PROVIDING CLARITY AND A COMMON
LANGUAGE TO THE “FUZZY FRONT END”
Eight companies collectively determined a theoretical construct for the Fuzzy Front End of innovation in order to provide a common framework and language; they found that highly innovative companies have a more proficient FFE.
Peter Koen, Greg Ajamian, Robert Burkart, Allen Clamen,
Jeffrey Davidson, Robb D’Amore, Claudia Elkins, Kathy Herald, Michael Incorvia, Albert Johnson, Robin Karol, Rebecca Seibert, Aleksandar Slavejkov, and Klaus Wagner
front end because, as indicated in Table 1, the nature of
the work, commercialization date, funding level, revenue
expectations and other factors are fundamentally
different (see “What is the Front End?,” page 49).
OVERVIEW: Eight companies that were Process Effectiveness Network members of the Industrial Research Institute attempted to collectively determine the best
practices of the Fuzzy Front End (FFE) of innovation.
Comparing one company’s processes to those of another
proved insurmountable because there was neither a
common language nor clear and consistent definition of
the key elements of the front end. As a result, the group
developed a theoretical construct, defined as the New
Concept Development (NCD) model, in order to provide
a common language and insights on the front end activities. The model consists of three key parts: five front end elements, the engine that powers the elements, and external
influencing factors. Proficiency of the FFE was evaluated
at 19 companies by using the NCD model. Highly innovative companies were found to be more proficient in the FFE and in several elements of the NCD model.
It was for these reasons that an Industrial Research
Institute (IRI) project team from eight companies (Air
Products, Akzo Nobel, BOC, DuPont, Exxon, Henkel,
Mobil and Uniroyal Chemical) began studying the front
end, with the optimistic objective to develop a list of best practices for the FFE. The team members, all “owners”
of the product development process within their firms,
found it impossible to determine the best practices at
each company. Comparing one company’s front-end
processes to those of another proved insurmountable
because there was no common language or definition of
the key elements of the front end. To address this shortcoming, a theoretical construct—defined as the New Concept Development (NCD) model—was developed to
provide insight and a common language.
The front end of innovation, or what is often called the
Fuzzy Front End (FFE), presents one of the greatest
opportunities for improving the overall innovation
process. This stage, which we define by those activities
that take place prior to the formal, well-structured New
Product and Process Development (1) or “Stage Gate™”
process (2), is the target of increasing attention because
of the widely-perceived lack of high-profit ideas entering
the New Product and Process Development (NPPD)
process. Moreover, considerable literature exists on best
practices for the start of the NPPD process (3) as well as
within it (4–6).
For the remainder of the article, we use the term “Front
End of Innovation” (FEI) as opposed to Fuzzy Front End
(FFE). We strongly believe that FFE implies that this
portion of the innovation process is mysterious, and this
attitude often results in a lack of accountability and difficulty in determining who is responsible to manage the activities in this area. The use of the term FFE incorrectly suggests that unknowable and uncontrollable factors
dominate the front end, implying that this initial part of
the innovation process can never be managed.
New Concept Development Model
In contrast, there has been little research to date on best
practices for the front end. Furthermore, many of the
practices carried out during the NPPD don’t apply to the
The NCD model, shown in Figure 1, consists of three key
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