Have you seen the hit U.S. TV show, Shark Tank? It has the same premise as Dragon’s Den in the U.K. and all throughout the world. The show taps into the creative genius / inventor in all of us, by inviting “regular” people to enter the “dragon’s den” to pitch their inventions and ideas to a panel of fierce investors, all of whom attack with hard questions regarding profitability and marketability. The typically novice inventors have to be ready with strong answers, hard metrics, market research and in some cases, patents pending in order to lure one of the investors to partner with them and cash in on the next big thing.
Lessons can be learned from virtually any situation, even a TV show. In Dragon’s Den, if the inventors have financials that show margin and a compelling product idea to lure one of the dragons into partnership, it could result in millions. Unfortunately, many inventors walk out of the den without a deal because not every product is a winner and the dragons aren’t afraid to say so. The same should be the case for your product gate meetings and projects going through the gate. Think of it this way:
The main difference between the Dragon’s Den and your gate meetings is the Den uses sharp teeth! The dragons don’t play favorites or care about how hard you have worked on your invention. Their only concern is in making money. They ask tough questions to ensure they are investing wisely given their current portfolio mix.
If a gated process and gate meetings are established to prevent ill-fated projects from making it through the lifecycle and squandering resources, why are so many projects not killed or killed early enough? The answer lies in whether or not the gates are leveraged correctly.
In all of my discussions with great companies, conference presentations and implementation work around the gated product development process, I see a recurring theme. Well-meaning companies have the people, processes and tools in place but lack the teeth in their gate process.
Alignment to strategy gets lots and the wrong projects get through the gates, nullifying their intent.
Problems arise when decision-makers continue to be swayed by personality and emotions, not wanting to offend, hurt or disappoint. They rely on gut instinct instead of facts because they lack visibility into the data. They say “yes” to every project that gets to gate and their innovation funnel looks more like a tunnel. The result is then too much work for the available resources (which is reported as the number one pain point in the 4th Product Portfolio Management and Benchmark Study) and nothing makes it to market on time or within budget. Alignment to strategy gets lost and the wrong projects get through the gates, nullifying their intent.
Stage-Gate cannot be blamed for the dysfunction, although it often gets slandered in the downward spiral. The breakdown occurs when the people and the culture engaged in the process behave like garden lizards when they should be dragons. Gatekeepers must have a little moxy…a little hootspa…like giant, fire-breathing dragons.
Gate meetings do not have to be a blood bath, nor should innovation only be about the financial return. What’s important is that it doesn’t turn into a beauty contest. If you apply the principles of Dragon’s Den to the gated process or pretend each request is your teenage son asking for money and the keys to the car, then unrelenting scrutiny, high visibility and serious fact checking are necessary.
The purpose of Stage-Gate® is to automate and optimize the complete lifecycle of a product from ideation through launch, reducing cycle time and improving overall time to market. The process has been proven effective because it integrates numerous performance-driving practices into a repeatable, easy-to-understand design. Using the insight into key data enables higher quality execution, timely Go/Kill decisions, alignment and speed – all to ensure only the best products reach the market to generate maximum return.
Many people think they know what constitutes a “good” gate meeting, one with a little bit of dragon fire or bite. But here are a few signs that you might be rubberstamping projects throughout the gated process:
1. Every Project Gets a Green Light to “Go”
This is a fairly obvious metric to be able to measure your track record, but do you ACTUALLY track it? Do you measure your decisions across all gates over the duration of the year to measure trends and determine the health of your process? Do you know your percentage of go/kill decisions? Does that percentage seem healthy for your organization and the objectives you’re trying to achieve? If you’re approving everything that is going to gate, then the gate meeting is purely informational to stakeholders – they are not gatekeepers (nor dragons) if they’re not minding the gate (den). Call it something other than a gate meeting if you’re in this boat.
2. Personality and Titles Rule
If you’re checking the sponsor or project manager name before analyzing the gate deliverables and letting that sway your decision, your gate meeting might be lacking some teeth. Regardless of the players engaged, the gate meeting is about the project’s ability to successfully deliver a winning product to market. I’ll say it again: it’s not a popularity contest.
3. Financially Myopic
If your gate meeting is so “by the numbers” that it could be calculated by a robot, you’re missing the point. Just look at the Dragon’s Den. Yes, they jot down the numbers on sales and margin to do the math, but it goes beyond the financials. They also ask themselves, “Does this fit well within my existing portfolio?” “Do I have experience in this market and can add value?” “Is the market already saturated with similar products and 100 stone gorillas?” Financials should be part of the equation, but not the only factor.
Believe it or not, there is a ferocious dragon inside of you and your gatekeepers waiting to be let out to breathe a little fire. Your dragon isn’t a demon, just a wise beast that cares about making the company profitable so everyone wins. In order to innovate, you must give your gates teeth and build a culture to support painstaking, scrupulous questions. Stage-Gate can work for you if, and only if, you have the courage to use it as prescribed.
Carrie Nauyalis, NPD Solution Evangelist at Planview, is passionate about establishing customer partnerships, developing market positioning, defining field enablement strategies, providing market-based feedback into Planview product development, and being an overall evangelist and thought leader for the Product Development market. She is an active speaker, MBA guest lecturer, blogger, and vlogger on all things Product Portfolio Management, with warm places in her heart for the topics of innovation, Stage-Gate, and Agile.
Follow Carrie on Twitter: @PDPMprincess