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The Stage-Gate® System: A Road Map from Idea to Launch –
An Intro & Summary
Summary: Article summarizes a number of articles and books by the author to provide a superb
introduction to the Stage-Gate idea-to-launch system. A “must read” for anyone starting out on the
design (or re-design) of their company’s idea-to-launch system, or for anyone unfamiliar with how
Citations and Sources: This article is taken from a number of published articles and book chapters:
R.G. Cooper, “Stage-Gate Idea to Launch System,” in Wiley International Encyclopedia of
Marketing: Product Innovation & Management, Volume 5, B.L. Bayus (ed.), West Sussex, UK:
R.G. Cooper, “The Stage-Gate® Product Innovation System: From Idea to Launch, in
Encyclopedia of Technology & Innovation Management, ed. by V.K. Narayanan and G.
O’Connor: Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2010, Chapter 24, 157-167.
R.G. Cooper, “A Stage-Gate
Idea-to-Launch Framework for Driving New Products to
Market”, Chapter 7.1 in: Project Portfolio Management: A Practical Guide to Selecting
Projects, Managing Portfolios, and Maximizing Benefits, ed. by H. Levine, San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass Business & Management, John Wiley & Sons Imprint, 2005.
R.G. Cooper, “Stage-Gate New Product Development Processes: A Game Plan From Idea to
Launch”, in: The Portable MBA in Project Management, ed. by E. Verzuh, Hoboken, N.J.: John
Wiley & Sons, 2003, p. 309-346.
R.G. Cooper, “Doing It Right – Winning With New Products,” Ivey Business Journal, July-
August 2000, 54-60.
R.G. Cooper, Winning at New Products: Creating Value Through Innovation, 4th edition, New
York, NY: Basic Books, Perseus Books Group, 2011.
R.G. Cooper, “What’s next? After Stage-Gate,” Research-Technology Management, Vol 157,
No. 1, Jan-Feb 2014, pp 20-31.
R.G. Cooper, “The Next Stage for Stage-Gate,” Pragmatic Marketer, Winter 2014, pp. 20-24.
The Stage-Gate® System:
A Road Map from Idea to Launch
Robert G. Cooper
Facing increased pressure to reduce the cycle time yet improve their new product success rates,
companies look to new product methodologies or Stage-Gate® systems1 to manage, direct and
accelerate their product innovation efforts [see endnote ]. This article outlines what the Stage-Gate
system is, why it is important, and how it has been modified to handle different types of development
What Is a Stage Gate System?
The Stage-Gate® system is a conceptual and operational roadmap for moving a new product project
from idea to launch – a blueprint for managing the product innovation process to improve effectiveness
and efficiency [see endnotes and ]. And it’s a roadmap that builds in best practices and critical
success drivers so when properly followed, success is all but assured.
Note: A “product” is anything that you take to the marketplace for sale or consumption. Can be an
intangibles (service product) or a tangible (physical product), also an IT (software) product; and any
combination of these.
Stage-Gate breaks the innovation process into a predetermined set of stages. Each stage defines a set of
prescribed, cross-functional and parallel tasks to be undertaken by the project team, much the way a
playbook defines the actions to be taken by a North American football team as they move the ball
down the field to the goal (see Figure 1 below). Into these stages are built best practices and critical
The entrance to each stage is a gate: These gates are analogous to huddles in this football game. Gates
are meetings that serve as the quality control and Go/Kill check points. At these gate meetings, the
project is scrutinized by senior management: They review the progress of the project; determine
whether the criteria necessary to move forward have been met; and either approve the tasks and
resources for the next stage (Go), ask for more information (Recycle), or stop the project (Kill or
This stage-and-gate format leads to the name “Stage- Gate system”. Other names include phase-gate,
gating system, and phase review process. The term “Stage- Gate” first appeared in print in 1988,
although its roots go back earlier (endnote 2).
What the Stage-Gate® System Looks Like
1 Stage-Gate® is a trademark of R.G. Cooper and Associates Consultants Inc., R.G. Cooper, and also Stage-Gate Inc..
Stage-Gate breaks the new product project into discrete and identifiable stages, typically four, five, or
six in number, as in Figure 1. These stages are the plays – where players execute prescribed actions or
tasks. Each stage is designed to gather information and undertake tasks needed to progress the project
to the next gate or decision point. Some key points here:
Each stage is cross-functional: There is no “R&D stage” or “Marketing stage”; rather, every stage
is Marketing, R&D, Operations, Engineering, etc.
Each stage consists of a set of parallel tasks undertaken by people from different functional areas
within the firm – that is, tasks within a stage are done concurrently and in parallel, much like a
team of NA football players executing a play.
The tasks within each stage are designed to gather critical information and to reduce the project’s
unknowns and uncertainties. Each stage costs more than the preceding one: the system is an
incremental commitment one. But with each step-wise increase in project cost, the unknowns and
uncertainties are driven down, so that risk is effectively managed. This is a risk mitigating model!
