The Gate process is a great way to view a product design effort and to uncover the roles of a PM within it.
Robert Cooper in Winning at New Products: Accelerating the Process from Idea to Launch, Third Edition outlines a typical Stage-Gate model as comprising the following stages:
3) Business Case (I will call this Planning)
5) Testing and Validation
Walking through these phases can provide a quick overview of what's broadly expected of a PM.
Discovery is the phase through which new ideas are uncovered. Discovery phases can be as simple as conducting team brainstorms - or can be more elaborate, including the use of in-depth consumer insights work to uncover unmet functional needs or the use of metaphors to re-position existing product concepts to address unmet emotional needs. At the end of this phase, a basic list of ideas is developed and put through some sort of idea screen to limit the idea list to a palatable number for the Product team at the Scoping stage.
At the Scoping phase, PM conducts basic analysis to determine the addressable market for the screened product concepts of the previous phase. Scoping may involve looking at many different variables, but one technique I particularly like is to subject a product concept to two lenses: 5S and 4C. 5S refers to synchronized (is it aligned with my company / team direction?), sustainable (is there something in this concept that can withstand the test of time - e.g., competitive pressures, technology change, etc.?), sufficient (is the idea in conjunction with the other parts of the portfolio adequate to attain the company's strategic objectives?), selective (does the idea say what it won't do as well as it says what it will?) and scalable (is the idea feasible to roll out broadly?). 4C refers to the lens of consumer, customer, company and competition. Scoping through these lenses provides a way to quickly understand a market's size, whether you have any right to participate in that market and how aligned the market is with your company's direction. Some companies use a Marketing Requirements Document (MRD) to align the organization at this phase.
The Planning phase of the Stage-Gate process (called by Cooper the "Business Case") involves expanded resource use coordinated by PM and Program Managers to clarify the concept, assess more deeply the technical feasibility and costs (both unit costs and development costs) of creating the product and more thoroughly validate the market opportunity. The more thoroughly validated market opportunity assessment can include, in more mature industries where norms are available, volume models based on preliminary concept tests or, in less mature industries, validation of volumes from sales and customer-facing teams. The market opportunity assessment, technical feasibility and cost analysis should provide the core tools by which to conduct a more thorough financial analysis of the product concept, providing NPV and company cash-flow impacts of the development. Some companies use a Product Requirements Document (PRD) to align the organization at this phase.
In my experience, Program Managers usually take over the Development phase of the Stage-Gate process. At this stage, the Program Manager will work with Product Development to coordinate the creation of a product that meets the requirements laid out by PM in the marketing and product requirements. Detailed specifications will be developed to enable product performance that meets requirements and these specifications will be used by engineering to assess whether they can be attained within the cost constraints laid out in the financials.
5) Testing and Validation
In this phase, a Quality organization may take over. Having been involved in-depth usually in the Development phase, Quality will test the product against the specifications and requirements to ensure execution. This phase may also include Packaging and Advertising testing to ensure the package is "intrusive" and drives the necessary awareness to fulfill the needs of the business model.
Here, a product is moved from NPI to sustaining and the sustaining plans are activated. This may include Customer Service support, Technical Support, etc. At this stage, Sales will focus on product placement and Marketing will drive product trial through advertising (both conventional and word-of-mouth), sampling and merchandising.
I will focus in most of my posts on in-depth looks at tools that may be applied at each of these different phases.