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Corning’s Five-Stage Stage-Gate process, developed after a careful study of how successful project teams work toward developing winning new products, is now well accepted and adopted as a project management technique for managing innovation and developing new products. Using a stage-gate model optimizes the efficiency of a new product development process and allows the management to detect and kill poor projects at a very early stage. Thus the management is left to focus on and redirect resources toward potentially winning projects.
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Corning’s Stage-Gate Process for New Product Development
In today’s competitive world, most companies start off far too many product development projects, more than they can handle with the available limited resources that they have. While this causes most projects to stay in the pipeline for longer than expected, the ones that do get completed do not guarantee a winning new product. With too many things on hand, often the project team wastes too much energy, time, initiative, and resources on low-value projects.
However, with the implementation of Corning’s five-stage stage-gate process, the goals and direction for every new product development project become clear. Also, problems with projects and new product ideas can be spotted well in time, and the waste of resources can be prevented. The stage-gate technique works as a self-audit tool which, besides auditing the progress of the project, helps ensure that all resources have been put to effective use. Since the project is evaluated for its latent potential at each stage-gate, if it doesn’t seem profitable it can be killed and all resources directed toward more promising and potentially profitable new product projects.
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The Importance of Stage-Gates in Corning’s New Product Development Process
The five stage-gates of Corning’s process work as multilevel check points to continually evaluate the potential of the new product development project. Essentially, the technique focuses on trimming down the number of projects and keeping only the better projects by killing all those projects that fail to prove their potential at each stage-gate. Those that successfully pass through the gates are provided the resources to move forward.
At each of the five gates, the project teams and management hold a meeting to determine whether the new product project meets the pre-defined success standards. These real-time gate meetings are held after the completion of each stage, and further resources are allocated to the project only if the designated gatekeepers approve the project. Gatekeepers are mainly the senior members of the project team and have complete authority over the allocation of resources. At each of the five stage-gates, all the members of the team communicate about the goals to be achieved in the subsequent stage, which further enhances the effectiveness of the entire product development process.
The constant monitoring of the new product development process at each stage-gate ensures only the winning product ideas make it to the end.
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Stage 0 – Discovery
As the name indicates, this pre-stage to the five stages of new product development is mostly confined to discovering opportunities and using these opportunities to generate ideas for new products. Brainstorming and group thinking sessions are common strategies used to generate new product ideas. Also, it is at this time that the project management team decides whether or not it wishes to pursue a particular new product idea. Only ideas that pass this basic screening enter the actual five-stage stage-gate process.
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Stage 1 – Scoping
It’s the first evaluative stage; a basic evaluation of the merits and the marketability of the new product idea are assessed at this juncture. The project team will analyze the potential strengths and weaknesses of the product with reference to the corresponding markets and potential customers. The likely competition and the threats from the competitors also should be evaluated at this stage. The three main things to determine while assessing the competition are:
- Who are the competitors,
- What is the equivalent product that’s ruling the markets, and
- How can the new product gain an edge over the existing competition?
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Stage 2 – Building Business Case
This is one of the critical stages in Corning’s five-stage stage-gate process, as it is here that thorough evaluation of the new product idea is carried out. Projects that don’t show concrete evidence of profitability are dumped or altered significantly to make them potentially profitable. Since this process involves a lot of detailing, it is the most difficult and resource intensive, and it is more like a complete process in itself. It comprises four steps:
- Product Definition and Analysis: This step involves a series of tasks to substantiate the new product idea. It begins with identifying the consumer’s needs and wants, and understanding what the consumer values. What follows is a detailed market analysis to determine the market matrix comprising market size, growth rate, buyer behavior, market trends, and distribution channels. With this matrix in place, its time to do a competitive analysis to determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of the new product idea under consideration. Also, technical feasibility of the product in terms of production technology, costing, and launching must be evaluated at this stage. Toward the completion of this step, product prototypes may be developed to seek the project team’s and consumer’s feedback.
- Build Business Case: This is the documentation stage wherein the concrete details of the product and the supporting rationale for working on the specific product idea are documented. Some of the prime components of the documented report may include assumptions made, supportive reasoning, regulatory requirements, health and safety considerations, and external factors, besides all the information gathered in the above step.
- Developing a Project Plan: Here a detailed plan is designed, with clearly established timelines and milestones. Details about the resources required and personnel needed for project completion must form a part of the project plan.
- Feasibility Assessment: Finally a feasibility review is carried out, in coordination with all the other departments, to make a final assessment of the new project idea.
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Stage 3 - Development
So far things have been mostly in discussions and documents, but in this phase the new product idea is put-up in a more concrete form, and the actual design of the product, the manufacturing process, and the marketing strategies are established. Its here that the previously developed plans are put into action. The project management team establishes specific, realistic, actionable, and measurable timelines and milestones. In keeping with the established details and standards, a prototype is developed that is subjected to rigorous testing and evaluation.
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Stage 4 - Testing and Validation
Next in the Corning’s product development process is actual testing to provide validation for the product and everything related to the product like production process, cost evaluations, etc. This testing and validation of the new product idea is carried out at three levels:
- Near testing - focusing on finding problems and issues related to the product by in-house teams and partners,
- Field testing - to gather consumer feedback, by introducing a near-similar product to a selected group of customers, and
- Market testing - by carrying out trial sales to build a sales forecast.
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Stage 5 – Launch
With all said and done, it’s finally time to begin the production and commercially release the actual product into the market. This is where the five-stage stage-gate process culminates and the final product that has met all the requirements reaches the markets for sale. From here on the sales and marketing plans developed earlier will come into action to promote and market the new product.
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Corning’s Five-Stage Stage-Gate process is an excellent project management technique to manage innovation and help a business to expand horizons by introducing new profitable products. It serves as a critical procedural guide that helps businesses with new product development from beginning to end. It’s a dynamic way of finding the most profitable product ideas and focusing all the resources toward the development of the most profitable new products.
- Image credit:
- Martijnvdsteen on Wikimedia Commons
- Sidharth Thakur
- Stage Gate International. Stage-Gate Innovation Summit '09 at http://www.stage-gate.com/Summit_09/faculty.php.
- Gunu, Osman Masahudu. How Black & Decker and Xerox Corporations Used the Corning’s Five-Stage Stage Gate as Innovative tool to Stay Competitive on knol.google.com at http://knol.google.com/k/how-black-decker-and-xerox-corporations-used-the-corning-s-five-stage-stage#