Each stage contains key tasks known as “best practices”. These best practices have been uncovered
from many research studies into what makes a new product a success, and what distinguishes very
successful new products from unsuccessful ones (more on these success factors is provided later in
this article; see also endnote ).
Note: While the model is laid out in a prescribed, logical and sequential fashion as in Figure 1, in
reality, there is much iteration and circling around, certainly within stages and often between stages.
The Stage-Gate system is very much adaptive and iterative.
The flow of the typical Stage-Gate system is shown pictorially in Figure 1. Here, the five stages plus
Discovery and Ideation: pre-work designed to uncover opportunities and to generate new-product
Scoping: a quick, preliminary investigation and scoping of the idea or proposed project – largely desk
Build the Business Case: a much more detailed investigation involving primary research – both
market and technical – leading to a business case, including product and project definition, project
justification, and a project or “go forward” plan.
Development: the actual detailed design and development of the new product, and the design of the
operations or production process.
Testing and Validation: tests or trials in the marketplace, lab, and operations facility to verify and
validate the proposed new product, and its marketing and production/operations.
Launch: commercialization – beginning of full operations or production, marketing, and selling.
There is one additional “quasi stage”: strategy formulation, an essential activity. This innovation
strategy formulation stage is not in the Figure 1 flow diagram, not because it is unimportant, but
because it is macro and all-encompassing in nature – strategically oriented as opposed to process or
tactics. Thus, development of your business’s innovation strategy is best superimposed over (or atop)
the model in Figure 1; it is a prerequisite to an effective Stage-Gate system – see endnote .
Preceding each stage is a gate or a Go/Kill decision point, which opens the road forward. The gates are
the huddles on the football field. They are the points during the game where the team converges and
where all new information is brought together. Gates serve as quality-control check points, as Go/Kill
and prioritization decisions points, and as points where the path forward for the next play or stage of
the project is decided. Resources to the project team are also committed at gates.
The structure of each gate is similar. Gates consist of three elements:
1. A set of required gate deliverables: what the project
leader and team must bring to the decision point
Gates have a common format:
ables Criteria Outputs
(e.g., the results of a set of completed tasks). These deliverables are visible, are based on a standard
menu for each gate, and are decided at the output of the previous gate. Management’s expectations
for project teams are thus made very clear. Deliverables are usually defined in the format of
2. Gate criteria against which the project is judged: These can include “must meet” or knock out
questions (a checklist) designed to weed out misfit or “non-starter” projects quickly, for example:
Is the proposed project within our business or strategic mandate?
Does it meet our EH&S policies (environmental, health and safety)?
There are also Scorecard criteria (“should meet” criteria or desirable factors), which are scored and
added (a point count system), which are also used to make Go/Kill decisions as well as to prioritize
projects, for example:
the strength of the value proposition or product’s competitive advantage
ability to leverage core competencies in this project
relative market attractiveness, and
size of the financial return vs. the risk.
3. Defined gate outputs: for example, a decision (Go/Kill/Hold/Recycle), and in the
event of Go, an approved action plan for the next stage (complete with people required, money
and person-days committed), an agreed timeline, and a list of deliverables and date for the next
Gates are usually staffed by senior managers from different functions, who own the resources required
by the project leader and team for the next stage. They are called the gatekeepers, and are a pre-defined
group for each of the five gates. For example, for larger projects, Gates 3, 4 and 5 are often staffed by
the leadership team of the business – the head of the business and the heads of Marketing/Sales,
Technology, Operations and Finance. Earlier gates are often staffed by middle management, as the
resource commitments are less.
For more on gates and project selection methods, see endnote .
A Walkthrough the Stage-Gate® System
Now, let’s have a high level look at the Stage-Gate system – an overview of what’s involved at each
stage and gate – that you can follow stage-by-stage in Figure 1.
Idea Stage: Discovery
Ideas are the feedstock or trigger to Stage-Gate, and they make or break the system. Don’t expect a
superb new product system to overcome a deficiency in good new product ideas. The need for great
ideas coupled with high attrition rate of ideas means that the idea generation stage is pivotal: You need
great ideas and lots of them.
Many companies consider ideation so important that they handle this as a formal stage in the system,
often called “Discovery”. They build in a defined, proactive idea generation and capture system. Tasks
in the Discovery stage include:
undertaking directed but fundamental technical research, seeking new technological possibilities
[see endnote 1]
working with lead users (innovative customers) to uncover unarticulated needs [see endnote ]
using creativity methods (such as brainstorming)
Design Thinking – ethnographic research combined with a series of very rapid and cheap
strategic planning exercises to uncover disruptions in the marketplace or technology landscape
leading to identification of gaps and/or significant opportunities [see endnote ]
and even idea suggestion schemes to encourage ordinary employees to submit new-product
A good summary of many ideation methods is provided in endnote . The “deliverable” at the end of
this stage is simply a one-page description of the idea; scoping and analysis is not usually required
Gate 1: Idea Screen
Idea screening is the first decision to commit resources to the project: The “project” is born at this
point. Gate 1 is very much a “gentle screen” and amounts to subjecting the proposed project to a
handful of qualitative criteria such as: strategic alignment, project feasibility, magnitude of opportunity
and market attractiveness, product advantage, ability to leverage the firm’s resources, and fit with
company policies. Financial criteria are typically not part of this first screen – there’s simply not
enough information available here! If Go, the project moves into Stage 1, Scoping.
