Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Managing the Front End of Innovation-Part I: Results from a Three-Year Study: Senior Management Commitment, Vision, Strategy, Resource Commitment, and Culture Are the Keys to Front-End Success

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Managing the Front End of Innovation-Part I: Results from a Three-Year Study: Senior Management Commitment, Vision, Strategy, Resource Commitment, and Culture Are the Keys to Front-End Success

Article excerpt

The innovation process may be divided into three parts: the front end of innovation, the new product development process, and commercialization. The front end is often envisioned as a linear process of three stages separated by management decision gates. In the first stage, pre-work is done to discover new opportunities. In the second, scoping stage, quick and inexpensive assessments of the marketing and technical merits of the project are carried out. A detailed business case is constructed in the final stage.

The front end is a critical component of the innovation process; choices made at the front end will ultimately determine which innovation options can be considered for development and commercialization. Yet, the front end is comparatively little studied. Meta-analyses have identified over 250 articles on new product development, the second step in the innovation process, published since 1979 (Henard and Szymanski 2001; Evanschitzky et al. 2012). In contrast there have been few studies of the front end. Khurana and Rosenthal (1998) published the first comprehensive study of the front end based on case studies of 10 incremental and 2 radical projects. They found that successful organizations follow a holistic approach, one that addresses the front end within a broader organizational context, and that success depends on both organizational attributes and project-specific activities. An earlier Industrial Research Institute (IRI) ROR project team extended Khurana and Rosenthal's work by creating a holistic framework for the front end, called the New Concept Development (NCD) model (Koen, Ajamian, Burkart et al. 2001). That work also introduced the term "front end of innovation," intended to replace the more expressionistic term "fuzzy front end," coined by Reinertsen (1985), with its implications that the front end is mysterious, lacks accountability, and cannot be managed.

The work of the current ROR group builds on the previous studies of the front end of innovation to further dispel the fuzziness previously attributed to the front end by identifying specific activities and organizational attributes that contribute to front-end success. The three-year project, launched in 2004 with support from the National Science Foundation, used the NCD model as a lens to identify the most effective practices in managing the front end of innovation. This is one of the largest studies to date with a specific and exclusive focus on the front end in large, US-based corporations.

The results thus far identify both organizational attributes and innovation activities essential to front-end success. However, specific organizational attributes--senior management involvement, vision, strategy, resources, and culture--are more than two times as important to front-end success as activities or such project-specific attributes as team composition and collaboration practices. This article focuses on those essential organizational attributes; the contributions of team composition, collaboration practices, and specific front-end activities will be discussed in a later article.

The New Concept Development Model

The NCD model divides the front end into three distinct areas: the engine, the wheel, and the rim (Figure 1). The engine, at the center of the model, provides power to the front end of innovation. The engine consists of two separate segments--organizational attributes and teams and collaboration. The wheel, the inner part of the model, comprises the five activity elements of the front end: opportunity identification, opportunity analysis, idea generation, idea selection, and concept definition. The third element, the rim, includes the environmental factors that influence the engine and shape the five activity elements. These include the company's organizational capabilities, competitor threats, customer and worldwide trends, regulatory changes, and the depth and strength of enabling sciences and technology. …

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