The Gatekeepers: Heavy burden of decision making explained By Innovation Cloud, 10.12.2019

The Gatekeepers: Heavy burden of decision making explained

Imagine this scenario: The D day has come. You are waiting for Mr. Smith’s from procurement for approval, while nervously drinking your morning coffee on an empty stomach. All the data from your innovation project are running through your head. So far, the research phase of innovation-project “New sustainable packaging” where you are set as the innovation leader, has been finished and all of your preliminary research was approved two months ago. Today, Mr. Smith’s decision will determine if your project will be approved for the development phase. You know that all the relevant activities are completed, that all the deliverables are in place and supported with proper data and documentation. All of a sudden, you receive a notification on your phone, and by the corner of your eye, you spot Innovation Cloud’s notification “Your Innovation-Project has been rejected for the phase business plan”. Cold shower…. Hundreds of questions at the same time, yet only one explodes in your head: What we did wrong?

How one man has so much power to stop the progress of the innovation-project with one NO?!? 

Mr. Smith is actually a very polite person and a senior procurement manager in our company. He has been working for 7 years in our company and is always available for any questions and consultation with employees. He is set as a gatekeeper on the Business assessment review phase of the innovation-project, therefore, he has all the necessary power to approve or reject the progress of the innovation-project. 

What just happened?

Feedback received from Mr. Smith explained the reason behind this decision. He could not agree with the project delivery dates for the development phase, as the contract with the new supplier that should provide us with the new packaging material, was not finalized yet, due to some legal issues. Another message arrived: “The development phase will be delayed for two weeks. All other conditions are fulfilled. As soon as we solve this legal situation, we will be able to continue with the innovation-project. Sorry team, and keep up with a great job”. What a release.

What is a gatekeeper? What is a gatekeeper in New Product Development process? Who is Mr. Smith?

Worldwide companies embraced a structured product development process to better organize their development activities, more accurately predict weak spots and react faster to any alert. All that with the aim to bring their innovation to the market on time and within a defined budget. The best-practice companies are using a proven and structured development process based on Phase-Gate methodology. This approach basically divides the development process into phases - working phase followed by review and/or decision-making phase. The innovation team is in charge of a series of activities at each working phase, which usually includes pre-defined templates for data collection. The review or decision-making phase represents a point where gatekeepers or your decision-makers have to decide whether to stop the innovation-project or move it to the next working phase.

Whichever product development system and/or structure your company established, it must invariably have Gatekeepers. Their power is centered around approving innovation-project phases, based on their knowledge and expertise. Gatekeeper represents a person responsible for deciding whether your innovation-project should continue with its development and move to the next stage. His approval is needed in order to move forward. 

The main responsibilities of Gatekeepers

If a company wants to ensure that the right innovation-projects are progressed and finally commercialized, objective and fact-based decision-making is the goal of any review-phase. Gatekeepers are usually made of your senior and upper management and they are chosen based on their expertise, role in the company’s structure and knowledge. As this is a decision-making group, it should remain small. On the highest level, It typically includes the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and the Heads of the Marketing, Engineering, Finance and Operations areas. 

The responsibilities of Gatekeepers within NPD are:

  • Review work-phase activities and supportive documents to assess the results against preset review-phase delivery criteria;
  • Deliver review-based decision on approving good and killing bad projects;
  • Provide recommendations for revisions and improvements to the product development plan going forward
  • Cancel, put on hold and re-prioritize innovation-projects.

To summarize, Gatekeepers’ job is to review innovation-project progress at each of the decision-points and to make ‘Go’/‘No-Go’ or ‘Kill’ decisions based on the information provided. Their decision has to be objective and fact-based, as well as to provide meaningful feedback to the innovation team executing the activities and to enable them to keep up with the progress of their innovation-project. It is also his job to react accordingly if something needs to be corrected and adjusted.

So, considering everything stated above, our Mr. Smith is a true example of a gatekeeper, providing efficient and educated decisions on the progress of innovation-projects and giving guidelines to the innovation team for addressing specific pain-points that could jeopardize the innovation-project. It is not an easy task to do, but someone has to do it.

Thank you, Mr. Smith.


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