The stage gate process – enabling innovation agility and readiness

Nicholas Solomon

Opinion: The stage gate process (sometimes also called a technology readiness level) has increasingly become a necessary function within any innovation workflow.

Many companies and institutions place a high value on innovation. Once believed to be a more corporate directed process, academic and government entities are now also adopting this process to improve the velocity and quality of high value innovation endeavors to harness and commercialise the value of their intellectual property (IP).

Given the complexities and investment that goes into innovation, it can sometimes be a challenge identifying where in the innovation journey a company or institution currently stands. The stage gate process is a simple way to gauge where your innovation is positioned. This process can differ slightly depending on the type of organisation and its business directives.

Broken down generally, the stage gate steps equate to the following:

Stage 0 Determine if there is a need or an issue that needs solving.

Stage 1  Learn as much as possible about this need, generate ideas and iterate as much as possible.

Stage 2 Assess and investigate ideas. Take the opportunity to identify key concepts; gaps in the research; and types and sources of evidence to inform practice.

Stage 3 Highlight the issue, identify alternative solutions, recommend a preferred solution, describe the implementation approach.

Stage 4 Focus on new product design with preliminary testing with potential customers, and preparation of a production plan and launch plan.

Stage 5 Tests are conducted (in a lab, in the factory, with customers, etc.) and product launch scenarios are ratified.

Stage 6 The product enters the market, with monitoring of production and quality. Constant surveillance of the market is strongly recommended.

This process focuses on innovations during the project management or lifecycle. Here, the stage gate process divides a project into different decision points that influence the innovation’s movement to the next stage.

The stage gate process is considered important when developing new processes, product lines or operations. Stage gates determine whether to continue with the development of an innovation. If the decision is approved, then it is presumed the innovation meets the criteria to move to the next stage.

However, if it is not approved, a company/institution can determine it is not good enough or it is unsuitable for further progression and development. This is sometimes known as an innovation ‘kill’.

The stage gate process generally should consider the investment already directed to an innovation, the current and changing market conditions, any potential disruptive obstacles for the innovation and resources required moving forward.

Using a process similar to the above has many advantages. The obvious one here is money/investment saving by not committing to ideas or innovation which aren’t financially viable.

Additionally, the process can aid in advancing a more holistic approach to innovation by including multiple team members in the decision-making process and providing structure over the course of development.

All members of a team are responsible for the decision-making process and are informed at each stage, therefore aiding the innovation scope of a project to remain in-check. This should therefore provide a more streamlined process moving forward.

A great aspect of the stage gate process is that you can confidently plan around and throughout the process of innovation.

A company/institution can gain the foresight of bringing in the appropriate expertise when required. This may mean engaging data experts for insights into the IP landscape, consultants who can find different applications for your innovation or legal experts trained in navigating the IP process to help push your innovation through to launch.

Increasingly these days, there are service firms and providers who can help provide the insight and guidance needed to navigate through the stage gate process. Knowing when to engage these experts is crucial in maintaining a smooth project trajectory. However, with the correct planning and stage gate model, this is easily achievable.

Nicholas Solomon is IP Regional Solutions Consultant for Clarivate. This article was produced in partnership with Clarivate. The topic discussed here, including using patent and literature intelligence to help shape research & development, is touched on at the recent Clarivate IP Forum Australasia.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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