Innovate between the gates

Based on booth and lunchtime discussions, many of the attendees at the Product Development Management Association (PDMA) annual conference in Disneyland had both a passion for innovation and an acute realization of their need to efficiently manage their new product development pipeline, i.e. execute well. There is a natural tension between ideation/innovation techniques and execution management processes.  The former often “go sideways” in pursuit of breakthrough solutions, while the latter emphasize a disciplined approach that focuses on the best product/project ideas and pushes (or pulls) them through to completion.

It is often misunderstood that the “gate decisions” in a stage-gate process are go/no-go funding (resource allocation) choices, not the value-creating decisions that occur between the gates that conceive and define breakthrough products, services or business models. The value of a product or business is created one decision at a time and it’s the between-the-gate decisions such as Product Concept, Use Cases, Value Proposition, Feature Set, etc. that drive this value.

At Decision Driven® Solutions, we use a single construct, the Decision Breakdown Structure (DBS), as a unified framework for innovation, evaluation and execution.  Every decision (well-framed problem) within the DBS can be used as an innovation point and attacked with multiple innovation techniques.  Each decision supports a rich set of evaluation (i.e. analysis/scoring) techniques and multiple visualizations to facilitate communication of decision rationale.  Execution is supported by providing a place to capture the consequences associated with each “chosen” alternative, particularly the implementation tasks that drive the project plan and the derived requirements that influence other decisions.

In order to further strengthen the linkage between decisions (great thinking!) and project oversight (great execution!), we are adding a “Gate DBS” canvas to our Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) that shows the allocation of decisions between the gates of a stage-gate or phased development process.  Each decision within the DBS can be assigned to a gate; this implies that this decision should be made/ratified before moving on to the next gate/phase of product development.


A completed decision with supporting criteria, alternatives, scoring, consequences and traceability to plans/requirements makes an ideal gate package.  It’s easy to review (collaboratively, electronically, remotely), represents meaningful progress towards completing a product design and (if captured in living database such as DDSF) can be efficiently revisited if new information demands it.

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tools do a fine job at managing the execution of the new product development process, but they don’t facilitate, accelerate and capture the real thinking that creates product value.  That’s the province of decisions!

We have a bit of work to do before we deploy the Gate DBS canvas to DDSF users, mostly building in the ability to tailor the gates to support various types and sizes of projects.  Look for a product announcement soon.

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
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