Maturing NPD Practices Beget New Processes

Journey from Stages and Gates to Portfolio Management to Product Line Roadmapping.

As the field of new product development (NPD) progresses and matures, new processes and practices are introduced. Some grow, mature and level off – or even decline – but their impact leads to the recognition of the next need or gap, and a new process or practice is implemented that takes NPD organizations to the next level of success before leveling off to reveal the next need or opportunity. This can be demonstrated with stages and gates/phase gate, product portfolio management and, now, product line roadmapping.

Stages and gates came about in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. As a much-needed process, it experienced notable growth in the late 90’s through mid-2000, reaching maturity and ultimately leveling off. To add value to their NPD effort’s, most organizations started to embrace portfolio management practices beginning in the early to mid-2000’s and some would argue that portfolio management began a full stride of adoption into organizations during that latter part of the first decade of this millennium. What is interesting to note is that portfolio management needed a mature stage and gate presence in order to begin (or perhaps better stated: a mature stages and gates process begat the need for portfolio management).

Continuously enlarged economic gains from portfolio management, however, are quite difficult to achieve. Often, once organizations realize initial notable gains from good mix management and project throughput management, getting more out of portfolio management becomes much more of a struggle – it becomes more like just rearranging the chairs on a ship’s deck.

Today, the two fundamental process challenges are for organizations to:

  1. Maintain and incrementally improve single NPD project stages and gates practices and multi-project portfolio management, while
  2. Getting bigger and better projects into the development pipeline.

It is illogical to think one can get much more out of a portfolio without getting better projects into the portfolio.

The challenge for many front-end practices (activities before stages and gates and the portfolio of project within the stages and gates process) is that they yield one-off development opportunities or incremental improvements on current product offering. The missing element for notable gains has been that greater leverage of development yielding greater impact in markets. This, I would argue, is the exact role of product line strategizing and roadmapping. Two intertwined activities, which require much thinking—both creative and analytic—across all business functions.

The notion of roadmapping has been in existence for several decades. Going back to early NASA endeavors and growing through such groups as MATI (in the 1990’s), the central focus on roadmapping had emphasized the evolution of technologies and supports, such as supply chains and designs, which needed to progress with the technologies. However, the advance from this singular, technology-centric roadmapping practice to product line roadmapping enables the progression of organizational approaches beyond portfolio management.

But, we also know that roadmapping has not yet diffused into practice like stages and gates, or portfolio management. Why? I believe there are some key reasons:

  1. The need for roadmapping in support of generating bigger/better projects was not universally present until portfolio management began reaching maturity
  2. The thought world of product line strategies with specific leverage of product platforms has not fully evolved
  3. The organizational approach toward roadmapping has emphasized technology and conducted this as a periodically occurring event rather than an ongoing process that integrated with stages and gates and portfolio management.

However, we are at the dawn of the growth and broad implementation of product line roadmapping, thanks in large part to the maturing of product portfolio management. The newly recognized understanding of the power of product line roadmaps to connect strategy to execution so that the right products are managed through the pipeline, combined with an improved understanding of how to leverage specific product platforms and an increased awareness of the benefits of leveraging roadmapping as an ongoing process tied into stages and gates and portfolio management reveals the perfect timing for this process to be embraced by NPD organizations.

The companies that embrace product line roadmapping can reap enormous benefits, including:

  • Greater strategic impact (think revenue, earnings and market share)
  • Faster deliveries by leveraging platforms and delivering feeding technologies and capabilities in a more timely fashion
  • Better resource use efficiency through much smarter cross-organizational/cross-hierarchy coordination of work and decisions specific to a common product line strategy

There are many lessons to be learned by organizations embarking on this roadmapping journey and ample best practices to be shared by those who were early adopters of this NPD process. As we work towards a mature model for product line roadmapping, it will be interesting to see what new NPD needs we uncover. For now, we’ve got lots of products to plan and benefits to reap.

Next steps

To take a deep dive into product line roadmapping and ways that your company can implement and benefit from this practice, download our whitepaper: Strategizing, Roadmapping and Executing the Product Line

The Adept-Group offers workshops to train your team to develop a powerful product line strategy and roadmap. Learn more and sign up today.


  1. […] To learn more about the relationship between product line roadmapping, stages and gates, and portfolio management, read: Maturing NPD Practices Beget New Processes […]

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