Stage-Gate processes have been around for many years. They grew up to serve the needs of Product Development. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of customers opting to use this type of design for their applications across many other functions (vs. role-based application design and classic workflow). The main driver of this new adoption is that organizations are finding this type of design to be more effective for purposeful, collaborative work. It lends itself to bringing a group of people together to collectively drive the results of the process. In this article, I’ll look at the overall design of a Stage-Gate process, provide examples of different uses, and talk about how it drives effectiveness for collaborative work processes.
Stage-Gate Process Design
It starts with people aligning on the high-level Stages an item will go through. Each Stage is then represented visually to make it easy for the group to see where things stand. Within each Stage there are a set of activities, which must be completed for an item to pass through the Gate and progress to the next Stage. This is really the power of this design in that the activity is separated from the top-level Stage flow. The activities can change, but it doesn’t affect the Stages or the Gate.
Below is a screenshot of a standard CorasWorks-based Stage-Gate application. It is used to manage an IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery – Indefinite Quantity) contract, which is a business development vehicle most often used by Federal Contractors. The Contractor gets a contract. The government then issues Task Orders, each of which is bid on by a number of contractors. Each Task Order goes through a set of Stages along its life-cycle. Decisions are made and work happens to drive the Task Orders forward.
Above we are showing the New Task Order stage. The Task Orders come in here and are reviewed and prepped. When ready, they are pushed to the Bid Assessment stage where the team decides whether to bid on the Task Order. The key elements of the design are:
A. Stages – lay out your stages as you want them
B. Stage Management Display – where you see the items in that Stage and can access information, report, slice, dice, and take action
C. Actions/Activities – custom set of actions to be used in the Stage to get the work done that needs to be done
An important part of the design is considering what is actually moving through the Stages. It is common to think of each item above as a record of information (list/database). However, with CorasWorks you can associate related information and sites that act like folders. For instance, in the example above when a new Task Order is entered, a related Task Order collaboration site is automatically provisioned. This site is where the detail information is and the detail collaboration happens. In other scenarios, it might be a project site. Or, an item might just have related information from within SharePoint or external data sources which is surfaced as a virtual workspace. The upshot is that you have a simple top-level process to track the flow through the stages, but you have access to a very deep set of supporting information and activity for each item.
Examples of Stage-Gate Processes
Now let’s look at examples of different types of stage-gate processes and how they might differ.
R&D Innovation Process for Consumer Products
This is a classic application. One customer is using this design to manage the full-life cycle for molecules it creates to be used for fragrances and flavors in consumer products. The molecules are created in a lab and go into the process. They go through a multi-phase process with many detailed activities (more than 50 activities are individually tracked). The process takes about 3 years and they have about 700 molecules at a time.
e-Policy Management for HR
One customer uses this design for their corporate policies. They have converted more than 600 corporate policies from documents into living, digital articles. Each policy is submitted, reviewed, and published through a series of Stages involving Finance, Legal, Admin personnel, and more. Users are empowered to ask questions, rate the articles and make comments that can be used for revisions.
Demand Management: New Project Initiation for Everyone
This is a common use of stage-gate. The objective is to have a visible, collaborative review process BEFORE projects are initiated. It is part of the evolving approach for Demand Management. We have a standard solution for this where projects are proposed and then put through the stages leading to an approved process. When approved, this information is used to kick off the actual project management site (a downstream activity).
Application Development for IT
A stage-gate process is great for application development. You have your basic stages of the application development process that can span the full life cycle from proposal to completion or that might just cover the development process itself (because you are using the New Project Initiation process above as an upstream activity-right!). When the project is approved you can have a project management/collaboration site that is used to manage the development work and the related information. This site is effectively what is going through the stages.
Proposal Development for Business Development
Many BD organizations, particularly our Federal Contractor customers, use a standardized Stage-Gate process (originated by a company named Shipley) to manage business development. This is very high level. In addition, each Proposal they are working on has its own Stage-Gate process using a standardized system for color reviews. Thus, in this scenario, you have a system with two-levels of Stage-Gates. The top level is the overall BD process with each “opportunity” being managed. Then, each opportunity that has made it to the Proposal Development stage has a collaborative site for the actual proposal work.
Effectiveness for Collaborative Work
The power of the Stage-Gate design is that it gets a group of people on the same page of where things stand and what needs to happen to achieve desired results. It is simple to understand and easy to use. The key is that the people involved will be aligned on the top stages. From there, the systems empowers all of the people involved to work together collaboratively to achieve the result.
CorasWorks has built in a number of features over the years that enable effective solutions for stage-gating. They enable the core solution and the ability to flexibly support the many different types of activities and changes to activities to support the process. In addition, with CorasWorks on SharePoint you have the ability to engage “external” people in the process for upstream, downstream and supporting activities. Ultimately, the effectiveness of a stage-gate process comes by having the visibility, input and the work coming from different people, but, aligned on the core objective of your process.