Winning at New Products

Creating Value Through Innovation


By Robert G. Cooper

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For more than two decades, Winning at New Products has served as the bible for product developers everywhere. Robert G. Cooper demonstrates why consistent product development is vital to corporate growth and how to maximize your chances of success. Citing the author’s most recent research, Winning at New Products showcases innovative practices by industry leaders to present a field-tested game plan for achieving product leadership. Cooper outlines specific strategies for making sound business decisions at every step-from idea generation to launch. This fully updated and expanded edition is an essential resource for product developers around the world.

“This is a must read. There’s so much new in this book, from how to generate the breakthrough ideas, picking the winners, and driving them to market successfully.” — Philip Kotler, Professor of International Marketing, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management



Stage-Gate® has become the most widely used method for conceiving, developing, and launching new products in industry today. Stage-Gate is much more than a business process, however. The model was originally conceived by observing successful product developers as they drove major innovations to market. Those early observations led to the conclusion that there was a "better way"—that some innovation teams and project leaders had intuitively figured it out. I tried to capture their secrets to success on paper, and so was born the Stage-Gate system. Thus Stage-Gate is an idea-to-launch process, but one that encompasses a body of knowledge and set of best practices—best practices based on studies of thousands of successful new-product developments and hundreds of companies that probed what the winners do differently from the rest.

The emphasis in this 5th edition of Winning at New Products is on bold innovation and in record time. I've watched as companies, a few industries excepted, have shifted their innovation efforts from true innovations and major projects to much smaller and less ambitious ones over the last few decades. It's somewhat disheartening to see what these companies are calling "innovation" versus what it should be. In some firms, product development has been totally trivialized. I hope this 5th edition sounds a wake-up call that true innovation and bold product development are within your grasp.

I also emphasize speed—more specifically, agility, flexibility, and acceleration and adaptability, which are all linked. It seems that too many firms' innovation processes have become rigid and bureaucratic over the years—slow and cumbersome, unable to deal with today's pace of change. It's as though they're designed to impede bold innovation and to stand in the way of doing anything worthwhile fast. And so I build in some new techniques—some from the IT world—to get the innovation engine up to speed to where it should be: agile, accelerated, adaptive, and flexible.

The 1st edition of this book was published in 1986, before I had even begun to use the term "stage-gate." That first book reported the results of a number of research studies that colleagues and I had undertaken into new product success and failure. And it proposed the use of a systematic and gated idea-to-launch business process for the first time. To my surprise, the book had a profound impact on the way many companies approached product development, and firms such as P&G, DuPont, and Exxon Chemicals immediately embraced the concept of my stage-and-gate system.

But those were the early days of management of the innovation process. More research was undertaken, including some that focused on these early adopters of Stage-Gate. More success factors were uncovered in our NewProd research series and in our major benchmarking studies that followed; and more experiences were gained with the use of Stage-Gate methods (I first used the term "Stage-Gate" in an article that appeared in the Journal of Marketing Management in 1988). And so the 2nd edition was published in 1993. It went on to become the bible for those businesses trying to overhaul their new product process and implement Stage-Gate. The 3rd edition in 2000 continued the tradition, but with an emphasis on accelerating idea-to-launch. And the 4th edition in 2011 built in many of the new approaches, such as spiral or iterative development, lean processes, and "open innovation," that are widely embraced today.

This current 5th edition is more than a simple updating of the 4th edition, however—much in it is new too. Six years have passed since I wrote the last edition, and much more has been learned: For example, Agile development methods have gained a solid foothold in the IT or software-development world, and in the last few years have been employed within Stage-Gate and for physical or manufactured new products, achieving dramatic results. Indeed, incorporation of Agile methods as a project-management tool within the stages of Stage-Gate may be the most significant change to my durable gating system since it was first developed thirty years ago!

Stage-Gate has evolved and morphed in other ways too—it continues to be an evergreen process because of its many users globally! With these thousands of users, it's inevitable that new twists, approaches, and methods are uncovered, tested, proven, and incorporated into their idea-to-launch systems. Many of these novel approaches find their way into this book too. Stage-Gate is now faster and more streamlined—user firms have borrowed the concepts of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma and built these into Stage-Gate. Portfolio management has been integrated with gating methods, and the concept of "lean gates" and "gates with teeth" have been fashioned into the system in order to make sharper and more effective investment decisions. Stage-Gate has been made more adaptive and flexible in some firms, and it's now context based and risk dependent. It's also been automated with robust software. And there are new tools, such as "Design Thinking" and the "Innovation Project Canvas," that have been built in as well. Further, Stage-Gate approaches have even been extended to other types of projects, including technology developments (fundamental science) and process developments. So much that's new makes today's Stage-Gate hardly recognizable by early adopters of the original process! All of these new concepts and methods are in this latest edition.

