Maturing NPD Practices Beget New Processes

DownloadArticlePDF-buttonThe Journey from Stage Gate to Portfolio Management to Product Line Roadmapping

January 2016       By Paul O’Connor

As the field of new product development (NPD) progresses and matures, many new processes and practices have been introduced. Some grow, mature and level off – or even decline – but their impact leads to the recognition of the next need or gap.  A new process or practice is then implemented that takes NPD organizations to its next level of success. Eventually, this too will level off, revealing the need for further improvement of methods, practices, and processes.  Such evolution can be seen in the advancement and changes to stage/phase gate processes coupled with product portfolio management practices and, now, with the addition of product line strategizing and roadmapping.

The Stage/Gate process came about in late 1980’s/early 1990’s[1]. As a much-needed process, it experienced notable growth in the late 90’s through mid-2000, reaching maturity and ultimately leveling off. Many organizations then sought to add greater value to their product development approach by embracing portfolio management practices beginning in the early to mid-2000.  It is widely agreed that product development portfolio management “jumped the chasm[2]” and began full adoption by 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/gate presence in order to be adopted. This is better stated, perhaps, by saying a mature stage/gate process begat the need for portfolio management.

Continuously increasing the economic gains from portfolio management, however, is quite difficult to achieve. Once an organization realizes the initial gains from good mix management and project throughput management, getting more out of portfolio management becomes much more of a struggle.  It seems that portfolio management becomes more like just rearranging the chairs on the deck of a ship.

Today, the two fundamental process challenges exist for most organizations:
1. To 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 stage/gate and the portfolio of the projects within the stage/gate process) is that they yield one-off development opportunities or incremental improvements to current product offering. The missing element for notable gains has been the need for greater leverage of development activities yielding greater impact in markets. This is the exact role of product line strategizing and roadmapping, two intertwined activities that 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 [3]), the central focus on roadmapping had emphasized the evolution of technologies and their supports, such as supply chains and designs, which needed to progress with the technologies. However, the advance from singular, technology-centric roadmapping practice to product line roadmapping in combination with product line strategizing is what enables the progression of overall product development efforts.

But, we also know that product line roadmapping has not yet diffused into practice like stage/gate processes, 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 notion of just what makes for smart product line strategies (before establishing a roadmap) is not widely understood by practitioners and their top management.
3. The organizational approach toward roadmapping has emphasized technology and conducted this as an event that occurs periodically rather than an ongoing process that integrates with both the stage/gate process and portfolio management practices.

There is a new understanding of the power of product line roadmaps to execute smart product line strategies.  Perhaps more important, we know the construct of such product line strategies and how to create them.  Moreover, organizations are realizing considerable value when integrating product line strategizing and roadmapping practices with stage/gate and portfolio management practices.  The result is that the evolution of product development practices continues through the realization of the enormous value to be gained from product line strategizing and roadmapping.

The companies that embrace product line strategizing and roadmapping can reap enormous benefits, including:
•  Greater strategic impact (think revenue, earnings, and market share) and with meaningful  advantage over competitors;
•  Faster delivery of innovations by leveraging platforms and setting up technologies and capabilities in a more timely fashion; and
•  Better resource use efficiency through much smarter cross-organizational/cross-hierarchy coordination of work and decisions specific to a commonly understood product line strategy

There are many lessons to be learned by organizations embarking on the roadmapping journey.  Best practices, case studies and guiding principles are available to all who wish to move their organization’s capabilities forward. As we work toward mature product line strategizing and roadmapping practices, it will be interesting to see what other new NPD approaches may be needed. For now, though, we have lots of strategies and new products to plan, and tremendous benefits to reap.

Next Steps

To take a deep dive into product line strategizing and roadmapping and learn how your company can implement and benefit from this practice, please check out these resources:


[1] Stage Gate – had its origins in the 1950 and 1960, with phase and gate practices at NASA. Robert Cooper extended the principle to all product development and discussed extensively in the book “Winning at New” Products first published in 1988.
[2] Crossing the Chasm , Harper Business 1991 Geoffrey A Moore
[3] MATI     Much credit for the genesis of road mapping needs to be given to Motorola in work they did during the early 1990s. Together with Northwestern University, they created MATI (Management of Accelerated Technology Innovation), a consortium of private companies and academia focused only on road mapping.

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