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The progressive hurdles technique was developed by Hamilton (1974), was named by VanGundy (1981; 1988) as the Batelle method after the Batelle Institute where it was created. Originally designed to look at ideas for business development opportunities, it presupposes that a fair amount of plausible ideas have been derived from an initial idea-generating process, and it is now necessary to sort out a small number of ‘best’ ideas to put into practice.
It is essential that the chosen ideas are practical and viable, but at the same time ensure that the screening process is clearly rational and impartial, and that it reasonably economical.
Progressive hurdles extend the existing well-established method of rapidly discarding the items that can obviously be seen to be of lesser quality (see also Listing Pros and Cons). Thus freeing up time to put all your effort into a handful of promising short-listed ideas, thereby reducing the information-handling load (see also Q-Sort and Paired Comparison).
A succession of hurdles are encountered, the first of which being the most inexpensive to operate, so that the highest cost investigations are used only on handful of ideas that have endured all former hurdles. Reference to ‘Cost’ conveys the investment needed to get the information required to evaluate and idea, the four main stages suggested by the method are:
- The culling stage(s) consist of screens built from low-cost yes/no criteria – e.g. questions such as: ‘Do we have the technology to manufacture this product?’ that can be answered inexpensively from locally obtainable information. These questions may be grouped into sub-stages; e.g. a sub-stage might have 3-4 yes/no questions, and the idea might pass the sub-stage if it gets at least one ‘yes’. Any idea that fails a sub-stage is not developed.
- The rating stage(s) uses screens of medium-cost (in general a factor of 10 more expensive) criteria, normally in sub-stage groups. The criteria are expected to involve analysis and measurement, though the criterion is still probably a yes/no pass/fail threshold e.g. ‘is the average travelling time for this business opportunity > 10% of working hours’.
- The scoring stage(s) involves screens that could potentially be yet another factor of 10 more expensive and involve quite complex questions such as whether the return on investment is likely to be poor, medium or good or at broad band estimates of the likely grown rate of the market. These conditions are likely to give numerical measurements with each idea being tested to give a weighted score on each criterion. Combination at set sub-stages gives an overall score, this must exceed a pre-set figure if the idea is to pass the sub-stage hurdle, making it possible for weak points in one area to be traded against strong points in another.
- The final in-depth analysis involves the few remaining ideas that have endured all the preceding hurdles and can now be subject to a full-cost business and market analysis.
- Problems can be encountered with this method for example:
- You cannot assume the cheapest tests are automatically the best for early screening or it may not be feasible to devise a suitable series of independent tests (e.g. if groups of alternatives are strongly inter-dependant, or if they are basically different from one another).
- The method can also be discredited, e.g. by efforts to misrepresent or avoid the procedure, such as senior people pushing through their pet ideas, or demands to re-evaluate rejected options.