Gate meetings are one of the most critical components of a successful Stage-Gate process. They serve as the decision points of the process. What they are not, or at least not intended to be, is a technical review of the progress of any one project. As Dr. Cooper says, “as go the gates, so goes the process”.
But what is it that makes a gate meeting successful? As an experienced Stage-Gate practitioner, I can tell you that having the right KPIs available for review isn’t enough. You need gate meetings to be regularly scheduled, with all parties aware of the expectations for the meeting. Gatekeepers are expected to have reviewed the project deliverables and submitted any questions or comments to the team in advance of the meeting. Project teams are to have prepared the necessary deliverables for the gate in question in advance, at least a week, and come prepared with answers to the questions submitted by the gatekeepers.
Once in the meeting, cases can be made by each project team and then a decision is rendered by the gatekeepers using a scorecard and one of the following votes, “GO”, “KILL” “HOLD” or “RECYCLE”. A “GO” decision gives the team the go ahead to move on to the next stage and a “KILL” decision means all stop. Deferment of a decision is not an option.
But now that you’re in the meeting, what tools can you bring to ensure that you and the team is making the most appropriate decision at this critical juncture in the NPD process? Below I have outlined the top three tools that I believe are critical in the consideration process.
- Standardized deliverables – maybe obvious to some, but critical none the less. At a point, shortly after a gate meeting, the question is going to be asked, “How and where does this fit into our portfolio?” The only way to ensure fair and consistent analysis of one project versus another is to ensure the playing field is level. How best do you do that? Standardized, yet flexible, deliverables. For example, a project being reviewed at a gate 3, (where the team is asking for funding and resources to go into development) should use the same NPV and ECV calculator, marketing assessment deliverable, project planning tools, and format for defining the product to be developed as all other projects in any given portfolio. All projects are subject to the same reporting requirements.
- Scorecards – scorecards are a necessary tool needed to ensure the gatekeepers are asking the right questions and comparing one project to the next using consistent criteria. Those criteria should be, but can vary, strategic alignment, market attractiveness, competitive advantage, core competencies, technical feasibility, and financial risk/reward. Each scoring category should use a scale of 0 to 10. I recommend having four anchor points, 0, 4, 7, and 10, where each one defines the level compliance with regards to the organization or business unit for which the project is assigned. For example, a score of 10 in the category of strategic fit would indicate that the product idea in question is completely aligned with the innovation strategy of that organization. Which leads me to the final tool…
- The spider diagram – the facilitator uses this tool to display the scores submitted for both the gatekeepers and the team to review and drive discussion around potential problem areas, i.e. the project is not strategically aligned or maybe the gatekeeper representing R&D does not feel the project is technically feasible despite the marketing gatekeeper stating how much of a competitive advantage the product will bring. In a nutshell, this simple but very effective charting tool will quickly point out areas of difference of opinion and then allow for discussion amongst the gatekeepers which leads to effective decision making and more effective portfolio management.
Critical as they may be, these three tools only allow for the project in question to be evaluated effectively and fairly on an individual basis. The next level of consideration asks how does the project fit into the portfolio from both human and capital resource expectation as well as timing and financial return. That will be the topic I cover in my next blog where I link the successful gate meeting decision to the question of portfolio management. Stay tuned!
If you’re interested in this topic and want to learn more, I invite you to join me for the live webcast “Killing with Confidence” on December 15th. It will be a candid discussion on killing projects with Stage-Gate International. I will share techniques and tools to help you make the best decision at your next go/kill gate meeting.