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Rapid Achievement of a Top-Performing Idea-to-Launch Process

Ken Huskins, Principal, Stage-Gate International


During periods of economic uncertainty, the top performers are often the ones who retain or accelerate their focus on New Product Development (NPD). It is during these times two common thoughts could become top of mind for successful leadership teams:

  1. Although necessary in the short term, we can’t cost-cut ourselves to greatness, and
  2. We must innovate to survive.

When your CEO’s make statements like “our business needs to make its Product Innovation program a top performer”, there is an urgency to drive business benefit from NPD as soon as possible. However, there is a limited amount of time to make improvements in performance. And, there are multiple other constraints, such as people, funds, competing business initiatives, and a need to balance both the short and long term.

If your Product Innovation program is not a top performer today, where do you focus your improvement efforts first to get the biggest improvement in the shortest timeframe?  Look no further than the foundation or “backbone” of all successful Product Innovation programs:  the Idea-to-Launch Process.

Is it possible to implement (or re-build) a top-performing Idea-to-Launch process rapidly and without sacrificing quality?  The answer is YES. And, can a rapidly-implemented process have ‘staying power’, meaning that it is scalable for different project types, has a high adoption rate, and continuously drives positive outcomes?  Again the answer is YES. How?  Internalize these 5 tips:

  1. ‘Go back to basics’. What is a top-performing Idea-to-Launch process and what does it take to ‘win’ with all types of new products, services and solutions? As Dr. Cooper and Dr. Edgett’s 35 years of research have revealed, top-performing Product Innovators:
    • Use a formal Stage-Gate system to guide all cross-functional project team activities, make tough Go/Kill, prioritization and resource allocation decisions and make sure that ‘the right projects are being managed right’ throughout the entire Idea-to-Launch process
    • Make it mandatory; all NPD projects go through the Stage-Gate process, with no exceptions
    • Front-end load all projects with quality market and customer needs analyses that clearly define the product, service or solution and create the business case prior to development
    • Have scalable and flexible Stage-Gate process frameworks to control different types of projects according to their level of investment and complexity
    • Utilize a Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic Timeframe (SMART) process metrics to know how and when to make process improvements

    If your team doesn’t know what ‘the basics’ are or why they are critical to winning at new product development, then educate and train them. You can only make rapid improvements if you have alignment on the fundamentals.

  2. ‘Look in the mirror’. What elements of your Idea-to-Launch process are working and which are not?  How well do you stack up against both average and top performers?  And how aligned are your executives and your key process participants on their perceptions?  Before you kick-off a rapid Idea-to-Launch program, you need to know the starting point in order to determine the level of organizational and cultural change that is required to succeed. And you need a clear, objective ‘case for change’ that gets everyone aligned and focused in the shortest amount of time possible. If your organization doesn’t know or agree on how effective your Idea-to-Launch process is, then Benchmark it now. Get a concise report that identifies your strengths and weaknesses. Then, debrief your benchmarking results with a Product Innovation Expert to discuss and interpret the results with your leadership team. In short, quickly and objectively assess where you are at, align your team, and kick-start your Idea-to-Launch Process implementation.

  3. ‘Don’t reinvent the wheel’, you may only have one chance to ‘get it right’. More than 50% of Stage-Gate’s clients initially attempted to build their own Idea-to-Launch process from scratch before turning to us for help. If you have concluded that you need to implement or re-build your Idea-to-Launch process and you have limited time and resources, then don’t waste them re-researching or reinventing the best practices. Focus your organization on your primary area of expertise: managing change within your organization and getting your people to understand it, adopt and adhere to it. To minimize your cost, effort and risks, consider SG Navigator™. This is the most cost-effective roadmap, toolkit and methodology available today, not only to make sure that you have all the necessary best practices in place but that you are able to dramatically accelerate your entire implementation effort.

  4. ‘Don’t go it alone’. The Stage-Gate Idea-to-Launch process is intuitively simple but is in fact one of the most complex business processes any organization attempts to design and implement. Even the 20% of top performers say that they need to focus constantly on making their Idea-to-Launch process function properly due to the inherent difficulty in getting a fully cross-functional process to ‘stick’. No matter how enthusiastic or well-intentioned your team is or how knowledgeable they are about their areas of technical and functional expertise, the odds are that they will come up short when trying to formalize and socialize an idea-to-launch process when doing it for the first time. Leverage trained and experienced resources for your Customization and Implementation effort. If you need to quickly implement a top-performing process, then enlist the right amount of expert advice, facilitation support, and education to do it as effectively and efficiently as possible.

  5. ‘Don’t sacrifice the long-term in the short-term’. So, you’ve benchmarked yourself and gotten alignment on the need to re-build your Idea-to-Launch process. You’ve trained your team and selected a best-practices toolkit to accelerate the implementation process, enlisted the help and support your team needs to shore up its gaps. The final piece of advice is: put in place the mechanisms you need to continuously improve and refine your process and make it perform better. Attend best-practice Seminars to understand the other elements of a successful Product Innovation program. Make it a priority for your Champion and Process Manager to attend the annual Stage-Gate Summit to hear directly from top-performing organizations. Subscribe to Stage-Gate International’s Knowledge Community to stay on top of the latest research and leading-edge advice. Bottom-line: no one ever implements a top-performing Idea-to-Launch process in a single step, but build a roadmap of support and your rate of performance will continuously improve.

Our experience has shown that the first 90 days of Idea-to-Launch process design and implementation are critical to determining whether or not it will succeed. When time and resources are limited and you need the right combination of expertise, advice, facilitation and education to succeed. 

About Stage-Gate International

Stage-Gate International’s highly knowledgeable and experienced team of advisors have guided hundreds of organizations to successfully implement a best-practice Stage-Gate Idea-to-Launch process in as little as 4-8 weeks. We accelerate time-to-benefit with an extremely attractive return on investment by:

  • Crafting a balanced Idea-to-Launch Process Solution of expertise, advice, facilitation and best practices that fits your company’s situation, sense of urgency, and budget.
  • Collaborating with you so that your Idea-to-Launch process is implemented rapidly and your organization is equipped to ‘own’ and manage the process as quickly as possible.
  • Leveraging our market-leading accelerators, Benchmarker™ and SG Navigator™, to not only deliver all of the foundational elements straightaway, and ‘clear the path’ for rapid achievement of a  best-practice Idea-to-Launch process.

Ken Huskins

Ken HuskinsKen Huskins is a Principal in the Global Consulting Services practice of Stage-Gate International (SGI), providing product innovation performance improvement solutions to clients globally and across a wide range of sizes and types of organizations. Huskins has expertise in new product and service innovation, strategic planning and product portfolio management, and has extensive experience facilitating the buy-in required to make innovation change successful.

Ken has worked with innovation leaders in over 75 organizations around the world and across multiple industries, including Aerospace, Medical Products, Automotive, Chemicals, Consumer Packaged Goods, Electronics, Food, Software Development, Financial Services and Industrial Products. Prior to joining Stage-Gate International, Ken gained over 11 years of new product development and portfolio management consulting experience in multiple industries. Ken is certified by the Product Development and Management Association as a New Product Development Professional (NPDP).