10 lessons learned implementing a Stage-Gate in oil & gas – Part 2

ByMark Barnett

Robbins-Gioia Senior Executive Consultant Mark Barnett continues his list of lessons on the Stage-Gate process. To read Part 1 of “10 lessons learned implementing a Stage-Gate in oil & gas,” including the introduction from author Mark Barnett, his list of 5 distinct components for maximized NPD effectiveness, and his first two best practices, click here.

3. Understand the process
If the Stage-Gate process is a framework that overlays an existing NPD process, then a primary exercise in implementing that framework is to align stages and gates to the existing process. This presupposes that the existing NPD process is well understood and well documented.

But, as was found in this instance, trouble will ensue when each business unit’s understanding of the process resides primarily in the heads of veteran employees, and those NPD processes, because of the numerous known or suspected gaps and deficiencies aren’t necessarily what the organization’s leadership wants to see emulated.

With this in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the most powerful exercises carried out during the Stage-Gate deployment discussed was the development of detailed process maps representing all major work streams within the entire end-to-end NPD process.

While the maps are valuable in and of themselves, the numerous tools being developed using the information contained in the maps, such as role and responsibility matrices (a detailed RACI matrix), deliverable matrices (who owes what to whom when, using what template), etc., will be even more valuable since they will be used in day-to-day project execution. In addition, discussions among representatives from the numerous business units at each process-mapping session were important because they enabled shared insights and created the opportunity to develop working relationships with those in similar roles.

One of the most interesting and unexpected outcomes was that every one of the 10 business units was able to agree on a single, relatively detailed NPD process. Tailoring is needed at a more detailed level, of course, and to accommodate the differences between NPD efforts for tools and equipment versus chemistry-focused products, but the overall process was accepted by all. The added benefit of a common process is facilitated execution of cross business unit program and easier transition of development staff between one business unit and another.

4. Use Flexibility
Another best practice that emerged is “Flexibility”—a disciplined process for allowing project-specific deviations from the baseline Stage-Gate approach adopted within each business unit. (The baseline in this case is the Stage-Gate process as customized by the business unit in the process mapping sessions.)

Flexibility consists of three elements: (1) justification for the proposed deviation, (2) identification and rating of the associated risks and, if needed, risk-mitigation actions and contingency planning, and (3) approval by the project’s governance committee for the proposed deviation.

The recognition of the need for Flexibility first emerged when a high-risk project was launched at the request of a specific customer who needed the product quickly. Missing the deadline would lead to significant financial penalties. For that reason, the decision was made to adjust certain elements of the Stage-Gate process to enable shorter execution time. Among the adjustments was the elimination of the marketing work stream, which was justified by the existence from the outset of a paying customer.

5. Prepare a software infrastructure
In the implementation described here, a comprehensive yet low-cost infrastructure was created in Microsoft SharePoint. This infrastructure significantly improved the outcome of Stage-Gate-based NPD efforts by enabling collaboration and transparency in project execution and alignment of work with the Stage-Gate framework. Among the components of this infrastructure are tools to:

- Manage and share documents across all work streams and through all stages
- Manage action items and deliverables
- Identify, track, and manage risks
- Facilitate gathering data for gate reviews
- Record and communicate gate review decisions and feedback
- Capture and share lessons learned

When the Stage-Gate implementation initiative started, the development of such an infrastructure was not part of the near-term plan. However, it was quickly clear that its absence was a hindrance to project execution as well as to cross-work stream collaboration. Once deployed, this software infrastructure, which was designed to facilitate each project teams’ ability to follow the Stage-Gate methodology, was quickly adopted.


Every company strives to consistently deliver new products that address customer needs cost effectively while achieving reliability, quality, safety, and other important customer goals. While challenging, there are a number of critical success factors that can greatly improve the odds of success.

If several components are embedded in the gated NPD approach, the chance of success of programs executed using it will increase considerably. Yet, it stands to reason that likelihood of successful products will be further enhanced by applying what others have learned the hard way—the second half of best practices described above.

If your NPD initiatives were sticky notes—albeit expensive ones—you would want to be sure you put that extra piece of tape on them so they didn’t fall to the floor by failing to deliver the expected value from the time, effort, and corporate treasure invested in them. Consider these 10 components and best practices to be the pieces of tape you use to increase the likelihood that your NPD efforts will be successful, remaining right where you want them, creating value for customers and shareholders.

To read Part 1 of “10 lessons learned implementing a Stage-Gate in oil & gas,” including the introduction from author Mark Barnett, his list of 5 distinct components for maximized NPD effectiveness, and his first two best practices, click here.

Mark Barnett, PhD, MBA is Senior Executive Consultant, at Robbins-Gioia, LLC. He has 15 years of experience leading business transformations within multiple industries, including oil & gas, high-tech R&D and manufacturing, telecommunications, and insurance and financial services. Mark served as Robbins-Gioia’s engagement lead at one of the premier international oil & gas products and services companies, implementing a common new product development framework across 10 business units. He is also an thought leader in the area of Customer Experience Management, transforming organizations to place customers at the center of everything they do, leading to increased revenue, improved service quality, and reduced operating cost.

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