Bringing Agile Innovation into the Stage Gate Process

Bringing Agile Innovation Into The Stage Gate Process

Everyone is talking about how to speed up their innovation process. Or, at least make it more efficient. It is the current hot topic, especially amongst the multinational Goliaths.

And with good reason…

Starts-ups and digital business models are proving over and over again that they are winning at the innovation game. And this is all through their adoption of the agile innovation philosophy. That is, to learn fast and iteratively, experiment, and implement continual improvements.

But how does a large manufacturer adopt some of these more effective ways of innovating? When you make millions of something, the drive is for production efficiency. The system is not designed to make nimble changes daily, or even monthly. It is a completely different type of animal.


It Is Not Really About Speed, It Is About Efficiency

a black and red speedometer which measures efficiency %

We all know the benefits of getting a product to market early and fast; it will face less competition and initially earn higher margins.

But, getting products to market faster doesn’t work if you are creating the wrong products in the first place. Move too fast and you could be forfeiting quality for speed and rushing to market with a less than optimal solution, that fails in the first year.

Applying the agile philosophy is as much about quality, efficiency, and the elimination of wastage as it is about speed.


The Stage Gate Process Is Not At Fault

a flat-lay shot of a hand writing the words "killing point" in a notebook

Product producing businesses tend to operate their innovation process utilising the stage gate principles. We say principles as that is what they should be. The stage gate process (sometimes referred to as the waterfall process) was designed to help business make informed decisions, prioritise projects, allocate resources and know when to terminate projects. And this is still needed.

However, the stage gate innovation process in many businesses has grown into a bit of a beast. It is the procedures and protocols that have built up around the decision-making gates that have resulted in wastefulness, inefficiency, and strangely, lack of control.


General Principles Of Agile Innovation Process Efficiency

technical looking diagram of "agile development" symbols of a key, a target, coggs, a laptop, etc in hexagonal shapes

Here are some of the key principles of the agile innovation methodology that can and should be used to update the typical stage gate process: –

  • Invest in learning about the problem to be solved in detail. Every £1 and minute spent prior to concept testing saves a large and disproportionate amount of money and time in the latter stages. Often businesses rush into ideation without a deep and detailed understanding of the consumer problem or need. Go slower from the setting of the innovation strategy through to concept building to enable a much faster pace later. This will also insure against a good idea ending up in the bin and having to go back to earlier stages and repeat the process AGAIN!
  • Bring the voice of the consumer into the process as early as possible. And certainly no later than idea development. In an agile development philosophy, the customer is a vital part of the team.
  • Feasibility tends to be brought in to the process too late. Viability parameters really should be identified prior to ideation. Ideation is not about a large quantity of blue-sky ideas but the quality of potentially viable ideas.
  • Enable people to experiment. NPD is often focused on the practicalities of making something – a tangible product. Instead, this perspective needs to be spun into being about people. How do you enable people internally as well as the end user/purchaser to experiment and play with building potential solutions?
  • Not jumping to the answer too quickly.  Often there is pressure to find a solution fast. Instead, the emphasis needs to be placed on (and breathing space given to) identifying assumptions and building hypotheses to test. Although it sounds slow, it will make the process run a lot faster in the post concept testing phase.
  • Making the idea real. The quicker you can bring an idea alive for people, the faster issues and flaws get identified. The faster this happens, the quicker a workaround can be found. Or, perhaps even more importantly, a poor idea can be killed, saving lots of wasted time and money.

In Summary

There is no need to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’. The stage gate process is not fundamentally broken. Instead, it can be modernised and made far more efficient and effective by applying the key principles of agile innovation methodology.

It will mean reallocating resources and spending more time and money prior to concept testing. However, this does save an awful lot of wastage and stop poor decision making throughout the rest of process.

Ultimately, it delivers the key innovation goal of a substantially higher innovation success rate, more efficiently.

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Shelly GreenwayShelly Greenway is a front-end innovation strategist and partner at The Strategy Distillery – a brand innovation consultancy that specialises in opportunity hunting and proposition development. Their success rates are driven by their proprietary consumer co-creation IP. Follow @ChiefDistiller

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Shelly Greenway

Front-end Innovation Strategist at The Strategy Distillery, a brand innovation consultancy that exists to increase NPD success rates.




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