Building Excellence in the Fuzzy Front-End

frankmattes Advisory, Thought Leadership

This is the third post in our series about what we call the Corporate Innovation ProblemTM and how to go about solving it. We started the series by spelling out the problems in corporate innovation here. Despite large and growing investments into innovation, the results remain disappointing.

The overall process of innovation spans the chain of activities from discovering insights into valuable and unmet customer needs to the market adoption of commercially viable products, services or business models addressing these needs. This chain consists of two sub-processes: the co-called Fuzzy Front End (FFE) and the Efficient Back End (EBE).

We move the story on. Because every company has unique technological and market challenges we show that there is no one-size-fits-it-all “Fuzzy Front-End”.

The search for FFE excellence

One way of looking at the overall innovation process is that the early phase, the FFE, is about doing “the right innovation things” (effectiveness) whereas the late phase, the EBE is about executing “innovation things right” (efficiency and quality).

These two phases are very distinctive in nature from strategy to operations and financial concerns:

EBE, FFE logic

Factors to be considered for designing an excellent FFE

As we have found in our client work, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-it all “excellent FFE”. In designing its FFE, every company needs to consider “hard factors” such as industry clock speed, disruptive risk and innovation strategy as well as “soft factors” which are rooted in the company’s culture.

In 2015 we conducted a survey of leading industrial companies in Europe from discrete manufacturing, to consumer packaged goods from the process industries through life sciences to utility companies.  We conducted interviews to examine the custom and practice of managing innovation and asked about their top priorities and concerns. See table below.

We found that across different industry sectors there are different focal points these companies are looking at in order to design their FFE.

FFE results table

We believe that FFE excellence is the key value driver for innovation effectiveness and it comes from having an optimally designed FFE and exhibiting highest performance in the activities mentioned in the table above. Firms who are in the excellent category teach that FFE excellence does not come overnight; It requires sustained investments in several ways, coupled with trial and error and continuous optimization over several years.


We suggest that in order to maximize outputs from innovation companies should focus on “doing the right things”. In order to design the optimal FFE for your company, you need to consider several factors that are appropriate to the industry dynamics and internal characteristics of the firm.

In the next post we will describe how companies invest to build up their FFE infrastructure.

About is an international agency focused on solving the corporate innovation problem. We provide consulting services based on proven, best-in-class methodology which in many cases is proprietary. The services are delivered by experienced innovation management specialists and by subject-matter experts.

Please get in touch with us if you want to improve the outcomes of innovation investments.