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Keywords:

  • innovation;
  • new product development;
  • principal-agent analysis;
  • search;
  • complex performance landscapes

Many large organizations use a stage-gate process to manage new product development projects. In a typical stage-gate process project managers learn about potential ideas from research and exert effort in development while senior executives make intervening go/no-go decisions. This decentralized decision making results in an agency problem because the idea quality in early stages is unknown to the executive and the project manager must exert unobservable development effort in later stages. In light of these challenges, how should the firm structure incentives to ensure that project managers reveal relevant information and invest the appropriate effort to create value? In this study, we develop a model of adverse selection in research and moral hazard in development with a go/no-go decision at the intervening gate. Our results show that the principal's uncertainty regarding early-stage idea quality—a term we refer to as idea risk—alters the effect of late-stage development risk. The presence of idea risk can alter the incentives offered to the agent and may lead the principal to reject projects that otherwise seem favorable in terms of positive net present value. A simulation of early-stage ideas, found through search on a complex landscape, shows that the firm can mitigate the negative effects of idea risk by encouraging breadth of search and high tolerance for failure.