Stage Gate in PLM is for bygone era

Ok so my heading is a bit rude but it was meant to only catch your attention. In the early 90s, the stage gate approach became the standard blueprint for product development.  The approach split the process of product development with accompanying decision gates like: generating concepts, scoping a particular concept, generating a business case, detailed planning for execution, performing the development work, validating the design, releasing the product, and finally, supporting a product.

Going by the above, stage gate defines the information flow, decision flow, and work flow through the product development cycle. But does stage gate actually support product innovation? The findings over the last few years show the following problems with the stage gate approach:

  • The emphasis is more on form than on actual discussions and decisions.
  • Stagegate is more of a fit-in approach where all projects follow a set pattern – this leaves little scope for innovation.
  • It serializes activities which consume more time and resources than actually required.

This is not to wash away the utility of stage gate process to the product development process. Stage gate does form an important foundation for product development. However, it does not promote product innovation. The reason is simple – as stated above, state gate requires all project discussions and decisions to follow a set path. Innovation, on the other hand, requires breaking barriers, out-of-the-box thinking, and the need to travel the path unknown.

Stage gate focusses more on management and overlooks the links between technologies and business opportunities. As a result, the new product, instead of being new in terms of innovation, actually becomes an extension of the existing product. So the foundation remains the same but new features are added.

The other disadvantage with the stage gate process is that the product development cycle is limited to the pre-defined market and so it is market-driven and not market-defining.

Also, given that stage gate is a more serialized process, it promotes an operating environment that can lead to handoffs, rework, or a disconnected view of customer needs. So there is a need to go beyond the stage gate process and to devise a new framework that allows for innovative thinking and market exploration.

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