Stage-Gate® is a method for managing innovation projects that breaks the process down into a series of sequential stages with a clear decision point between each stage.

Stage-Gate® was developed by Robert Cooper in the 1980’s. It divides the journey from idea to launch into distinct stages. Between each stage is a decision point or ‘gate’. To pass a gate a project must produce an agreed set of deliverables, and these are tested against agreed criteria. For example, a deliverable might be a predicted market growth rate, and the criterion might be that the projected compound growth rate is 6% or better.

At each gate a project can be allowed through to the next stage with further investment, sent back to do more work, or killed.

The details of the stages and the criteria at each gate vary from sector to sector and business to business, but the generic stages are:

  • Developing ideas
  • Scoping out the idea and the opportunity
  • Building a business case for signification investment
  • Developing the idea into a product, service, or process
  • Testing the idea in the field
  • Launch

Benefits of Stage-Gate® include:

  • Handling a portfolio of projects. Having pre-defined deliverables and criteria for each stage you can compare very different projects.
  • Processing an innovation funnel. The method allows you to start with lots of ideas and weed them out stage by stage, until only the most attractive and likely to succeed gain the more significant investment required for the later stages.
  • Manage limited resources across a portfolio of projects at different stages.
  • Make clear and transparent decisions. It avoids zombie projects that will not die and continue to consume resources. Project progress or are killed.
  • Proper choice of criteria can build in the market need and the voice of the user throughout the development process.

A weakness of Stage-Gate® is that the underlying model is linear, and it does not take account of the loops, missteps, and diversions of real-life innovation. Loops are often put into the model to allow projects to backtrack to an earlier stage, but it is difficult to avoid linearity.