Stage 1: Scoping
This first and inexpensive homework stage has the objective of determining the project’s technical and
marketplace merits: Do we have anything worthwhile here? Stage 1 amounts to a quick scoping of the
project, involving desk research or detective work – little or no primary research is done here. Stage 1
is often done in less than one calendar month’s elapsed time, and 5-20 person-days’ work effort. It
includes tasks such as:
a preliminary market assessment
a preliminary technical assessment
a preliminary business assessment.
Often a 1-2 person “team” is assembled to do this preliminary work, with an “interim team leader”
Gate 2: Second Screen
The project is now subjected to a second and somewhat more rigorous screen: Gate 2. This gate is
essentially a repeat of Gate 1: The project is re-evaluated in the light of the new information obtained
in Stage 1. If the decision is Go at Gate 2, the project moves into a heavier spending stage. Besides the
qualitative criteria used at Gate 1, the financial return is assessed at Gate 2, but only by a quick and
simple financial calculation (for example, the payback period).
Going into Stage 2, the “team” may be expanded and a real team leader designated… the project picks
Stage 2: Build the Business Case
This is a “make or break” stage. Stage 2 is where the Business Case is constructed: This stage is a
detailed investigation stage, which clearly defines the product and verifies the attractiveness of the
project prior to heavy spending. It is also the critical homework stage – most new product failures trace
their roots to this stage, and this stage is consistently cited as “weakly executed” in countless
Key tasks in Stage 2 include:
Market analysis, to determine market size, growth, key trends and success drivers
Voice-of-customer research to determine the customer’s needs, wants, references and points
of pain to help define the “winning” new product
Concept testing to validate the proposed product concept
Detailed technical appraisal – focused on the technical feasibility of the project
Operations or source-of-supply appraisal
Definition of the winning new product: target market, product concept, positioning strategy,
benefits to be delivered, the value proposition, and product attributes, requirements and
A detailed business and financial analysis involving a discounted cash flow approach (NPV
and IRR), complete with sensitivity analysis to look at possible downside risks.
The result of Stage 2 is a Business Case for the project:
the product definition – a key to success
a thorough project justification (financial and business
the detailed project plan (the action or “go-forward” plan).
Stage 2 involves considerably more effort than Stage 1, and is best
handled by a team consisting of cross-functional members – the core
group of the eventual project team and the team leader in place.
Gate 3: Go to Development
This is the final gate prior to the Development stage, the last point at which the project can be killed
before entering heavy spending. Once past Gate 3, financial commitments can be substantial. In effect,
Gate 3 means “go to a heavier spend.” Gate 3 also yields a “sign off’ of the product and project
The qualitative side of this gate evaluation involves a review of each of the tasks in Stage 2, and
checking that the tasks were undertaken, that quality of execution was sound, and the results were
positive. Next, Gate 3 subjects the project once again to the set of Must Meet and Should Meet criteria
used at Gate 2, but this time with much more rigor and with benefit of more solid data. Finally, because
a heavy spending commitment is usually the result of a Go decision at Gate 3, the results of the
financial analysis are an important part of this screen.
If the decision is Go, Gate 3 sees commitment to the product definition and agreement on the project
plan that charts the path forward: The development plan and the preliminary operations and marketing
plans are reviewed and approved at this gate. The full project team – an empowered, cross-functional
team headed by a leader with authority – is designated.
Stage 3: Development
Stage 3 witnesses the implementation of the development plan and the actual development of the
product. For physical products, this usually means engineering, technical (e.g. IT) or scientific work
and the physical design and physical development of the product. For service products, the service is
Stage 3Stage 2
“designed” and the operating procedure for service delivery with the client and/or the SOP (standard
operating procedure) are mapped out in this stage. Alpha tests, in-house tests or lab tests in Stage 3
ensure that the product meets requirements under controlled conditions.
For lengthy projects, numerous milestones and periodic project reviews are built into the development
plan. These are not gates per se: Go/Kill decisions are not made here; rather these milestone check
points provide for project control and management. Extensive in-house testing, alpha tests or lab
testing usually occurs in this stage as well. The “deliverable” at the end of Stage 3 is an internally-
tested prototype of the product really for beta tests, user tests or field trials.
Leading firms are now combining Agile methods from the IT world with Stage-Gate, initially for IT
products, but most recently for physical new products and in many different industries. These Agile
methods emphasize short time-boxed sprints (typically 2-4 weeks), rapid delivery of product iterations
that can be demonstrated to stakeholders (in weeks rather than months), dedicated collocated teams,
and rapid response to customers’ needs and changes in needs. Initial integration of Stage-Gate and
Agile often first takes place in the technical stages, namely Development and Testing (stages 3 and 4
here), but more experienced firms are employing this Agile-Stage-Hybrid across the entire idea-to-
launch process in Figure 1. For more on the Agile-Stage-Gate hybrid approach, see endnotes and .
