Opening up the Stage Gates to let the new innovating world in?

Stage Gate hurdlesThere is no question the Stage-Gate process has had a significant impact on the conception, development and launch of new products. Yet there have been consistent criticisms of it, as the world of innovation has moved on. Today it is faster-paced, far more competitive and global and become less predictable.

The cries of the Stage-Gate process as being too linear, too rigid and far too planned, bordering on prescriptive have often been heard. The gates are too structured and the constant ‘creep’ of the controlling bureaucracy surrounding it in paperwork, checklists and justification has simply led to so much non-value-added work add to the moans and groans.

Surprisingly, the Stage-Gate concept was created in the 1980’s and led to Robert G Cooper’s different evolutions of this evolving and absorbing many new practices and experiences gained by different organizations across this time.

I’ve written previously on this blog site about the concerns within this Stage Gate system if organizations allow the ‘controllers’ to dominate over the ‘creators’ of innovation what can happen. We end up with “self-inflicted wounds caused by jumping hurdles and closing gates on innovation”.

The idea-to-launch gating system is under more threat today than ever before.

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Understanding Challenges Within Innovation Complexity

Complex adaptive system 1

Termite colonies are a complex adaptive system

We need to think differently about innovation and why it needs complexity and adaptive thinking as part of its design.

Complexity within systems challenge us to think differently, it pushes us to think outside often our normal experiences, to confront and understand and then restructure, often the unordered, into a new ordered.

Organizations are in need of understanding the complexities within their systems far more.

Complexity within innovation is always adaptive.

The challenge with managing complexity is that it is made up of many shifting and connected parts, that form much around interactions and relationships. These new ‘connections’ are shifting and challenging much of our previous understanding, built often on past practice and entrenched thinking.

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The Use of the Cynefin Model for Innovation

Cynefin Revised 1

The Cynefin Framework is a sense-making one and is registered copyright to Cognitive Edge

Firstly a very brief explanation of the Cynefin Model and why I find it highly valuable for innovation.

Innovation has many characteristics of a complex adaptive system as I have crudely  attempted to explain here.

The three primary states within the Cynefin framework are Ordered Systems (including Obvious and Complicated), Complexity and Chaos.

Order is split into two, as this handles a key difference in human knowledge between those states, where the cause and effect relationship is obvious and those where it requires greater analysis or expertise.

Exploring a process of emergent discovery for innovation

Most innovators are working in and certainly are far more familiar with the ordered domains, for ‘obvious’ innovations that extend, enhance or evolve their existing products and services. Equally they understand their more specializes place and contribution to be growing in their comfort, in the part they play in the more ‘complicated’ domain, where expertise, dedicated focus and specialization is often required or called upon.

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Innovation is like a tropical rainforest

Innovation is like a tropical rainforest

Innovation is like a tropical rainforest

Recently I have been asked about my innovation activity ‘going forward’ and I described it like a forest needing some fresh attention. There is my need to cut down certain trees, clear away a lot of the floor covering to allow the sunlight in and permit those ‘selected innovation tree’s’ to be allowed to grow stronger.

We all have those times where we need to choose, to pursue clearer pathways we believe are better for us. To be more selective in what we do, to be more focused and hopefully achieve a better, lasting result that hopefully offers a more satisfying set of outcomes, to both clients and to ourselves.

Within this comparison I am presently making of innovation being like a forest, I really began to see so much more of a connection in what is happening around in innovation that it can be compared to understanding a tropical rainforest. There are many comparisons, let me outline some of these here.

The ecosystem within the rainforest is also needed for innovation to work effectively  

Firstly I would argue that innovation, to be managed well, needs to operate like an ecosystem, the same as a tropical rainforest. Ecosystems to flourish need to experience critical feeds, in the rainforest this is high average temperatures and significant rainfall. Well innovation to thrive needs equal attention; it needs a real focus, above average and significant attention to be well maintained.

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Self-inflicted wounds caused by jumping hurdles and closing gates on innovation

Many organizations have made Stage-Gate or a mutation of it, their ‘go-to’ innovation process that all innovation must ‘somehow’ pass through. Squeezing all types of innovation through this, for whatever people claim is a linear process, is simply wrong.

You can simply say: “we destroyed much to get sometimes so little out as the final outcome, when initially it was seen to be so promising.

The difficulty is that we are still struggling to find a real alternative, although there have been some recent noteworthy attempts, firstly by Jose A Briones and his Spiro-Level 3D approach and then by Paul R Williams, of the American Institute for Innovation Excellence, to move the discussions beyond the Stage-Gate process from this linear into more spiral concepts and beyond.

There has been an awful lot written on Stage-Gate, some people attacking it and suggesting it “guarantees mediocrity for your business”. Clayton Christensen has suggested “the Stage-gate system is not suited to the task of assessing innovation whose purpose is to build new growth businesses, but most companies continue to follow it simply because they see no alternative”

Stage-Gate has certainly earned its place for product management. Continue reading