The Front End of Innovation, referred to as fuzzy for quite a while, can and should be structured. However, the spark of serendipity must also be caught.
Balancing deduction, induction and intuition. While a “green field build” of an innovation project typically starts with identifying valid unmet needs and building and filtering these to opportunities on which to generate ideas to turn into concepts, the field is often muddied by ideas and perceived opportunities, some of which may be good and some may be wrong paths.
A well planned innovation project first takes into account the state of play of the field and then builds around it. For this reason the central doctrine of needs, opportunities, ideas and concepts should be one more of checklists rather than stage gates. In either case, validation and verification is key to successful outcomes.
Technology push or market pull? Well, this depends upon the business situation and strategy; either is fine as long as the central doctrine (i.e. Needs, Opportunities, Ideas, Concepts) is adhered to. Put another way “technology push is fine, as long as there is a verified opportunity founded upon validated needs”
Where to look for needs and opportunities? Again that depends. The choices are any and all of functional and emotional needs that are currently unmet(at any point in the value web, user, buyer, value chain), market and technology trends and futures, market moves, reshaping and disruptions. Where to look is typically guided by an analysis what is already known and what is unknown, by you, your customers, suppliers and competitors. A combination of potentially high impact with low knowledge or prior exploration form the nucleus of opportunity discovery hunting grounds.
How do you budget, measure and manage? Single front end projects are usually best measured against strategic alignment rather than direct financial returns which should be applied only to bundled up front end projects (i.e. the portfolio) and then to downstream product development once projects exit the front end. Budgeting for a front end project is determined by ambition and relative risk and return against the portfolio. In reality it is often a budget that dictates the program and not the other way around.
How do you assure success? Short answer: you can’t and it’s OK to fail. Long, more practical, answer: 1) know what success looks like (link to strategy) 2) validate and verify early and often; 3) be nimble and ready to change direction; 4) all learnings are valuable and we need to find a way to capitalize on them.
What resources do we need? Internal or external? If you can have internal teams execute specific tasks, the learnings will be better and the resulting innovations will be richer. Where this is not possible then, at the least, a champion or leader must at least be intimately involved in the work. Avoid hand-off situations at all costs! Which external resource? Excellence demands no compromise and you need to be sure to use the right resource for the exact job at hand, not default to the one you used last time or the known entity. The voice of the customer firm that was excellent in consumer home observations may not be the best firm to undertake voice of the customer analysis in your distributor chain, for example; or a design firm that excelled in a consumables design may not be best suited to user interface. Have a network of narrow and deep expert resources that you can draw on.
Our approach starts with a Scoping Phase, typically two or three weeks long, in which we seek answers to the above questions in a series of interviews, workshops and preliminary analysis. At the conclusion of this phase, we will have formed:
- A clear statement of the innovation ambition and strategy
- Which opportunity hunting grounds to explore and which tools and approaches to deploy
- Which resources to use, both internal and external
- Initial project plans, with milestone structure, budgets, other resources and timelines
Once the output from the Scoping Phase is agreed, the next stage is a Mandate Phase, obtaining executive buy-in and sponsorship. This activity is critically important and success hinges on getting this right.
Following the Scoping and Mandate phases work can start on delivery, typically progressing through detailed planning and resource commitment (including contracting externals); and then to milestone phased execution.