While the emphasis in Stage 3 is on technical work, marketing and operations tasks also proceed in
parallel. For example, market-analysis and customer-feedback work continue concurrently with the
technical development, with constant customer opinion sought on the product as it takes shape during
development. These tasks are back-and-forth or iterative, with each development version – for
example, protocept, rapid prototype, working model, first prototype, etc. – taken to the customer for
assessment and feedback. We call this iterative process “spiral development” – these “build-test-
feedback-and-revise” spirals are shown in Figure 1. Meanwhile, detailed test plans, market launch
plans, and production or operations plans, including production facilities requirements, are developed.
An updated financial analysis is prepared, while regulatory, and intellectual property issues are
Gate 4: Go to Testing
This post-development review is a check on the progress and the
continued attractiveness of the product and project. Development
work is reviewed and checked, ensuring that the work has been
completed in a quality fashion, and that the developed product is
indeed consistent with the original definition specified at Gate 3.
This gate also revisits the project’s economics via a revised
financial analysis based on new and more accurate data. The test or validation plans for the next stage
are approved for immediate implementation, and the detailed market launch and operations plans are
reviewed for probable future execution.
Stage 4: Testing and Validation
This stage tests and validates the entire viability of the project: the product itself, the production
process, customer acceptance, and the economics of the project. It also begin extensive external
validation of the product and project. A number tasks are undertaken at Stage 4:
In-house product tests: extended lab tests or alpha tests (beyond those in Stage 3) to check on
product quality and product performance under controlled or lab conditions.
Stage 3 Stage 4
Development Testing &
Beta, user or field trials of the product: to verify that the product functions under actual use
conditions, and also to gauge potential customers’ reactions to the product – to establish
Trial, limited, or pilot production or operations: to test, debug, and prove the production or
operations process, and to determine more precise production/operations costs and throughputs
(often production equipment is acquired and tested here).
Pre-test market, simulated test market, full test market, or trial sell: to gauge customer
reaction, measure the effectiveness of the launch plan, and determine expected market share
Revised business and financial analysis: to check on the continued business and economic
viability of the project, based on new and more accurate revenue and cost data.
Sometimes Stage 4 yields negative results, so it’s back to Stage 3. Iterations back and forth throughout
the Stage-Gate system are quite possible, indeed likely.
Gate 5: Go to Launch
This final gate opens the door to full commercialization – market
launch and full production or operations start up. It is the final point
at which the project can still be killed. This gate focuses on the
results of the tasks in the Testing and Validation Stage. Criteria for
passing the gate focus largely on a “readiness check” that all is
commercially ready; continued positive expected financial returns;
and appropriateness of the launch and operations start-up plans.
The operations and market launch plans are reviewed and approved for implementation in Stage 5.
Stage 5: Launch
This final stage involves implementation of both the market launch plan and the
production or operations plan. Given a well thought-out plan of action and
backed by appropriate resources and solid execution, and of course, barring any
unforeseen events, it should be clear sailing for the new product ... another new
At some point following commercialization (often 6-18 months2), the new
product project must be terminated. The team is disbanded, and the product
becomes a “regular product” in the firm’s product line. This is also the point
where the project and product’s performance is reviewed. The latest data on
revenues, costs, expenditures, profits, and timing are compared to Gates 3 and 5
projections to gauge performance. Finally a post-audit – a critical assessment of the project’s strengths
and weaknesses, what can be learned from this project, and how the next one can be done better – is
carried out. This review marks the end of the project. Note that the project team and leader remain
responsible for the success of the project through this post-launch period, right up to the point of the
Built-in Success Factors
2 Some firms build in two post-launch reviews: the first immediately after launch, where a retrospective analysis of the
project is undertaken (lessons learned) and an initial results review is conducted; and the second about 12-18 months, or
after a year of operating results, where a financial analysis – actual sales and profits achieved versus promised results – is
Stage 4 Stage 5
The logic of a well-designed product innovation system, such as Stage-Gate in Figure 1, is appealing
because it incorporates many of the critical success factors – the drivers of success and speed. If you
need more insight into the key drivers of success – what the research reveals that really separates
winners from losers – see the PDMA New Product Handbook in endnote :
1. The Stage-Gate system places much more emphasis on the front-end homework or pre-
development tasks. And due diligence really does pay off! Stages 1 and 2 – the Scoping and Build
Business Case stages – are the essential homework steps before the door to Development is opened
at Gate 3. Due diligence is built in by design.
2. The system is multi-disciplinary and cross-functional. It is built around an empowered, cross-
functional team. Each stage consists of technical, marketing, operations/production and even
financial tasks, necessitating the active involvement of people from all of these departments. The
gates are cross-functional too: Gates are staffed by gatekeepers from different functions or
departments in the firm – the senior managers who own the resources needed for the next stage.
3. Parallel processing speeds up the system. Tasks in each stage are undertaken concurrently rather
than sequentially, with much interaction between players and actions within each stage.
