hinder it. Why is this?
For true innovation to succeed there needs to be freedom of thought, movement and exploration. Successful concepts do not happen in a straight, simple linear line. Often a first initial idea can morph into a completely different area or give rise to more ideas with greater potential. There needs to be room for learning, trial and error as you go along. Innovation is not a case of deciding what the solution is and then working out how to get there. It is an iterative process with many reinventions, re-births and deaths.
This thinking has started to really gain ground in the last 3-4 years. So how come it is taking companies so long to re-engineer their innovation process? I guess it is quite a simple answer. Corporations are built on procedures and control and the stage gate concept has fitted very nicely with their natural behaviour and attitudes.
However for innovation to thrive it needs freedom to think, move and experiment. It is going to be very interesting to see what emerges as the next ‘in’ model. At present it feels as though each organisation is working out what works best them. So it is goodbye ‘stage gate’ and hello ‘????’
image credit: sysomos.com
Natalie Reed is a Strategy Partner at Reach, consultants for brand positioning, innovation and design. Her specialties include: consumer insights, co-creation, NPD, innovation, brand strategy, communication strategy, packaging strategy, and new brand development.