In a completely revised and updated fourth edition, Robert Cooper reminds us that his Stage-Gate process has become the most widely used method for managing new products in industry today. Stage-Gate is an ideas-to-launch process that encompasses a solid body of knowledge and best practice gleaned from studies of thousands of new product developments.

The first edition was published in 1986 in the early days of understanding the management of the innovation process. His second edition, published in 1993 gained its traction as the recognized process and established the term “Stage-Gate” clearly to manage within any product development process and then his third edition in 2001 the focus became more on accelerating idea-to-launch.

The value of buying a copy of this 4th edition

So is there value in getting this fourth edition, well in many ways I’d say a resounding ‘yes’.  This is the edition that not only consolidates what has been learnt, it has set about to validate what has been going on within this evolution process. With colleagues Robert Cooper has undertaken major benchmarking studies, validated best practices and here he articulates and quantifies their effects.

Its value and purpose for your own new product development process

The book offers many new insights and claims it is an evergreen process that is revealing different twists, approaches and methods which are being adopted into the basic Stage-Gate process. This provides a critical point here, do not be a slave to what you implement but experiment, adjust and adapt from what you learn and make that your Stage-Gate process. The book is full of examples, best practices, useful tips and suggestions. Just reading his suggestion tips provides great value.

The purpose of getting hold of a copy is multiple. In this book you will find a lot of useful answers or suggestions too many of the perennial questions around how to manage innovation and that alone provides great value. Furthermore, as Stage-Gate has become an industry within an industry (of innovation product development) the alternative ways to think this process through really does open up the thinking from the past days of rigidly applying the initial Stage-Gate process. This book is full of well benchmarked, best practices and how it is being adapted and used within most of the leading firms.

New or old hands to Stage-Gate will find clarity and options

Without a doubt by working through this book you will be more than capable of instituting a well proven new product process as well as use it as a major source of reference to challenge your existing system and make significant adjustments or validation for change.

Does the book stand the test of time?

There have been significant changes in our understanding of innovation. In the process, the culture required, the way to manage, to align and to develop. This fourth edition I feel catches up on much that has been happening. I feel it does not allow us to get ahead, more the pity, it fragments, it provides the many different ways that Stage-Gate has been adapted on what is being practised to meet many unique needs and this edition attempts to embrace the many challenges that the changes demanded from innovation require.

The different solutions offered can add confusion and complexity, especially for the thousands that do not really understand the often critical differences needed to deliver one type of innovation over another.

Yet, the Stage-Gate as a rigid system simply would not work, it has to be adapted to your circumstances, your different product needs (complex or simple) as well as to all the changes that have taken place in opening up internal systems through more open innovation.

The book helps in discussing the many different models being applied so you can design the one that might fit your circumstances. What it does not do, is offer a more radical redesign of Stage-Gate or aim for a more over-arching framework, and perhaps we need this, than more adaption and having parallel systems to suit multiple circumstances just within one company to overcome in built limitations within the process.

Stage-Gate has limitations, most self inflicted within organizations

Whichever way you ‘wrap’ Stage-Gate it is still a linear process that has to go through justification at each stage and pass through the ‘gate’ in resolving the criteria expected, before it can go on. This can often load the process with bureaucracy, internal politics and tensions. You increasingly focus on preparing for these ‘gate’ meetings, losing valuable time on the idea and concept itself.

Invariably the questions asked require rethinking, aspects of the proposal rewritten and then resubmitted. This leads to devolving upwards through the gatekeepers to the senior manager, who is not fully engaged in the process, you lose time, you lose precious opportunity, and you lose money in delays while this gets sorted out. The shift to ‘status and attainment’ rather than value and benefit get confused. The process often dominates not the product concept itself. Stage-Gate might have become a decision making tool than an actual NPD process.

Does the book address this issue?

It certainly acknowledges every one of these issues and offers some advice but it does not provide a compelling new case or offer radical fresh thinking to resolve these issues. The book restates and prescribes many rules and suggestions but the solution lies not in the book but within your organization and its use of the Stage-Gate.  If innovation does not get enough funding, enough resources, enough senior management attention and commitment to continued momentum then no process system can really work yet we need them. Yet there are ‘new shoots’ offered to help within this book. The value of chapter 5- next generation Stage-Gate holds the key but it comes back to my ‘fragmenting’ statement. Often I felt the suggestions made were filling holes, bridging gaps, attempting to resolve the increase complexity of innovation.

Innovation has changed dramatically since Stage-Gates inception

Many organizations have made Stage-Gate work, that is a fact, often the painful way. The innovation system required today needs to be more flexible, adaptive and scalable and more automotive where possible. Stage-Gate handles products, but it does not handle open innovation platform collaboration well, nor does it really pick up on the impact of Business model innovation, Service innovation or the myriad of other types of innovation. Its proven reality is that it works really well for incremental and distinctive well planned innovation. It ‘stutters’ and can ‘die’ when you need radical, new-to-the-world breakthroughs as you enter to many unknowns to run through a system.

Stage-Gate has a clear place within product innovation but it is not the panacea for managing all of your innovation needs and far too often many try to make it adapt for that very ‘high’ ideal. Simply don’t, apply it for what it is good at doing- managing new products but even then try and stop the constant demands for proof at every step of the way, otherwise you will never get your products out of the door.

I do recommend this book

This fourth edition “Winning at New Products” by Robert G Cooper has a clear place on your book shelf and will be most helpful in your innovation battles to explain the many in-built limitations to others less informed yet involved in the decision process!

By Paul Hobcraft

About the author:

Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation Specialists; an advisory business that focuses on stimulating sound innovation practice. He helps build innovation capability and capacity for organisations, teams and individuals. Agility Innovation research topics that relate to innovation for the future, applying the learning to further develop organizations core innovation activity, offer appropriate advice on tools, techniques and frameworks.

Paul’s personal journey has been varied, challenging but fun. This has taken him to live and work in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Malaysia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, USA, Australia, and recently eleven years in Singapore. Paul is based in Switzerland and presently focuses his time between Asia and Europe. Welcome to read more at: