Front End Innovation

Executive Participation in Front End Innovation

by Bill Weber

As we said in an earlier post, you don’t have to change your culture, change your processes or change your organization to innovate; all you need to do is take your existing team, your existing processes and add Front End Innovation (FEI) discipline. The key question an executive needs to consider in this context is how much of Front End success is dependent on their involvement. The short answer is: a lot. Continue reading “Executive Participation in Front End Innovation” »

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Using Independent Innovation Partners to Vet New Ideas

by Bill Weber


If you’ve ever been a vice president at a large company, you will immediately recognize the story I am about to tell. You’re sitting at your desk late on a Friday afternoon working feverishly on a project that absolutely must be completed soon if your company is going to hit its quarterly numbers. It’s important work, and you’re glad to be doing it even if the pressure is intense. A shadow darkens your door. It’s your boss, and she says something like this, “I was just talking to the CEO, and we have a pretty interesting idea for a new product.”

Continue reading “Using Independent Innovation Partners to Vet New Ideas” »

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Can’t Figure Out Why Your Revenue Is Falling? Call an Independent Expert

by Bill Weber

If your revenue is falling, it’s bad. If you don’t know why, it’s worse, especially since there are only two possible causes:

  • Your company is executing badly, or
  • There are things going on in the market you don’t understand, and these unknown things are stealing your business.

We’ve recently had several Fortune 500 clients experience this issue with isolated product lines. These are accomplished, efficient companies. Execution wasn’t the problem. So they took a look at their traditional competitors and found no recent innovations in products or business models that changed the competitive landscape. Further, there were no external forces they could discern that would explain decreasing demand for their products. Yet their product-line revenue was declining. To their credit, this set off warning bells for their executives, and they turned to us for assistance. Continue reading “Can’t Figure Out Why Your Revenue Is Falling? Call an Independent Expert” »

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Harnessing the Power of Front End Innovation

By Bill Weber

In our last two posts, we described why it is that you can’t engineer disruption and how to distinguish Sustaining, Breakthrough and Disruptive Innovations. Given that iP2Biz partners with large companies to help them develop and execute their innovation agendas, the natural question is, “If you can’t engineer Disruption (and Breakthrough Innovation is hard), why even bother?” It’s a good question with a simple answer: if you run your company as you always have and learn to harness the power of Front End Innovation, you can dramatically increase the odds of capturing both Breakthrough and Disruptive Innovations. Continue reading “Harnessing the Power of Front End Innovation” »

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Front End of Innovation versus Front End Innovation

With only the word “of” being the difference, Front End of Innovation and Front End Innovation actually have two different meanings. Continue reading “Front End of Innovation versus Front End Innovation” »

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The Innovation Logjam

“Innovation is currently a wildly popular, multi-faceted word in business circles. Seeking out new ideas that can be quickly brought to market for profit is as old as commerce, and the realities of our borderless, globalized world requires constant vigilance to stay ahead of competitors.” (Oliver Marks, ZDNet, 2012) So why do many Senior Executives feel that their company’s internal innovation and technology management efforts fall short? Why do many Senior Executives feel good ideas or the creation of compelling intellectual property to drive innovation in product development are not sufficiently supported or prioritized internally? Why is an internal innovation logjam hampering growth and competitiveness?

The Innovation Logjam exists due to many reasons. Some reasons include a lack of methodology of how to manage the creative process at the Front End and how to encourage creative innovation to include rejection of bad ideas with sound analysis. The Innovation logjam is further fueled by a lack of knowledge in how to embrace external technology and independent points of view to break down preconceived notions. Lack of management support for the need to manage innovation before the formal product development process is another reason for the Innovation logjam.

The currently popular Stage Gate Process for Product Development exists to define innovative product opportunities, risks, dependencies, and key elements of success. However, in an attempt to tightly manage the delivery of innovative products to market, the Stage Gate Process may have created a barrier to innovation. A collaborative process at the Front End of Innovation, before the formal Stage Gate process, allows for the inclusion of technology that exists externally from the corporation but is critical to innovation success. Collaborative efforts help to break down the rigidity inherent to the Stage Gate process and break out of the Innovation Logjam.

