part 3 in the Product Management Frameworks Series
Stage Gate Models focus on the full scope of business planning across every group bringing a product to market. These include frameworks like Robert Cooper’s Stage Gate Process. They involve a cross functional team from R&D, Marketing, Operations, and Management moving a product through a series of stage gates or management approvals that a product must pass through or go back to the beginning.
Stage gate models originated with engineering project management techniques that developed in the 1940s. Engineers needed a better process to plan technical projects for the Industrial Age. The sequential approach reduced risk for bringing products to market.
Today, the typical products that use a stage gate process include:
- Consumer Packaged Goods
- Manufactured Goods
- Heavy Machinery
- Medical Devices
- Government Programs – NASA, etc.
Stage Gate models are heavily favored by product management trade groups like the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) and the Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM).
The stage gate process added a more formal framework around Product Innovation and commercializing R&D ideas through a repeatable process.
A major concept is the Fuzzy Front End where technologists and business managers are still brainstorming and testing ideas with grate uncertainty.
Stage gates manage the uncertainty of the process. At each stage, a product team reviews the product to make sure it meets key success criteria.
A typical phased New Product Development process looks like this:
Stage Gate Models Strengths
- Adds a framework for commercializing R&D ideas
- Great for products with large cross-functional teams.
- Minimizes risk for capital intensive products with long development cycles
- Reduces risk for a product launch
Stage Gate Models Weaknesses
- Slow. You may be months into a project before a customer sees a prototype.
- Weak on Product discovery is the notion of testing ideas and theories to see if the market wants our product. It includes activities such as coming up with presentations, potential questions, determining the appropriate market segments and potential customers, and identifying key contacts to speak with, often beginning with other product managers.. Where do those great ideas come from anyway? How will you motivate your company to focus on the right kinds of innovation? Where does the market fit in with this?
- Undefined Design & Development Approaches.
Stage Gate Models Conclusions
The stage gate approach added a new layer for new product planning and commercialization to the brand management approach. It is also one of the few frameworks where you will see a defined process for business fundamentals like:
- Market Sizing
- Five Forces Analysis
- Identifying Competitive Advantage
- Resourced Based Strategy
- Competitive Analysis
A lot of startup failures can be explained by the fact the founders were ignorant of business fundamentals and had a weak business case. B-school graduates look at these expensive market experiments and just say “Duh, what did you expect?”
Today, any business school prepares its graduates to develop a good business case with hours of case studies and instruction.
However, tech startups need more definition around product development and finding product market fit without the resources of traditional enterprises. Where do great prod ideas come from? How do designers and developers work with product managers and customers? How can a team of 5-10 people come up with a great idea and find product market fit?
The next major phase in product management introduced the role of Design Thinking in product innovation.
Next: Design Thinking
More from this series:
- Intro to Product Management Frameworks
- Brand Management
- Design Thinking
- Agile Methodologies
- Go-To-Market Frameworks
- Startup Frameworks
Ross Reynolds works a product manager in brand protection and media. He currently is VP of Product & Marketing for Marketly, a startup in Silicon Valley. He likes building products and helping new ventures grow.