4. The Stage-Gate system is adaptive and agile. Multiple versions or iterations of the product are
developed quickly and shown to customers for feedback. The notion is that “customers don’t know
what they want until they see it”, so get something in front of the customer… fast and often. These
“build-test-feedback-and-revise” iterations or spirals lead to the name “spiral development”, and
are consistent with the tenets of the Agile Manifesto in software development [see endnotes 11, 12,
5. A strong market and VoC orientation is a feature of the system. Marketing inputs begin at the
Discovery stage, and remain an important facet of every stage from beginning to end of the project.
Projects cannot pass the gates until the marketing actions have been completed in a quality way.
And this extensive VoC emphasis often leads to the unique, superior product with a compelling
value proposition, yet another key to success.
6. A product-definition step is built into the system at Stage 2, Build the Business Case, so that the
project scope and product requirements are understood at the beginning. This product definition is
a key deliverable to Gate 3; without it, the project cannot proceed to Development.
7. There is more focus. Stage-Gate builds in decision points in the form of gates, with a clear locus of
decision-making and visible Go/Kill criteria. These gates weed out poor projects early, and help
focus scarce resources on the truly deserving projects. The gatekeepers are the decision-makers at
each gate: At earlier gates (1 and 2), often the gatekeepers are mid-level management; but for Gate
3 and on, gatekeepers are typically the leadership team of the business [see “gates with teeth” in
8. There is a strong emphasis on quality of execution throughout. The stages and recommended tasks
within each stage lay out an “activity plan” for the project leader and team: There is less chance of
critical errors of omission. And the gates provide the critical quality-control checks in the system:
Unless the project meets certain quality standards, its fails to pass the gate.
What Types of Projects Does Stage-Gate® Apply To
The specific model described above and in Figure 1 has been designed for major new product projects.
Here, a new product project is defined as one where technical development work is applied to a market
need to deliver a new or improved product or service that is visibly different from previous products.
The result can be a radical innovation, a significant product improvement, or merely a line extension –
all these types of new product projects are handled by the Stage-Gate approach (and it variants).
Stage-Gate is used by about 73% of product developers in America, according to the PDMA: by
producers of physical products – both consumer goods (such as Procter & Gamble, SCJ, Lego,
PepsiCo General Mills); industrial goods (such as 3M, DuPont, ITT Industries, BASF, Siemens and
Emerson Electric) – and also service providers (such as banks, insurance, consulting and
Some companies have extended the use of the Stage-Gate approach – the concept of stages with
defined tasks and resulting deliverables together with gates, defined gatekeepers, and visible Go/Kill
criteria – to a wide variety of investment decisions. Besides new product projects, these other
applications of Stage-Gate include:
new business developments – outside the current market and technological boundaries of the
alliance and partnership projects
new process developments – where the “deliverable” is a new or improved manufacturing
fundamental research or science projects
and even capital projects.
Stage-Gate XPress for Smaller Projects
Some companies have developed abbreviated versions of the five-stage model in Figure 1 to deal with
smaller, lower risk projects [see endnotes 10, and ]. The idea here is that one size does not fit all,
and that lower risk, smaller projects do not require the same level of work, due diligence and scrutiny
as a larger, higher risk project.
Note that Stage-Gate is not a hard-and-fast set of rules. Rather, each project can be routed through the
system according to its specific risk level and needs, as in Figure 2. Stages can be omitted and gates
combined, provided the decision is made consciously, at gates, and with a full understanding of the
risks involved. The new product system is essentially a risk-management system, and thus the risk
level, the uncertainty, and the need for information dictate what steps and stages need to be done, and
which can be left out.
The result is a shortened version of Stage-Gate, such as the three-stage, three-gate system in Figure 2,
namely Stage-Gate XPress. But this short-cut process should be reserved for lower risk projects only –
extensions, fixes, improvements and product renewals; the routing decision is made at the previous
gate, often as early as Gate 1. A two-stage system is used in some firms for very minor developments.
An illustration: At one of North America’s largest banks, a five-stage, five-gate new product system is
used, very similar to the process in Figure 1. But senior management uses a triage approach and has
defined three categories of projects, based on project scope, investment, and risk level. These are:
requests, which are
product changes and
in response to a
request from a major
These go through a
version of the model.
projects, which are
medium cost projects
and feature some risk
(less than $500,000
but impact multiple
projects are tracked
through a four stage version of the model, which collapses the two homework stages into a single
major projects, over $500,000, are considered higher risk, and pass through the full five stage
What About Fundamental Research Projects or Platform Developments?
Stage-Gate systems, in modified format, also apply to less well-defined development projects such as
fundamental research and technology platform developments (in Figure 3 – see endnote). First, here
are some definitions:
Platform projects build a capability. The analogy is that of building an oil-well drilling platform in
the ocean, at great cost [see endnote ]. Once in place, many holes can be drilled from the one
platform, each at much less cost. In new products, the platform establishes the technical capability; and
this capability spawns many new product projects – much more quickly and cost effectively than
starting from the beginning each time. Examples are: a deposit software platform in a bank, from
which many different end-user deposit products can be developed; a new engine-transmission
assembly for an auto company, from which many new car models can developed; and a new catalyst in
the chemical industry, which might spawn an entire new family of polymers.
