Innovation is not for the faint of heart. At times, managing innovation can feel like the myth of Sisyphus, repeatedly pushing a boulder up hill. Particularly when navigating the stage gate process.
Most organizations use some form of stage gate process to manage innovation. New product ideas must pass through a series of stage gates, where they are poked, prodded, and vetted before moving on to the next stage. In theory, this leads to stronger ideas. But in practice, stage gates don’t necessarily result in survival of the fittest ideas; they can lead to survival of the safest.
Stage gates work great at identifying risks. The problem is that bold and meaningfully unique ideas inherently carry risks. The path of least resistance in a stage gate process is to launch an idea that plays it safe. But by definition, ideas that play it safe won’t really make an impact. The world is already full of safe ideas.
As Accenture put it,
“A primary goal of the NPD funnel is to ferret out the best innovations by winnowing them through a series of stage gates that reduce risk. The reality is often very different. Driven by risk aversion and poor risk management capabilities, the process often weeds out big ideas in favor of small ones. Decision-making bodies often send back proposals for additional research and work, creating time-consuming, creativity-numbing rework loops. Anything but agile and iterative, the process can be a slow, linear march that rarely moves the growth needle …
“In many companies, the union of innovation and risk management is formed around an innovation-choking funnel process: a series of stage gates designed to reduce uncertainty as exposure to risk grows. For many companies, the funnels end up producing only weak, incremental ideas.”
Championing innovation means finding a way through, addressing risks without diluting what makes the idea remarkable. We have to remember that in innovation, playing it safe is risky. I’d love to hear your thoughts on navigating the stage gate process.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)