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Developing Innovative Product Definitions

Two of the objectives of the ‘definition and business case’ stage in the Formal Innovation process include clearly defining the product to be developed and completing a business plan for the specific product. At the Front End, where ideas take a more conceptual form, a determination needs to be made on the nature of the innovation. The closer a product is to ‘sustaining’ in nature, then the tighter the initial product definition can be because a narrower development may be analyzed and quickly executed upon. The market assumptions made during the concept stage can be systematically verified through additional market research and competitive analysis.

However, in the case of a potential Breakthrough Innovation, improved opportunity for success exists when the product definition idea is more loosely defined. Less definitional rigidity leaves room for creativity and allows for team collaboration and the inclusion of new technology and iterations at the Front End.

A productive innovation process starts with two things:

  1. Goals that are clearly defined along the way as a guideline or “road map to success” and,
  2. Contingencies that are clearly outlined to provide direction for the prescreening of technology and marketing opportunities.

This process will remove some constraints of the Formal Innovation process and allow for a wider “net” of potential alternatives to be evaluated. A more loose strategic innovation analysis at the Front End could even include multiple versions of the product definition scaled to suit several different opportunity types and risk levels.

An innovation process that recognizes the need for differing levels of control that are situational will improve productivity and focus for the entire innovation effort.

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Innovation and Technology Management Myths

Thoughts_transferTechnology Innovation is often viewed as an inscrutable art conducted without process, simply relying on brainstorming and intuition.  While intuitive insights and informal brainstorming play a part in innovation, technology management and the creation of intellectual property; the process is more systematic than one might realize.  There is a growing recognition that innovation on the Front End requires different management methods than the Formal Product Development process.  Delivery of a successful innovation in product development requires both the development of a winning concept and plan AND the ability to deliver the solution to market, one that is a linear process and one is an iterative process.

However, risk can never be mitigated to the point where everyone in the decision chain is completely comfortable. Product development innovation always involves a change to an existing order and is inherently risky, causing a threat in addition to offering opportunity.  Robert Brand in Roberts Rules of Innovation cites, the place where innovation is most likely to flourish is not at the core of an organization but at the edge, “where the weight of inertia is less inhibiting and where disruptive initiatives are more likely to be tolerated.”  These edges are described as peripheral areas where growth has the highest potential. Being on this edge of innovation can also have the most potential risk.

By contrast, the “core” of an organization or market is where the money and resources are located. The core of said organization is also the most resistant to change. The core makes up the central or essential part of a company, market, or industry.

In order to sustain innovation, risks must be undertaken. No Risk: No Innovation.  Innovation and Technology can be managed, the risk can be partitioned but, it will exist.

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Front End Innovation: The Creative Conspiracy

Leigh Thompson in “Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration” (Harvard University Press 2013), discusses that when collaboration is conscious, planned, and shared with others, excitement builds and a conspiracy develops. She states, “Creative collaboration is the ability of teams and their leaders to organize, motivate, and combine talent to generate new and useful ideas. Teams that conspire to commit creative and innovative acts are engaged in a creative conspiracy.” These stakeholders are crucial in the development of breakthrough innovation.

Working at the Front End of Innovation, iP2Biz, has noted that often an “adhoc” internal team of relevant participants, in conjunction with an external partner, provide an anonymous view of relevant external technology. This is an exceptionally effective manner in sorting through, iterating, and perhaps rejecting a potential innovative idea. This is the real world creative conspiracy.

When the creative process kicks in via a combination of targeted analysis and discussion, highlighted with various points of view, the result is a “straw man” project. This project develops with an action plan for further analysis if potential is seen, and invariably the project picks up tentative “sponsors” (or executives within the corporation) who believe there is potential for breakthrough innovation (subject to specified future analysis).  The seeds of the Creative Conspiracy have now formed around the straw man project.

If further analysis does not support the project or even an enhanced version of the original straw man project, participants drop out.  However, in the rare cases the project is supported and enthusiasm grows, the supporters of the idea buy into the conspiracy. In essence, they align to support the straw man project and push for its success because each participant believes there is some value. This conspiratorial team begins intensive planning. How to win management support? How to gain a budget?

Leigh Thompson states this is integral to the innovative culture of a corporation as the creative conspiracy fosters because, “the teams that can meet the creative challenges posed to them are the hallmark of the most successful organizations.” iP2Biz agrees, but perhaps success at the Front End of Innovation is defined by the creation of a loyal “sponsorship” team willing to commit, time, energy and reputation to the Innovation.



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