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Excellence in the Fuzzy Front-End – Part 3

In the first parts of this article series we argued that that the scope and nature of innovation is changing. Big Data, Social Innovation, Additive Manufacturing (3D-Printing etc.) Design Thinking, Lean Start-up, etc. are becoming Good Practice in innovation management. We argued that in “making innovation things right”, i.e. in the back-end of the innovation funnel, many firms have established strong procedures and Product Lifecycle Management systems. This is good, but not good enough to take a leading spot in the innovation race. The innovation race is won by doing “the right innovation things”, i.e. becoming more effective.

The term “Fuzzy Front-End” (FFE) has been established for the early stage of innovation which determines the innovation effectiveness and hence ultimately innovation success. We wanted to better understand where leading firms are setting their priorities in the FFE currently and where they see things going in the future. To answer this, we conducted a study. You will find the background of the study in part 1 and the main findings in part 2 and below.

Future priorities in FFE: The results

We also asked our interview partners about future priorities in developing the FFE of their firms. This does not mean that current priorities would be of no relevance in the future. Rather this means that in the future additional aspects will become a focal point for optimizing the FFE. As expected, the answers we received vary from industry to industry. The results are (underlined by some actual statements from our interview partners):

  • Discrete Manufacturing: Improving innovation behavior of Management and of staff (“Biggest challenge: Act beyond the words” and “We need to become more professional in using what we have.”)
  • Consumer Packaged Goods: Improving clarity and actionability of innovation strategy and improving innovation behavior (“We need to get a clearer image of how to do disruptive innovation” and “Establish cross-business unit co-operation for the idea stage.”)
  • Process Industries: Innovation behavior of Management and improving processes and procedures (“Separate systems for bread & butter vs. disruptive innovation” and “Establish fail fast / fail forward culture.”)
  • Life Sciences: Improving innovation behavior of Management and of staff plus establishing a risk-taking culture (“Aligning and liberating capabilities” and “We need to become better at appropriate risk-taking.”)
  • Utilities: Becoming more open in innovation and improving innovation behavior of Management and of staff (“Breaking silos with outside world” and “Establish new values for staff and Executive behavior.”)

Priorities in FFE software support: The results

If one looks at priorities in software support in the FFE, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. Some factors are more infrastructural such as the need for one global platform for all of the firm’s staff working in the FFE. Other factors address functionality to support FFE work such as connecting ideas with other relevant ideas and with experts. And a third set of factors addresses the cultural aspects such as providing transparency on idea processing status for the ideators.

As expected, priorities differed from industry to industry but interestingly, Consumer Packaged Goods and Process Industries were similar. Software priorities in the FFE are (in descending order of importance per industry):

  • Discrete Manufacturing: One global platform for the firm; Managing a large number of ideas and concepts; Automatic connection of ideas with other ideas and with experts.
  • Consumer Packaged Goods and Process Industries: Avoiding the “black hole effect” for ideators; Idea management; Real-time connection of ideas with other ideas and with experts.
  • Life Sciences: Easy anywhere, anytime, playful engagement of people working in the FFE.
    Utilities: One global platform for the firm; Managing a large number of ideas and concepts.

Conclusion and outlook

Excellence in innovation execution is widespread these days. So excellence in the FFE – in other words, in defining the innovations to come – is the real driver of superior innovation performance. Consequently, firms think very hard about how they can optimize their respective FFE.

In this study with leading firms from different industries we found that the “optimal FFE” depends on industry characteristics and a number of factors that are specific to the firm. All of these firms are also investigating software support for the FFE, where again priorities differ from industry to industry. Combining the right business angle with powerful, state-of-the art FFE software will produce a powerful thrust in FFE, and hence innovation, performance.

We plan to extend the basis of interviewed firms and to enlarge its database of FFE priorities. We also plan for 2016 to run a re-designed study that will add quantitative results. Of course, we will share our findings with you right here in due course