FACTORS INFLUENCING THE FRONT END OF THE innovation process that precedes the New Product Development

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    Stefan Hüsig Management of Innovation and Technology

    University of Regensburg - 93040 Regensburg, Germany stefan.huesig@wiwi.uni-regensburg.de

    Stefan Kohn Fraunhofer Technologie Entwicklungsgruppe Nobelstr. 12 - D-70569 Stuttgart, Germany


    ABSTRACT In this paper we construct and propose an empirical-based research framework for the so-called “Fuzzy Front End” (FFE) of the innovation process. While this part of the innovation process that precedes the New Product Development (NPD) process offers the largest optimisation potential for cost savings, quality improvements or time re- ductions, the term FFE is still ill defined and its influencing factors for success remain largely unclear. Based on a comprehensive review of 66 large empirical-based NPD studies that identify relevant influencing factors of Front End activities and 30 specific conceptual and explorative FFE papers, a comprehensive framework of influencing factors for FFE-performance is proposed. The internal factors that seem to be most im- portant were consolidated in five clusters: strategy, culture, organisation, senior man- agement and process. Moreover, we mapped the external factors that have been ne- glected in many studies so far and that offer many possible topics for future research. Finally, our findings enable future researchers and practitioners to focus on the most relevant influencing factors of the FFE-performance which are identified by the aca- demic empirical-based literature in this field so far.

    INTRODUCTION Innovation – the commercially successful conversion of ideas into products – is one of today’s core drivers of economy. Alas, academia has not yet identified the most promising activities, processes and strategies necessary to master successfully the early steps of the innovation process – the Fuzzy Front End (FFE). During the last years much research has been done in the NPD field especially its process optimisation. [89, 95] Sadly only little is known about the FFE. Unfortunately there is not even an accepted definition of the FFE [95, 164]. Even the terminology varies [95, 115, 164]. On the other hand many researchers agree on the fact that the room for improve- ment within the FFE is enormous. „The existing findings indicate the Front End proc- ess as having the largest potential for improvements at the least effort possible“. [115, 147] These potentials haven’t been utilised so far. Therefore we want – based on research done so far – to accomplish three goals:

    � Identification of most important influencing factors on the FFE � Identification of contradictions within the findings of past research and of fur-

    ther research needs � Development of a framework for future FFE research

  • COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW OF FRONT END RELEVANT FINDINGS IN EMPIRICAL NPD AND EXPLORATIVE FFE STUDIES In this section we provide a comprehensive review of 66 large empirical-based NPD studies that identify relevant influencing factors of Front End activities and 30 specific conceptual and explorative FFE papers. All identified success factors are selected for and evaluated from a holistic FFE perspective. Based on this insight we give an overview of the key findings which are most significant for the FFE in the 66 NPD-studies we have analysed. In contrast to the majority of the existing academic FFE-literature which is typically more conceptual [79, 127] or explorative [89, 142, 156] than based on large samples of empirical research and often focuses on specific aspects of the FFE like uncertainty [164] or the speed of development [91, 151], we try to give a more holistic and comprehensive overview of the influencing factors which were identified as most important to the FFE performance. Although the majority of the NPD research does not specifically focus on the FFE, we think that important findings can be revealed from these studies by evaluating them from a distinct FFE perspective.

    Towards a Consistent Definition of the FFE Before we can provide a comprehensive review of the existing body of literature our understanding of the term “Fuzzy Front End ” of innovation must be made clear. Apart from the fact that this term is still ill defined there are also a bunch of similar terms and models discussed in the literature which add on the vagueness of this phrase. So far several terms are used in the academic literature for the description of Front End activities of innovation, e. g. “predevelopment” [39, 147], “advanced development” [81, 25], “pre-project activities” [154], “Fuzzy Front End ” [43] or “pre-phase 0” [89] “Front End of Innovation” (FEI) [95] and even new models are introduced like the New Concept Development (NCD) model from Koen [95]. On top of that there is a flood of neologisms invented by creative practitioners for similar purposes, activities or organisational entities in the early stages of the innovation process. Surprisingly, none of the FFE definitions or models seem to refer to the Front End related activities and issues which are discovered by researchers in areas like corporate entrepreneurship [17, 19] or knowledge management [121]. Most of the definitions roughly describe the FFE as “activities that take place prior to the formal, well-structured new product and process development or "Stage Gate (TM)" process” [95] or ranges from the genera- tion of an idea to either its approval for development or its termination [114]. Although there seems to be a common pattern in the various definitions that the Front End ac- tivities precede the more formal NPD process [119] there is less agreement on which activities are included or excluded in the forefront of the FFE. At first it is remarkable that Cooper [39, 41] integrated the Front End activities in his phased NPD model rather than separated it, like Koen puts it in his definition [95]. Furthermore the Ger- man R&D literature emphasises the distinction between predevelopment and the pre- vious technology development and basic research which are in terms of a sequential innovation process model prior the FFE activities as defined above [147]. Specht et al. [147] focus on the application potential and outcomes of different R&D or innovation process phases as key variables to distinguish between predevelopment and other ac- tivities in the innovation process. By this perspective the bridging function [86, 128, 16] of the predevelopment phase in the innovation process is highlighted. Therefore we focus our attention on NPD studies that reveal insights compatible with our understanding of the relevant Front End activities as defined below:

  • Preliminary Definition of FFE � Exclusive: General strategy formulation, pure technological knowledge creating

    technology development and basic research, product concept implementation ac- tivities (NPD)

    � Inclusive: Individual project strategy formulation, preliminary market & technol- ogy assessment and feasibility studies, concept definition, product and business planning, idea generation and selection, opportunity identification & analysis, con- struction of early prototypes, knowledge and people transferring, field testing and market experiments

    Methodology: Selection and Analysis of the Reviewed Studies Selection of the Reviewed Studies To conduct our literature analysis we focused on empirical studies in the NPD area with large sample sizes, published by well-known researchers in respected journals and FFE studies which closer investigate Front End relevant influencing factors.1 Due to our specific FFE perspective we chose NPD studies which comply with the upper criteria and offer specific insight on Front End related issues. More specific, the selected NPD studies explicitly had to cover FFE phases or activities. Furthermore we prioritised research efforts which concentrated on factors that the firm is able to influence. Typically success factor research in NPD focuses more on internal than on external factors [159]. Nevertheless research which includes external entities like customers and suppliers was also added to our sample of NPD studies due to their assumed relevance [15, 120, 83] and the controversial stances when it comes to the im- pact customers have on the performance of NDP and FFE activities [24, 133, 77, 99]. In parallel articles that covered the FFE have been researched. By a broad litera- ture and database research we wanted to identify all papers that contained the term FFE or one of the above mentioned aliases. Additionally we included studies that fo- cused on activities that are relevant to the FFE like idea generation. The identified FFE studies which were reviewed for this paper are mainly conceptual and explorative in character. They are used in a complementary manner for closer investigation of Front End relevant influencing factors and elements in order to compare their major findings with the insight offered by the reviewed empirical based NPD studies through our Front End lenses.

    Analysis of the Selected Studies The analysis of the selected NPD studies was performed like that: First, we separated the identified success factors of the studies into two major groups, the activity & phase related factors with specific focus on the FFE and on “global” success factors which do not concentrate on a specific phase but on the entire innovation process plus seem to be relevant for the FFE. Then we added sub-categories for the various success factors which had close linkages of the contents. Second we consolidated the various ways to measure the su


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