Many companies use the Stage-Gate Innovation Process, developed by Robert G. Cooper. It offers a great blueprint to structure the innovation process from the first idea evaluation until the introduction of the product. Each stage closes with a gateway for a go/no-go decision of the management. In practice the many gates are delaying the innovation process, and simplified versions have been developed for less complicated innovation projects.
The first stage covers the initial investigation of the innovation ideas. At the first gateway the question is: do we really have to pay attention to this? The assumption is that there are a lot of appealing innovative ideas readily available. That is exactly where we miss the boat. Appealing new ideas are not knocking at your door and do not appear either at the exact moment when you need them. The latest international research in The Economist shows that almost 60 per cent of all companies are not able to generate sufficient innovative ideas.
Ideas for new products and services can come from anywhere: from inside the company through research and development, marketing, sales, the call center or the online sales department; from top management, the responsible line managers and enthusiastic co-workers. They can also come from consumers, business-to-business clients, distribution partners, suppliers, consultants, research institutes, scientists and even from competitors. However, in practice, it is unclear where the innovation ideas should come from. The question about which criteria they should meet is also vague. Do you know who in your organization has new innovative ideas and what criteria they have to meet?
The lack of clarity in the beginning of the innovation process led to it being called the ‘fuzzy front end of innovation’. Cooper, added a ‘discovery stage’ before the first stage of his model in order to improve it. It is at this stage that ideas are discovered; thus, in advance of any decision to develop a product or service, the start of the innovation process is now divided into three steps, with a gateway at each step. In my new book Creating Innovative Products & Services however, I consider this phase – from the creation of the idea until a decision is made to develop the product concept – as one phase, with one team and one process. This enables you to gather speed, which is important as the world turns faster each day, and more internal support.
Many organizations spend too little money and time on the front end of the innovation process. Research shows that companies who spend more time and attention to the ideation phase:
- Speed up the development of a new product;
- Spend a greater part of their effort on projects which will lead to success;
- Create a positive influence in the organization;
- Increase the chance that the NPD program will meet the objectives.
A worldwide investigation by Arthur D. Little into the five best practices in innovation shows that more professional idea management has the greatest influence on the turnover of new products. It results in an increase in turnover of 7.2 per cent from new products.
The very first phase of the innovation process, the creation of innovative and appealing product, services or business model ideas, is therefore of the utmost importance.
So, you better start to ‘unfuzz’ your front end of innovation.
Gijs van Wulfen leads ideation processes and is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. He is the author of Creating Innovative Products & Services, published by Gower.