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Stage-gate Process

What is a Stage-Gate Process?

Stage-gate process refers to a specific technique in project management where the process is divided into distinct stages, or phases, demarcated by decision points known as gates. At each gate, current results and information, like the specific case, risk analysis, and resource availability, determine the next decision.

Most commonly, there are five phases in stage-gate processes: scoping the breadth of work based on the initial brainstorming session; formulating a business case; developing the structure and fleshing it out; testing and either validating or correcting errors; and launching the product or service. Typically, the gates that separate each stage consist of addressing major themes: quality of execution, business rationale, and action plan. When addressing these concepts, there are five possible answers: go, conditional go, kill, hold, and recycle.

Because some industries carry a higher level of risk and failure than others during the innovation process (e.g. pharmaceuticals, technology, etc.), incorporating regularly-scheduled safeguards helps mitigate risk and failure before allowing them to grow too much. One of the earliest and most famous stage-gate process examples can be traced back to NASA in the 1960s during the Apollo and Gemini projects; since then, many organizations have adopted it into their own workflows.

Other Names for Stage-Gate Process:

  • Phase gate process
  • Phase review process
  • Front-end loading
  • Big design up front
  • Waterfall process

Why is Stage-Gate Process Important?

The stage-gate process is important for several reasons: it helps those involved work on the right task at the right time; it minimizes loss of resources; mitigates risk; keeps the original scope from growing out of control; offers flexibility in adjusting details and direction; improves cross-team collaboration; and highlights errors at the earliest possible point.

When it comes to innovation, often, the endpoint can’t be learned until well into the process because of competing players and data, which is why a structured process is vital for maximizing success. Businesses value predictability because it helps make budget planning and resource allocation clear and easy to understand. Plus using the stage-gate process reduces risk and increases the chances of success.

If knowledge is power, then the stage-gate process epitomizes that concept, especially when it comes to innovation. Having enough – and the right kind of – information is a key tool in managing risk and ensuring project success.