Fundamental research projects are those where the deliverable is new knowledge. When the project
begins, there may be no specific new product (or new manufacturing process) defined or even in mind.
Rather, the scientist or technical person initiates some experiments with the hope of finding some
technical possibilities and discoveries, that might yield ideas for commercial products or processes.
These are also called “science projects” and “technology developments”.
The main difference between these and a new product project – for which Stage-Gate in Figure 1 was
designed – is that science projects and platform developments are often more loosely defined at the
outset than is the typical new product project. For example, in a fundamental research project, it may
take months of technical research before it’s even clear what might be technically possible. So
undertaking market analysis in Stage 1 in Figure 1 and detailed market studies in Stage 2 is difficult
when one cannot even define the resulting products! And the criteria for project selection are clearly
different than for a very tangible, well-defined new product project.
Similarly, platform projects are often visionary in scope, with little concrete defined in the way of
tangible products. Rather, management is building a capability that they hope will lead to multiple new
product projects. Again it is difficult to undertake detailed market analyses and full financial
projections when only the first or second product from the platform is even envisioned – the rest are
“yet to be defined”. And so, the decision to move ahead must be largely a strategic one that looks at
what this platform might yield in terms of multiple new products, most of which are unknown.
Some companies have adapted and adjusted Stage-Gate to handle these types of projects. The stage-
and-gate approach seems to work, but clearly the spirit of the stages and the specific criteria used at
gates are quite different than those described above and in Figure 1. Some examples:
3M has their NTI process – new technology innovation – where the deliverable is new technology
or a technical capability, to complement their NPI or new-product innovation process.
Kellogg’s complements their five-stage new-product “K-Way Innovation Process” with a three-
stage technology development system that delves more into fundamental food science.
Exxon Chemical has published a synopsis of its Stage-Gate system to handle fundamental science
research projects [see endnote ]
The nature of a Stage-Gate system for technology developments or science projects is quite different
from a standard product-oriented method outlined earlier in this article, with much more
experimentation allowed [see endnote ]. We call this Stage-Gate-TD, for technology developments:
projects where the immediate deliverable is not a new product or new manufacturing process, but is
new knowledge or a technical capability that may spawn new products or processes. The model in
Figure 3 is a composite example of a technology development system for science projects (taken from
a number of leading firms). Note that there are only three stages and four gates. And the final gate –
the Application Path Gate – may be combined with Gates 1 or 2 in the standard new product system of
Figure 1. In effect, the two systems are merged or overlapped.
The gate criteria in Stage Gate-TD are much less financial and more strategic in nature than for the
standard new product model. For example, Toray Chemical in Japan (developers of breakthroughs such
as micro-fiber and ultra-suede fabrics) uses the following rating criteria for judging their technology
degree of strategic fit and strategic importance to the corporation
ability to achieve strategic leverage (e.g., platform for growth; impact on multiple business
potential for reward (value to the company, if successful)
likelihood of technical feasibility
likelihood of commercial success (e.g., competitive advantage; existence of in-house
A number of leading firms with decades of experience with Stage-Gate are currently into their second-
and third-generation versions; and they have made significant improvements to the system, too many
to describe in detail here here. Improvements made conveniently fit under three headings, all starting
with the letter “A”. Thus I call this the “Triple A” Process.
These improvement include for example:
A-1: Making the process more adaptive, flexible and responsive
•Spiral (iterative) development (mentioned above)
oA series of Build-Test-Feedback-Revise iterations
oBuild something – get it in front of customers
•Context-based – one size does not fit all
oBreakthrough-to-market methods (as at OMICRON, perhaps the most innovative firm
oStage-Gate-TD, Lite and XPress (above)
oDifferent development processes for different levels of ambiguity (e.g. HP’s embryonic
versus mature markets processes)
•Risk-based contingency models – key uncertainties and assumptions define deliverables and
stage tasks, such as at Corning Glass
•The Innovation Project Canvass (similar to a blank canvas but with some degree of structure) to
help map out the needed tasks in the next stage (developed by Five I’s Innovation in Europe)
•Different criteria for Go (scorecards, profiling) and gates integrated with Portfolio
A-2: Agile and the Agile-Stage-Gate hybrid model (mentioned above)
•Agile and Stage-Gate are complementary, not substitutes
oThe Scrum method of Agile used for hardware or physical-product developments
•Agile Development integrated with Stage-Gate
oAgile-Stage-Gate hybrid model
oNew! But very positive results
•Time-boxed sprints with physical deliverables
oFast paced: 2-4 weeks
•A focus on results rather than documentation
oDeliver something that is tangible, that can be demonstrated to stakeholders
•Visual tools and the “project heartbeat”
oSprint planning, daily stand-ups and scrums, retrospectives
oProduct backlogs, sprint backlogs and burn-down charts
oThe product owner, the scrum master and development team
•Nimble and lean
oNo bureaucracy, all waste and non-value added activities removed
oMethod: Value Stream Analysis
oRetrospective analysis of every major project
oAt Post Launch Reviews
•Properly resourced projects
oDedicated cross-functional teams
•Homework and early scoping done well – define the project requirements
oA sharper ‘fuzzy front end’
oOverlapping tasks and even stages
oMove tasks forward
•An automated I2L system with robust IT
oMany excellent IT solutions available to support Stage-Gate and new-product portfolio
o30% time reduction and similar productivity improvements reported.