Finally, this 5th edition takes a more holistic approach to succeeding at product innovation. There is more to winning than simply having a solid or agile idea-to-launch process! This holistic or "systems approach" is introduced in the Innovation Diamond, which includes strategy, resource and portfolio management, climate and culture, and process. Thus a new chapter on innovation strategy is built into this edition; and portfolio management—making the right investment decisions—is heavily emphasized too. And achieving the right climate and culture is a theme woven throughout.

A number of people have provided insights, guidance, content, and encouragement in the writing of this new edition. Several merit special attention. First, Mr. Jens Arleth, a long-time associate and business partner, former managing director of U3-Innovation Management in Copenhagen, who passed away in 2013, was leader in this field of management of innovation. He was a constant source of inspiration and ideas for improving the way we do new-product development; his Danish consulting firm specialized in Stage-Gate and portfolio management, and he was the first to introduce these concepts into Europe (specifically to Scandinavia) where they are now employed at leading firms throughout the region. With me, he co-owned the trademark for Stage-Gate in Europe. Indeed, it was a conversation with Jens in Copenhagen many years ago that convinced me of the potential for firms to adopt Stage-Gate, and motivated me to push on with Stage-Gate in those early days. His enthusiasm, good cheer, considerable knowledge and experience in this field, and especially his friendship, are sadly missed.

I also thank the following people for their contributions which made this edition so "new" and cutting edge:

• Dr. Angelika Dreher and Mr. Peter Fürst, managing partners at Five I's Innovation Management in Austria, who have taken up the challenge of implementing Stage-Gate in German-speaking countries for the last twenty-five years. They have pioneered in Europe some of the newer facets built into today's Stage-Gate, such as Agile-Stage-Gate methods, "Design Thinking," and the Innovation Project Canvas. Peter and Angelika, both business partners and good friends of mine, have provided many insights, exciting new methods, and examples that are found in this edition.

• Dr. Anita Sommer, who is a champion of Agile-Stage-Gate within the LEGO Group. She is a coauthor on recent articles into this new approach, and undertook the first basic research on the topic of Agile married to Stage-Gate for manufactured products. Her PhD research and the coauthored articles are heavily drawn on for this edition.

• Mr. Richard Peterson, formerly VP of New-Product Development at The Chamberlain Group, who provided insights based on his experiences (and also a case example) with the Agile and Stage-Gate approach. He and his firm were one of the first in the United States to experiment with this new approach.

• Mr. Tomas Vedsmand and Mr. Søren Kielgast, managing partners of the GEMBA Group, a consulting firm in Denmark, are both business partners of mine and pioneers in the application of Agile within Stage-Gate. They too provided valuable concepts for the current book, notably from an experimental program in their country by Dansk Indusri (Danish Industry Association) to introduce these concepts to medium-sized businesses.

• Mr. Lars Cederblad, a business partner and director of Level 21 (a strategy and innovation consulting firm in Sweden), who contributed ideas, experiences, and an application example for the current edition.

• Mr. Gerard Ryan, managing director of Prodex Systems in Australia, who implements Stage-Gate and automation software in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia, and provided useful insights from his many experiences.

• And closer to home, the good folks at Stage-Gate International in North America, a company I cofounded (although I no longer have an ownership position in the firm), who continue to promote good management practices in product innovation and Stage-Gate.

Direct assistance was provided by several people: I would also like to thank my publisher, Ms. Lara Heimert, publisher at Basic Books (Perseus Books), who provided encouragement, and adeptly steered the progress of this book from inception to launch. Thanks is also due to Ms. Alia Massoud who works with Lara; and Michelle Welsh-Horst, manager, managing editor. And finally I thank Rachel King at Perpetua Editing, who did a superb job of copyediting the book, without whose perseverance and skill this book would not have been possible.

Robert G. Cooper




Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship… the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.

