Make Phase-Gate work for you

Phase-Gate processes are in widespread use for the management of new product development efforts.

I often hear questions about how to better and more effectively implement them. A recent inter-company survey sheds some interesting and objective light on the subject. I think you’ll find the results compelling—I certainly did.

Here are the findings in a nutshell

Use a well-defined, transparent, documented process to manage the projects. Phase-Gate works, but don’t go overboard on hoops and procedures.
Balance the product development portfolio with long- and short-term projects that are linked to corporate strategy. Prioritize the portfolio, track progress and review the status regularly.
Pair a good process with seasoned, trained project managers that are allowed to focus on driving the projects to completion.
Take the time to review your internal processes, see how they measure up to these three simple guidelines, and think about how to modify your product development process to come more in line with them. It will save you time, money and frustration.

Here’s a summary of the data

The study surveyed 18 well-known, successful northwest companies in the healthcare, software, aerospace, utilities, biotechnology, and manufacturing sectors and was conducted by Weyerhauser and presented at a local Product Development Management Association meeting.

  • 100% companies were found to use a Phase-Gate process; 61% were defined and prescriptive processes and the remaining 39% had elements of flexibility. 94% of the systems used were developed in-house.
  • 100% used defined deliverables for each phase and 94% use specific templates for gate reviews.
  • 100% agreed that proper gate-keeping is key.
  • 100% felt that “enough but not too much” process maximizes success.
  • 100% agreed that the process and gate reviews must be transparent to employees.
  • 100% agreed that the process must be driven by highly trained, successful project managers and in fact required PMP certification for project managers.
  • 100% employed a balanced portfolio of long-term and short-term projects and used a common database to manage them.
  • 100% stated their projects were aligned with strategic initiatives and were reviewed at least monthly.
  • 94% had defined, centralized education, training and mentoring programs in project management and felt that learning from post-project reviews is invaluable.
  • 89% felt a prioritization scheme for allocating resources was necessary for success.
  • 83% felt that project management experience is more important than Phase-Gate process experience and that not all business and technical people make good project managers. 100% felt that project managers needed “soft skills” (communication, influence and negotiation, team leading) to be successful.
  • 78% paired project managers with technical specialists in order to separate project execution from technical support.