Is your innovation project ready for the next phase?

In our last blog about managing and monitoring your innovation portfolio, we spoke shortly about stages, stage gates and making stage gate decisions. This subject deserves more explanation, because those divisions and decisions can make or break your innovation projects. They are there to manage the progress and to help you decide if the project is ready for the next phase.

Do not do this correctly, and your projects with either not advance when they should or they will advance prematurely. In both cases this could lead to failure. Obviously, we will help you avoid that and to set the correct goals, to ask the right questions and to maneuver yourself through the stage gates like a pro.

First things first: the definitions

1. Stage
In our last blog we spoke about the three challenges every innovation project faces; ideation, validation and scale up. These challenges consist of multiple stages each, namely exploration and discovery (ideation), external- and internal validation (validation) and launch and accelerate (scale-up). As your project progresses, it gradually moves through all these steps in your innovation funnel. A stage is therefore a:

“phase in the innovation process in which you can work on a set of defined deliverables that support the objective of that phase.”

2. Stage gate
Each stage takes up a longer period in time, whereas every stage gate represents a key moment in your timeline. It is located at the end of each stage. Its goal is to proof that you are ready to advance to the next one. You analyze your results, you compare them to the previously set stage deliverables and the stage objectives. After doing this, you will be able to make the decision: are you ready to step through the stage gate and advance your project to the next stage?

A stage gate can be defined as:

“a decision-making moment at the end of a stage, in which you decide whether the deliverables of that stage meet the criteria that have been defined to proceed to the next stage.”

3. Stage objectives, deliverables, criteria and tools
Stepping through the stage gate means progress. And to measure your readiness, you have set objectives, deliverables and criteria for that particular stage. You have also listed the tools you want to use for further developing your innovation. Let’s have a look at these definitions a bit closer.

  • A stage objective is a clear and concise summary of what you want to achieve during that stage. Identify innovation opportunities, for example, when you are in Exploration.
  • A stage deliverable is a list of what your innovation team must contribute during that stage. It can be setting a definition of the target market, for example, during Discovery.
  • Stage criteria are the results you need to pass the stage gate. Without these, you cannot move to the next stage. An example is a certain turnover potential or a problem-Solution fit, in External Validation.
  • Finally, you also make a list of tools you will require to achieve your objectives, deliverables and criteria. An example is the use of a canvas or roadmap.

Applying this your own innovation portfolio

These definitions, together with our innovation funnel, help you set up your own stage gate model. However, it is crucial that you apply this to your own organization. The beauty of our model is that it can be adjusted and tailored to any situation, and it is up to you to develop your own workable approach.

You do this by specifying the stage objectives, deliverables, criteria and tools for your own process. The general layout of innovation funnel will remain the same, although you might want to tweak that here and there as well. It is the specific information that you add, that makes it applicable to you especially.

So, the four elements we discussed above need to be filled in to make it relevant to your innovation projects and your organization. That way, you make your own waterproof model for every innovation. You determine whether you are ready to advance, or if you need to hit more goals before you step through the gate. Do this well, and your progress will be timely and also appropriate.

Make stage gate decisions with a growth board

Putting this all on paper is one thing, but actually applying it to real situation is another. And we always advise our clients to set up a so-called “growth board”. This is a carefully selected group of senior managers from your organization, who decided over the progression of projects from one stage to the next. They own the key to the stage gate and will only open it after they have analyzed the progress. They also have to make sure that everything is in place in the next stage, for you to be able to advance.

The responsibilities of the growth board

This growth board should consist of members of all stakeholder groups. They make data driven decisions which means that these need to be presented to them by the parties involved in the innovation process.

Your growth board will have many responsibilities, and you can set them. These are a few examples of what they would do:

  • Have ownership of every stage gate framework.
  • Stage gate management and decision making.
  • Stakeholder management.
  • Funding of initiatives, through metered funding
  • Capturing new business needs, both internal and external.

The many advantages a growth board can offer

Installing a growth board has many advantages. The most important one, is to secure ownership of the challenges innovation offers. Moreover, by getting the senior management involved in this way, you will face less resistance when having to make your case for funding, supplies, tools, resources or machinery.

A growth board will function as the ambassadors for innovation in your company and change the mindset of its employees. With the senior management behind you and involved in what you do, you will face much less resistance and a lot more support from all layers of your company.

To summarize: this is how you make stage decisions

We always advice our clients to install a growth board as early in the process as possible. Together you can fill in your innovation funnel, including the criteria, deliverables, objectives and tools needed at every stage. Do not forget that you can (and should) change, add, remove and adjust this content at any time.

Make sure you set the correct stage decisions and when you reach that moment, you will know exactly what to measure, test and analyze, to be able to go thought your stage gate. It will take some time at the start, but your projects will hugely benefit from it. If anything, by managing them this way, you are always ready to advance. And that means a quicker turnover and completion of your innovation projects.

Do you want to set up a proper innovation portfolio in your organization? Then we recommend you watch our webinar and download our free playbook. We also provide a Portfolio Management Framework for you in our Growth warehouse section of the website. We also published 3 previous blogs on this subject already, which take you through implementing your own innovation portfolio. All this is readily available on our website; use it to your advantage. Also, we are curious to hear about how your organization promotes innovation, so feel free to contact us.