—PETER DRUCKER, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 1985


Most companies have ambitious growth goals. The problem is that there are only so many sources of growth. Four of these—market growth, market-share increases, new markets, and acquisitions—are proving difficult or expensive. Markets in many industrialized countries and industries are mature and increasingly commoditized; gains in market shares are expensive; and acquisitions often don't work… witness share-price declines after major acquisitions are announced. New markets—India and China, for example—pose special problems; moreover, those firms that have entered Asia have already realized many of the benefits. Even traditional product development—for most companies, this means line extensions, improvements, and product modifications—seems depleted, and only serves to maintain market share.1

The dilemma is this: Shareholders and executives want a steady stream of profitable and high-profile new products—bold innovations that have a huge impact on the company's sales and profits and really move the needle. But management practices and today's competitive and financial environments are steering companies in a different direction… toward smaller, less risky, and less ambitious initiatives. Indeed, recent pronouncements in authoritative publications have declared, perhaps prematurely, that innovation is dead!2 Part of the cause for the trend to less ambitious innovation is a preoccupation with short-term profitability, driven in part by the financial community. A second cause is that, even with a longer-term focus, it's really difficult to create that game-changing innovation these days—many markets and sectors simply appear barren!

Coupled with this goal of bolder innovations is the goal of speed. The implicit objective in new-product development (NPD) is "faster, better, cheaper." But is this goal realistic or is it simply a paradox—a contradiction in terms? It's difficult to create highly profitable new products, yet maximize short-term results. Bold innovations often take years to develop and cost millions to commercialize.

There is hope, and that's what this book is about! We see exceptional innovations and exceptional companies everywhere today. The trouble is, they are the exception—a minority of new products and companies. Odds are, you're not one of them. But these companies and big new products do provide a model, and by studying them, we learn their secrets to success.

Today, we see a handful of leading firms adopting new methods that achieve both bold innovation and in an accelerated fashion: They prove that bold and fast are both possible. These leading firms have adopted new methods and practices, some quite radical—in effect, they have reinvented their idea-to-launch methods, approaches, and processes—to make it more agile, flexible, adaptive, and accelerated. Indeed, some of the changes these firms have implemented represent the most significant change to our approaches in new-product development since the inception of gating processes three decades ago.3

In the next pages, you'll see a remarkable example of a big winner that was undertaken with record speed. We'll also probe into the reasons why and how, seeking lessons from this innovation. In so doing, you'll gain insights into the approaches, behaviors, and practices that made this new product so successful, so fast—lessons and insights that you can apply to your own business. The rest of the book then drills down into the details of these best practices—how to come up with big ideas, pick the winners, and drive them to market in record time, so that you and your company, too, can be a best-in-class innovator.

The Most Successful New Product… Ever

Apple's iPod was the most successful new product ever launched, according to most metrics.4 The speed of iPod's sales growth after launch in 2001 was staggering, with Apple reaching 50 million iPods sold globally in only 4.5 years after introduction. By contrast, it took Sony 10 years to sell 50 million Walkman units. And compare iPod's fast market growth to wireless phones, which took 12 years to reach sales of 50 million units, or digital cameras or cell phones, which had much slower starts. Apple also drove the MP3 market, whose cumulative sales reached 200 million units by the end of 2006, of which Apple was responsible for one quarter (and hit a 70 percent market share in the United States). Sales of the iPod peaked in 2008 with annual sales globally of an amazing 54.8 million units that year. By 2016, with sales slowing down as the iPod moved into the later stages of its product-life-cycle, Apple had sold half-a-billion iPods!5

Not only was the Apple iPod the most successful new product ever launched, it also reinvigorated the company, propelling Apple from a struggling, marginalized computer company in the late 1990s to the most valuable publicly traded company today (as of 2017). Some of you might remember Apple's challenges through the 1990s—how the firm's computer business faced tough competitors, such as IBM and HP, and suffered a number of product failures and disappointments. Its future back then was very much in doubt. So, by 1997, Steve Jobs was invited back as de facto head of the business after an absence of more than a decade.

Only a month after 9/11, and in the midst of an anthrax terrorist scare, Jobs went on stage to announce the first iPod.6 And the rest is history: The iPod was the first of a series of inspirational i-products from Apple, including the iPhone and the iPad, which changed the way we communicate—some even say "changed the world"—and certainly skyrocketed the company to greatness.

How Did Apple Pull Off This Amazing Coup?

Contrary to popular belief, Apple was not the innovator in this industry—it did not invent the portable MP3 player. Indeed, when the iPod was introduced in November of 2001, almost fifty companies were selling portable MP3 players in the United States; many were Asian companies relying on the Internet to market their products.

