There is no magic desk at The Mosaic Company where great ideas are born. Nor is there an Innovation Wizard responsible for concocting a world–changing super fertilizer.
Instead, there is an organization–wide culture of improvement, driven by a company committed to winning, by focusing on its core strengths, and growing, by creating new solutions that meet those strengths.
"At Mosaic, there is no one person or team responsible for ideation," says Kyle Freeman, director, New Product Development at The Mosaic Company. "Ideas can spark for a variety of reasons. Here, more often than not, new product ideas are brought about by the relationships we have with our retailers and our knowledgeable people in the marketplace, who gather information and market feedback so that we can continue to feed the idea funnel."
To turn ideas into potential new products, processes or formulations, Mosaic uses the Stage–Gate® process, an idea–to–launch model regarded as the industry standard for managing new product innovation. The key to the process from Mosaic's perspective is the transparency it evokes, replicative of the company–wide dedication to winning and growing.
Step–by–step, Mosaic's adaptation of the process is intended to bring only solutions to market that create success in triplicate – fostering results for Mosaic, its retailer customers and farmers.
"It all starts with the idea," Freeman states. "Somehow, you have to feed ideas into the process. Those ideas can be sparked in a host of different ways. It could be voice–of–customer research from our sales team, or others who are close to our customers, or from people scouring patents and literature in scientific arenas. Trade shows and other connection points with customers also help us put the pieces together to eventually create ideas."
In Stage–Gate nomenclature, ideation is referred to as the discovery phase. At Mosaic, that phase ends with a decision by the Discovery Steering Committee, which is tasked with answering one question: Is this an idea worth pursuing, or not?
Freeman, along with a member of the premium products team, the potash team, the phosphate team and the sales side of the organization, represents the "Gatekeepers." They decide whether to advance a project on to the next stage and approve the required resources. Conversely, they may decide the project should be discontinued.
If an idea passes through Gate 1 as an idea worth pursuing, it enters Stage One, the scoping stage.
"In the scoping stage, we take a satellite view of the project and ask ourselves questions like 'What is the potential opportunity? Is this worth looking at a little bit more closely? Is it even feasible?'" Freeman explains. "And through those questions, we decide if it's worth moving forward to the next step."
If those questions are answered favorably, the idea passes Gate 2, and starts to take shape as a project.
"Stage Two is when you really start building the business case for the product," Freeman says. "You start looking at what the real market opportunities are, create rough estimates of capital costs and estimate the cost of manufacturing."
At Mosaic, that also means taking a first look at the high level of cost and effort associated with confirming a solution's worth in the crowded agriculture product marketplace. It's at this point that the Gatekeepers start examining the project plan as it relates to research, including how many years of field trial data will be needed to make the product proven from the moment it launches.
All this information is combined to build a case that this product would meet a need in the marketplace and makes good business sense. The project teams must prove to the Gatekeepers that a product will be successful from a return on investment perspective, and that growers and retailers will find the project valuable.
A good business case means the project clears Gate 3, which some refer to as the "money gate."
"Up until this point, you haven't invested many resources other than people's time," Freeman says. "Gate 3 is when the Gatekeepers agree there is a business case, and grant permission to allocate money to develop the idea."
In what is called the "Development Stage," that funding turns the project into a tangible potential product. It's during Stage Three that Mosaic could begin pilot plan activities at a fertilizer production facility and work with strategic alliances to conduct field trials, for instance. The company also engages in a host of other assessments and activities. Because each project requires different logistical considerations, this stage can be completed in as little as 18 months or take as long as three years.
"Throughout that time, the team is working to refine the product definition, re–analyze the market and decide what you can and can't do with it," notes Freeman. "At some point, you will get to a place where you have a product, and you'll set a series of parameters that it must clear before moving past Gate 4."
Passing Gate 4 takes a product from development to prelaunch.
"Here you're finalizing the capital, getting approvals in place, gathering support of management, and making sure everything else is aligned so that you're prepared to launch the product," Freeman says. "There are a lot of marketing activities that go on in late Stage Three and all of Stage Four. Registration and everything that goes along with it are part of this stage as well."
Years of work from dozens of individuals come to fruition after a product moves from prelaunch to full–launch (Stage Five), passing through Gate 5 and into the full launch stage.
But certainly, the work isn't done there. Freeman notes that Mosaic takes post–launch reviews very seriously, as a product's reputation in the market can have a measurable impact on views of the company.
"From 12 months to two years later, and sometimes multiple times in between, we conduct post–launch reviews," reflects Freeman. "We want to make absolutely sure that the product is doing what we said it would do, and that it is performing like we predicted it would."
THE MOSAIC PIPELINE
It's a process that's simple by design, strategic by nature. But as anyone who has worked around farming understands, agriculture poses its own set of unique challenges, not the least of which is the fact that you only get one chance to test a product each year.
"You have to take it to the farm to test it," Freeman says. "We only get one chance at that a year, so you have to do your best to take as many variables out of the equation as you can, and find out everything you need to know about a product's performance to analyze the opportunity. We test in the lab, in greenhouses, in small–plot field trials and then eventually all the way up to on–farm, side–by–side, 80–acre–versus–80–acre field trials."
It's that philosophy, in part, that has Mosaic running several hundred small–plot research trials and 100 commercial trials to test 12 new product concepts and formulations in the pipeline. And it's that approach that helps the company set itself apart by bringing only impactful products to market.
One of the challenges we face is that there are several products in the same space that make it to market that don't offer the same type of value that we strive to deliver," Freeman concludes. "We have to be extra sure we have done our research and proven the value of a product at launch, because farmers and retailers my have been burned in the past by a new product that didn't provide value. If we can't make a good business case, while making good on our promise to deliver value to the grower and retailer, that idea will never see the light of day."