The lack of clarity in the beginning of the innovation process led to it being called the ‘fuzzy front end’ of innovation. Ideas for new products and services could come from anywhere. However, in practice, it’s a struggle to come up with relevant innovative ideas with potential. What’s more, innovation research (Cooper, 2011) has found that only one in seven new product ideas are successfully introduced on the market. So what happens to the other six? It seems, they get stuck at the back end of innovation.
So the front-end is fuzzy and the back-end isn’t very effective. It proves that creating and realising new products, services or even business models isn’t easy. And that’s exactly why I like it. I learned how to love the struggle. Do you?
In a lot of bigger organisations there is a traditional split of people working either at the beginning or at the back end of innovation. And this hinders learning from each other’s best practices. Based on my strong focus on the front-end of innovation I also like to inspire innovators working on realising innovation projects in practice with 3 C’s. With Connect, Customer, and Creativity, you can smooth also the innovation implementation process.
Once an innovation project has passed the initial front-end gate it becomes one of many. The big question is how to make your project stand out from the crowd and keep the decision makers’ attention. I found the answer in the FORTH method. In addition to the core project team, I asked an extended team to join us. Extended team members are invited on a personal basis, and represent top decision makers from the business side of the company. Make them work with you on difficult challenges. And make your innovation struggle also their struggle. The main advantage is that the decision makers are fully aware of the progress made, and once they are part of a team they will support the outcome. And help you to get the project moving beyond the gates in your innovation funnel. So C number 1 is: connect top decision makers to your project in the innovation delivery phase.
In innovation, the main struggle is the organisation itself. A lot of colleagues and managers have a fulltime job disagreeing on everything. In the FORTH method, we test new product or service ideas at the front end with customers straight away. And in the last step of the ideation process, we return with four new mini business cases for our most attractive ideas. We use the ‘voice of the customer’ to justify our choices. And this really works. I suggest you do the same thing during the back-end phase of innovation. Use the voice of the customer to gain internal support. And avoid everybody’s no’s. Present your concept or prototypes on a regular basis during the innovation delivery phase to potential customers, and use their enthusiasm to get a higher priority and more resources internally. In short, use the voice of the customer in the back end.
A lot of people associate the front-end phase with creativity and the back end with disciplined and structured project management. But that’s history. The front-end phase in the FORTH method is highly structured and that’s delivering great results. And during the back-end phase you need more than PRINCE2 to deliver an the innovation project. Although the soul of the innovative concept is created at the front-end, you have to stay flexible and creative. More than ever, you need professional brainstorming tools and creativity to deal with complex feasibility issues. So make sure that in your innovation delivery team and process creative people and creative tools are involved.
If you are in the delivery phase with your innovation project, make sure you continue using front-end ideation skills. Do so, and you will become an even more professional innovator.
You can download here 13 free innovation checklists and formats for the front end. Use them at the back end to, when helpful.
I wish you a lot of success realising your innovations. It’s all about getting great ideas into the market.
Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).
He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.
Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.