The iPod grew out of Steve Jobs's digital-hub strategy. People were plugging all kinds of devices into their computers: digital cameras, camcorders, MP3 players. The home computer was becoming the central device, the "digital hub."7 While Apple's programmers were busy creating software for editing photos and movies and managing digital music, they, like so many users, discovered that the early MP3 players were very much lacking.

Jobs thus asked his top hardware man, Jon Rubinstein, to see if Apple could develop a better music-playing device that would link into Apple's computers. But the challenge was a formidable one technologically: He was just about to give up when Toshiba, one of Apple's hard-drive suppliers, showed him a new 1.8-inch hard drive they had just prototyped. Rubinstein immediately recognized it as the key technology for the first iPod. And in less than nine months, the iPod team had a product ready to go: The iPod was assembled from off-the-shelf parts—a Toshiba hard drive, a Sony battery, and chips from Texas Instruments.8

Apple's success, where others failed, was due to a brilliantly conceived innovation strategy that was superbly executed. In broadest term's, Apple saw the growing market need, and then identified and solved the major problems with existing MP3 players—size, storage capacity, user interface, and the shortage of legally downloadable music. In solving the problems, Apple leveraged its unique strengths perfectly: its ability to vertically integrate and deliver an "amalgam of hardware, software, and content that made buying, storing, and playing music virtually effortless."9 Apple achieved this success by relying on its legendary expertise in hardware and software but without going into the music business."10 Apple also positioned the iPod cleverly, targeting its loyal customer base of young, media- and tech-savvy people (Apple's original target market) with a "cool and hip" product, almost a fashion statement. And the firm used its effective distribution-channel system, and maintained its high-quality image and avoided price discounting.

Sony, which had dominated the portable music market since the introduction of the Walkman in 1979, possessed many strengths and competencies as well: size, brand name and image, distribution and market presence, technology, and manufacturing capabilities. But it elected a strategy that missed the boat. As if Sony did not learn anything from its failed Betamax strategy years before, instead of attacking the embryonic but growing MP3 market, it rejected the opportunity, and instead tried to defend its languishing digital mini-disc player and establish it as the next device to supplant the declining CD player, the Discman. And so Sony and the Discman faded from the growing music marketplace.

Apple's successful iPod "imitation strategy" had a huge impact on the company's fortunes. Its revenue more than tripled from 2001 to 2006, while profits went from a $20 million loss to plus $2 billion in five years; and the iPod was the first of a series of breakthroughs that created the Apple we know today… another case of brilliant innovation strategy, flawlessly executed (and to Sony's chagrin, a case of a poorly conceived strategy doomed to failure). Strategy rules again!

Lessons Learned

Examples, such as Apple's iPod, are often cited but seem out of reach for most corporations. But a more careful examination of the iPod's success reveals no magic here, but simply bold innovation at work. And there are some lessons for us all here:

Bold innovation is indeed possible; it's not just wishful thinking! One key is to have a clear innovation strategy that focuses the business's R&D effort on the right strategic arenas—on markets and sectors that are relatively new but still established, which are growing and have the potential for more growth, and where customers or users are largely dissatisfied with current solutions. Apple first identified this attractive strategic arena (MP3s), where it could leverage its strengths to advantage, and then developed a solution that solved users' problems: an easy-to-use, easy-to-download MP3 system, which also happened to be "cool."

• A disruptive technology or radical technological innovation is not necessary in order to achieve stellar new-product sales. Note that Apple did not invent the MP3 player, nor did it create this new-product category, nor was this opportunity in a blue ocean.* The MP3 category was an already existing market and product category: There were forty-three competitors selling MP3 players when Apple launched! And the components for the iPod were largely off-the-shelf—they already existed. True, Apple integrated several components—the iPod, iTunes (based on a firm, Jukebox, they had just purchased), and the home computer—in order to create a "new system." This "systems solution" was the innovation.

• One proven route to success is to find big problems, then create big, bold solutions. That's exactly what Apple did. Perhaps by chance, the development team discovered the many user dissatisfactions with existing MP3 players: Current products were cumbersome to use; downloading music legally was a challenge (remember Napster!); they had limited storage capacity; and so on. In spite of all the negatives, however, MP3s were still selling. By identifying these points of pain, and then by applying Apple's technical skills and using existing technology and components, they created and launched the winning solution.

