Applying stage-gate processes to technology development - Experience from two hardware-oriented companies
Companies try to rationalize and structure their efforts of innovation and technology development. One prescriptive management model which is widely used in industry to conduct product development is the so called stage-gate model (Cooper 1990). This model has also been proposed for the so called “fuzzy front end” of innovation and technology development, (Cooper 2006). Literature however is not fully consistent on the suitability of stage-gate models to these early and uncertain phases. This led to the following research question;
Is the stage-gate model suitable for technology development?
Exploring this question was done through two qualitative comparative case studies in two separate companies. The first case study was conducted over a period of nine months employing an ethnographic approach during which 18 interviews were conducted. In the second study four semi-structured interviews were done. The two companies develop complex products for business-to-business. They have experience from using the stage-gate model both in product development and in technology development but have done their respective implementations differently.
Our results indicate that the stage-gate model is suitable to technology development in the context represented by the two companies, however with some considerations concerning implementation and operational use. Considerations which have proven important for the success of the model include ability to express clear goals (even if they are highly uncertain), adapting the model to the characteristics of technology development such as need of experimentation and iteration, linking the model to management structures of the company, and to state clearly for what purpose the company wants to implement the model.