For a good summary of these many improvements, see endnotes 15 and 16.
Doing It Right
New product development is one of the most important endeavors of the modern corporation. The
message from both Wall Street and Main Street is “innovate or die!”. Customers as well as
shareholders seek a steady stream of innovative new products: Customers want innovative products
because they demand value for money; and shareholders seek the organic and profitable growth that
innovations provide. Without a systematic new product process, however, often the new-product effort
is a shambles – a chaotic, hit-and-miss affair.
Stage-Gate® systems act as an enabler or guide, building in best practices and ensuring that key tasks
and decisions are done better and faster. But a Stage-Gate system is considerably more complex than
the simple diagram in Figure 1 suggests; there are many intricacies in the details – both the “what’s”
and the “how to’s”. And implementing the system is also a major challenge. Many leading companies,
however, have taken the necessary step, and have designed and implemented a world-class product
innovation system, such as Stage-Gate, and the results have been positive: better, faster and more
profitable new product developments [see endnote ]!
Dr. Robert G. Cooper is ISBM Distinguished Research Fellow at Penn State University’s Smeal
College of Business Administration, President of the Product Development Institute, and Professor
Emeritus of the School Business, McMaster University, Canada. He has published over 120 articles
and seven books on the topic of new product management. Cooper is the father and developer of the
Stage-Gate® system. He may be reached at email@example.com or +1 905 304 8797. Webpage:
Best Book About Stage-Gate:
R.G. Cooper, Winning at New Products: Creating Value Through Innovation, 4th edition. New
York, NY: Basic Books (division of Perseus Books), 2011.
Totally rewritten for the 4th edition.
Stage-Gate Updates – Latest reading:
Find out how companies are moving to the next generation of Stage-Gate and what they’re doing
differently now. See:
R.G. Cooper, “Agile-Stage-Gate Hybrids: The next stage for product development” Research-
Technology Management, Jan 2016, 59, 1, pp 1-9.
R.G. Cooper & Sommer, A.F., “The Agile–Stage-Gate Hybrid Model: A Promising New
Approach and a New Research Opportunity” Journal of Product Innovation Management,
forthcoming 2016 (available on-line, Feb 2016), pp 1-14.
R.G. Cooper, “What’s next? After Stage-Gate,” Research-Technology Management, Vol 157,
No. 1, Jan-Feb 2014, pp 20-31.
R.G. Cooper, “The Next Stage for Stage-Gate,” Pragmatic Marketer, Winter 2014, pp. 20-24.
R.G. Cooper, “Where Are All the Breakthrough New Products? Using Portfolio Management to
Boost Innovation,” Research-Technology Management, Sept-Oct 2013, pp 25-32.
R.G. Cooper, “Creating Bold Innovation in Mature Markets,” IESE Insight, Third Quarter,
Issue 14, 2012, pp 20-27.
R.G. Cooper & S.J. Edgett, “Best Practices in the Idea-to-Launch Process and Its Governance
Research-Technology Management, March-April 2012, Vol 55, No. 2, pp 43-54.
R.G. Cooper, Winning at New Products: Creating Value Through Innovation, 4th edition. New
York, NY: Basic Books (division of Perseus Books), 2011.
R.G. Cooper, “Perspective: The Innovation Dilemma – How to Innovate When the Market Is
Mature,” Journal of Product Innovation Management, Vol. 28, No. 7, 2011.
R.G. Cooper, “How companies are re-inventing their idea-to-launch methodologies,” Research-
Technology Management, vol. 52, number 2, March April 2009, pp 47-57.
R.G. Cooper and S.J. Edgett, “Maximizing productivity in product innovation,” Research
Technology Management, March-April 2008, pp 47-58.
R.G. Cooper, “The Stage-Gate Idea-to-Launch Process – Update, What’s New and NexGen
Systems,” J. Product Innovation Management, Volume 25, Number 3, May 2008, pp 213-232.
R.G. Cooper, “NexGen Stage-Gate® -- What Leading Companies Are Doing to Re-Invent Their
NPD Processes,” Cover story in PDMA Visions, XXXII, no 4, Sept 2008, pp 6-10.
