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Ask the Stage-Gate Expert - Dr. Cooper Answers Your Top Questions

Are speed to market, fast-changing customer needs, and insufficient resources a challenge in your organization? If so, an Agile Stage Gate approach could help. This approach works for physical products and is faster and more flexible than traditional stage-gate. Plus, it can fit within your current set up – no need to buy or overhaul anything. However, implementation is not a slam-dunk, and many of you have asked us what to do. So we turned tDr. Robert Cooper, the world's leading authority on Agile Stage Gate, for answers. Here are two of the most common questions we have received -- watch this page for more to come.  And please feel free to email your questions for Dr. Cooper to; we’ll send you his reply.

Question #1:  Are there still gates in an Agile system? What is their role?

Dr. Cooper:  Yes, gates play a vital role in Agile-Stage-Gate. They are not only a quality check-point, they are a resource commitment decision. They allow senior management to periodically review the project, kill weak projects and reallocate resources to better initiatives. Most importantly, they ensure enough resources are committed to complete approved projects in an accelerated fashion.  Gates still have essentially the same Go/Kill criteria as in the traditional gating model – financial criteria such as NPV or scorecards to rate the attractiveness of projects – since investment decisions must still be made. However, the deliverables for each gate are usually leaner, less granular and more flexible than in the classic gating model. Deliverables are also more tangible, such as product designs or rapid prototypes, rather than long reports or slide presentations

Finally, gates allow senior management to track the progress and on-time performance of the project: when to deliver the product on the longer-term horizon scale remains defined and a key part of Agile-Stage-Gate. 

Question #2: How can an Agile strategy help manage complexity? (Projects that are uncertain, ill-defined and ambiguous with many tenuous assumptions)  

Dr. Cooper: Most firms’ new product processes emphasize extensive front-end homework to define the product and justify the project before development gets underway. Robust up-front homework and VoC work early in the project are key to new product success (Cooper, 2013), but not all projects are clearly definable. Some highly uncertain projects – those in new markets and using new technologies – will be near impossible to nail down. No amount of VoC work, technical assessment or market analysis will validate all the assumptions prior to the Development stage. Understanding what the customer values and what will work technically only comes about through experimentation.

The rapid sprint-iterations in Agile-Stage-Gate encourage experimentation and testing – build something, test it with the customer and in the lab, and then revise.  In this way, key assumptions are validated and major uncertainties dealt with, but in real time and as the project moves along. Understanding product requirements and envisioning a technical solution does not occur before Development. Instead Agile-Stage-Gate is done as part of the Development and Testing stages of the project – learning on the fly. The new Agile-Stage-Gate hybrid model handles highly complex, ambiguous, ill-defined projects well, and in fact, sees its greatest benefits there.

For further insight:

  • Dr. Cooper's latest book, featuring Agile-Stage-Gate, Adaptive & Accelerated New-Product Development, will be released September 19.  Pre-order it here.
  • He will be teaching a hands-on course, Accelerating New Product Development: Going Agile, at MIT Conference Center in Cambridge, MA on September 25-26, 2017. Participants receive personal guidance from Dr. Cooper, customized project canvas to make your gating system more adaptive and flexible, an Agile-Stage-Gate hybrid model for physical/hardware products, Scorecards and the Productivity Index for gates with teeth, a copy of his new book, and more. Details here.