Accelerating to market, even major new products, is most definitely feasible. It's quite incredible that this most successful new product in history was developed in under a year! Compare that to the time it takes to develop new products in your business… products probably nowhere as impactful as the iPod. How did they create a multibillion-dollar product so quickly? There's no question that the project leader and team were very talented people. They also were clever enough to use off-the-shelf components, so that invention and new science were not required. Leveraging the firm's core competencies and strengths was another key to speed. And the team was focused, dedicated to this one project. Finally, having executive sponsorship from the big boss no doubt helped too! There are other proven ways to speed new products to market that we'll see later in this book.

But Is Bold Innovation Dead?

Innovation in America is "somewhere between dire straits and dead," according to Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook.11 He goes on dismissively to say of this generation's inventors: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters."* A world where all can use Twitter but hardly anyone can commute by air is less impressive than the futures dreamed of in the past.

The anecdotal evidence is damning: The recent rate of progress all around us seems slow compared with that of the early and mid-twentieth century. Take kitchens.12 In 1900, kitchens were primitive things: no refrigerators, only ice boxes cooled by blocks of ice delivered on horse-drawn wagons, and stoves powered by wood or coal. Most households lacked electric lighting and running water. By 1970, middle-class kitchens in North America and Europe featured gas and electric stoves and ovens, fridges, food processors, microwaves, and dishwashers. But today, fifty years later, things have scarcely changed: Digital displays are on every kitchen appliance, but the appliances are basically the same as in the seventies. The breakthroughs happened in the first part of the century. The same is true of many industries—from automobiles to aircraft, from polymers and chemistry to construction materials and methods, from agriculture to food processing. It seems that only the IT industry—the software and hardware industries we associate with Silicon Valley—are truly innovating.

United States spending on R&D—both by companies and by the federal government—saw regular growth between 1950 and 1980, growing with the economy, according to professor of innovation and strategy at Babson College, Jay Rao.13 But starting around 1980, this spending decreased and has remained flat ever since. "Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer executives who are willing to spend more on R&D and long-term return," says Rao. "High-frequency trading and short-term incentives are killing innovation on all fronts. But for the venture capitalists, there are very few executives who are investing for the long term."

There are also challenges in conceiving, developing, and launching bold innovations. Whether you are a CEO, a marketing director, or a design engineer, you know that developing a truly differentiated new product is rare these days for most firms. Research shows that one of the foremost keys to profitability in new-product development is developing and launching a unique superior product with a compelling value proposition.14 However, this creation is easier said than done: Markets are mature and increasingly commoditized, and hence it's difficult to create that breakthrough or game-changing new product—there seems to be "little headroom left." In many huge industries, such as food, consumer packaged goods, chemicals and plastics, or engineered products and heavy equipment, it is difficult to find opportunities for bold innovations. And disruptive technologies, a potential source of product innovation, are also scarce in most industries—those radical technologies that characterized so many industries, from plastics to automotive to home appliances, throughout much of the twentieth century.

Even today's high-tech industries struggle for the "next great innovation." New technologies, such as cell phones, digital cameras, software, or laptop computers, do emerge and dramatically generate new sales and profits. However, as these markets mature, users' needs change quickly and competitors launch new product after new product; thus it's difficult to sustain product competitive advantage in this leapfrog world.


  • "This is a must read. There's so much new in this book, from how to generate the breakthrough ideas, picking the winners, and driving them to market successfully.
    Philip Kotler, Professor of International Marketing, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management
  • "This book is an invaluable guide...It's full of best practices, practical methods and real-world illustrations that demonstrate how to succeed at product and service innovation."
    Dick Arra, Chief Technology Officer, ITT Corporation
  • "This book provides insights into the new approaches and offers very useful guidelines for creating a powerful innovation setting in your organization."
    Hannes Erler, Vice President of Innovation, Swarovski K.G.
  • "[Winning at New Products] has been a mainstay of product-development literature for fifteen years."
    Journal of Product Innovation Management
  • "Winning at New Products by Robert G. Cooper has a clear place on your book shelf and will be most helpful in your innovation battles to explain the many in-built limitations to others less informed yet involved in the decision process."—

On Sale
Sep 19, 2017
Page Count
448 pages
Basic Books

Robert G. Cooper

About the Author

Dr. Robert G. Cooper is ISBM Distinguished Research Fellow at Pennsylvania State University and Professor Emeritus at McMaster University in Canada. The author of several books, he is a fellow of the Product Development and Management Association since 1999.

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