Endnotes & References:
This article has its roots in many historical sources: R.G. Cooper, Winning at New Products: Creating Value Through
Innovation 4th edition. Reading, Mass: Perseus Books, 2011; R.G. Cooper, “Doing it right – winning with new
products,” Ivey Business Journal, July-August 2000, 54-60; R.G. Cooper, “Overhauling the new product process,”
Industrial Marketing Management 25, 6, Nov. 1996, 465-482; R.G. Cooper & E.J. Kleinschmidt, “Stage gate systems
for new product success,” Marketing Management 1, 4, 1993, 20-29; Cooper, “The new product process: a decision
guide for managers,” Journal of Marketing Management 3, 3, 1988, 238-255; R.G. Cooper, “Stage-gate systems: a new
tool for managing new products”, Business Horizons 33, 3, May-June, 1990; and: R.G. Cooper, “A process model for
industrial new product development,” IEEE Transactions in Engineering Management EM 30, Feb. 1983, 2-11.
“Stage-Gate” is a term coined by and trademarked by the author – see footnote (1) and endnote , JMM 1988.
Second generation processes are what many companies began to implement toward the end of the 1980s; the third
generation processes of the late 1990s have improved time efficiencies – see endnote , Winning at New Products;
also endnote .
R.G. Cooper, “Third-generation new product processes”, Journal of Product Innovation Management 11, 1994, 3-14.
R.G. Cooper, “New Products -- What Separates the Winners from the Losers and What Drives Success,” in the PDMA
Handbook of New Product Development, 3rd Edition, edited by Kenneth B. Kahn, Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley
& Sons, Inc., Chapter 1, 2012.
R.G. Cooper & S.J. Edgett, “Developing a product innovation and technology strategy for your business,” Research-
Technology Management, May-June 2010, Vol 53, No 3, pp 33-40.
R.G. Cooper, “Make the Right Strategic Choices in Product Innovation,” Center for Innovation Management Studies
Management Report, NC State University, Jan-Feb 2015, pp 1-7.
1 R.G. Cooper, R.G., Edgett, S.J. & Kleinschmidt, E.J., “Optimizing the Stage-Gate Process: What Best Practice
Companies Are Doing – Part I”, Research-Technology Management 45, 5, Sept-Oct 2002, pp 21-27.
E.A. Von Hippel, S. Thomke & M. Sonnack, “Creating breakthroughs at 3M”, Harvard Business Review, Sept.-Oct.
1999, pp 47-57.
R.G. Cooper, “Product innovation and technology strategy” in the “Succeeding in Technological Innovation” series,
Research-Technology Management, 43,1, Jan-Feb. 2000, pp 28-44.
R.G Cooper, Winning at New Products, endnote 1, Ch 6. See also: R.G. Cooper & A. Dreher, “Voice of customer
methods: What is the best source of new product ideas?”, Marketing Management Magazine, Winter 2010, pp. 38-43.
Also: R.G. Cooper & S.J. Edgett, “Ideation for product innovation: What are the best sources? Visions, XXXII, 1,
March 2008, pp 12-17.
R.G. Cooper, “Agile-Stage-Gate Hybrids: The next stage for product development”, Research-Technology
Management, Jan 2016, 59, 1, pp 1-9.
R.G. Cooper & Sommer, A.F., “The Agile–Stage-Gate Hybrid model: A promising new approach and a new research
opportunity”, Journal of Product Innovation Management, forthcoming 2016 (available on-line, Feb 2016), pp 1-14.
R.G. Cooper, “The Stage-Gate idea-to-launch process – Update, what’s new and NexGen systems,” J. Product
Innovation Management, vol. 25, no. 3, May 2008, pp 213-232; also: R.G. Cooper, “NexGen Stage-Gate® -- What
leading companies are doing to re-invent their NPD processes”, Cover story in PDMA Visions, XXXII, no. 3, Sept
2008, pp 6-10: and: R.G. Cooper, “How companies are re-inventing their idea-to-launch methodologies”, Research-
Technology Management, vol. 52, no. 2, March April 2009, pp 47-57.
R.G. Cooper, “Effective gating: Make product innovation more productive by using gates with teeth”, Marketing
Management Magazine, March-April 2009, pp 12-17.
R.G. Cooper, “What’s next? After Stage-Gate”, Research-Technology Management, vol 157, no. 1, Jan-Feb 2014, pp
R.G. Cooper, “The next stage for Stage-Gate”, Pragmatic Marketer, Winter 2014, pp. 20-24.
For a complete discussion of fundamental science or technology development projects, see: R.G. Cooper, “Managing
technology development projects – Different than traditional development projects”, Research-Technology
Management, Nov-Dec 2006, pp 23-31.
See definitions appendix in: PDMA Handbook for New Product Development, ed. Milton D Rosenau Jr., New York,
NY: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 1996; see also: Cooper, Winning at New Products, endnote .
L. Yapps-Cohen, P.W. Kamienski & R.L. Espino, “Gate system focuses industrial basic research”, Research-
Technology Management, Jul- Aug 1998, pp 34-37.
For more on Stage-Gate for technology development, see: Cooper, endnote .
R.G. Cooper & S.J. Edgett, “Best practices in the idea-to-launch process and its governance”, Research-Technology
Management, March-April 2012, vol. 55, no. 2, pp 43-54.