How do you know if your plant-floor investment strategies support your product-introduction strategies? Can you relate current product-development projects to future plant and equipment investment needs? Are you able to properly synchronize key information, milestones and critical communications affecting product introduction? Those are the questions that led Akron, Ohio's Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. to begin implementing a new stage-gate process for bringing products from concept to market, explains Richard Olsen, manager of global stage gate. Based on ActiveProduct software developed by Framework Technologies, Burlington, Mass., Goodyear's project-management initiative is evolving into a systematic way of knowing that the right decisions are being facilitated every step of the way, he explains. "Since product companies are manufacturing oriented, they easily fall into the trap that the only decisions that count are those involving production efficiency. Manufacturing companies also need to emphasize making the right products efficiently. At Goodyear we want to optimize at the whole process. "A company can manufacture a product very efficiently, but if it's not the right product in the right marketplace, earning a good margin, are we really doing what's right for the company and its shareholders? Framework uses the term 'collaborative upfront business case development' -- getting all of the functional silos to be aware of the objectives and to have their input as to what the implications are on them. By providing the information they need, there are no surprises when the project is 'thrown over the wall' to them. And it also tends to eliminate the after-the-fact finger pointing." Goodyear's new project-management initiative derives its power from data fed from all of a company's functional silos. The process identifies the manufacturing considerations and every other significant factor that affects the success of product introductions. Olsen says the system is divided into five stages that give management the opportunity to make go, no-go decisions at each step in the product introduction process. The first two stages are research and technology development. Stage three is the basic development activity. Stage four is bringing the product up in manufacturing, and stage five is the "build it, sell it, and get customer feedback" step. Olsen notes that that implementing such a system is not without some challenges. "After all, the new paradigm departs from the old tradition of managing by gut feel. Getting the information is the catch. All of the functional silos have to be willing to share." His advice to would-be implementers: "If it's a Goodyear-sized organization, the change has to be driven from the top. Management has to mandate the change." Olsen says the most difficult challenge may be in getting all the people involved in supplying the required data to appreciate why its being done. "Remember with [data] visibility comes the fears of accountability."