Everything you do before starting an innovation project is called the “front end.” Some call this the fuzzy front end…because they’re unsure of what should happen. Most managers have a tendency to manage the fuzzy front end like all other phases, with impatience and expectations of quick results.
In order to successfully manage the front end phase, avoid these common mistakes:
1. Cutting costs and expecting savings: Of all the places to scrimp in business, the front end may be the worst. At this phase you generally spend tens of thousands of dollars on market research, in-depth interviews and travel costs. These activities help lower the risk associated with your future projects and cost pennies compared to development investments you will need to make later on. For most projects, you’ll easily recover this front end investment.
2. Fear of ambiguity: Some companies ask teams to make financial projections far too early, or worse, to commit on project cost and timeline without having the proper credentials. Others use the front end to “validate” their pre-conceived solutions. It’s seen as a failure if the team changes scope or kills the project…but it’s better to fail now as opposed to later. The main function of the front end phase should be learning.
Successful teams often pursue a market without a solution but with an open mind. I’ve heard teams say, “We’re interviewing and have no idea what our product will be…but we’re learning a lot!” THAT IS PERFECT! These teams will usually be rewarded. Winning teams can quickly change course and adjust based on what they learn.
We tend to avoid surprises in business…but innovation is built on surprises and new learning. Seek surprises and reach success!
At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.