The Problem with the Fuzzy Front End

frankmattes Advisory, Thought Leadership


Firms are shifting their innovation efforts away from “bread & butter“, incremental innovations towards innovations that address adjacent technologies and towards radical or breakthrough innovations.

This is one result of a global study that PwC published this year.

Designing the early stage of innovation

This potentially creates a significant opportunity for companies that can navigate in a world of exploding volumes of data and with exponentially growing quantities of scientific knowledge.

Now we need smart ways to mine the haystack for that needle, whilst it is piling up even faster.

In innovation management terms, this means that firms need to think hard about how to design and run the early stage of innovation.

This early stage, the front-end of innovation if you will, is ambiguous – or fuzzy – and hence often called the Fuzzy Front End (FFE).

Later stages, when strong innovation concepts have been defined and the innovation scope clearly specified, are designed to implement the defined innovation. Most often, these stages are called the Back End of innovation.

The problem with the early stage

The problem with the FFE is not only about finding the needle in the haystack. The problem is also to manage the complexity of the firm’s organization. This organization is usually multidimensional with matrix responsibilities and by with KPIs geared towards efficiency and risk adversity.

This spells trouble when it comes to seeking and exploiting new markets and technologies, away from the core.

And, hidden below the surface, is another problem that manifests for the individual innovator and innovation teams.

These people have been brought into their firms based on areas of expertise. But now, in the era of “Open Innovation” which states that 99% of the smart people don’t work for your firm, tension is rising.

At the same time corporate battle cries are called out to deliver more innovation, in particular more radical innovation, to work with experts with complementary areas of expertise – whilst sticking to governance rules and efficiency KPIs.

Effectiveness is key and here’s how to achieve it

So with all these movements going on – external ones as well as the internal ones – firms need to put innovation effectiveness into the core of their innovation thinking.

Effectiveness builds on several pillars:

Designing the optimal “innovation machine” – A well-defined innovation strategy, aligned processes and management systems, an innovation culture that is in line with these elements and supports them and an innovation ecosystem that comprises the relevant set of the “99% of the smart people”

One global innovation platform that supports effectiveness – Connecting the innovators, linking fresh ideas to existing ideas and to experts in-house and outside of the firm.

Innovation momentum – A string of success stories that builds confidence and provides energy to overcome tough challenges.

Engaging the innovators on the global platform – Bringing out the best in ideas and in concept work by tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd.”

Services that drive innovation – Helping innovators “on the job” to effectively solve existing innovation challenges by adding expertise and the power of the one global platform.

In our next blog post we will dive into these topics in detail.

REFLECTIVE QUESTION: What are your firm’s main challenges in the Fuzzy Front End?

Please contact us if you would like to give new innovation momentum and create a highly effective approach to your innovation activities.