The fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book ‘Creating innovative Products and Services’ I try to solve them with the FORTH innovation method.
The fuzzy front end is the nickname for the start of innovation or ideation phase. Getting innovative ideas is a vague process. It’s considered as hard to do. That’s exactly why I like to unfuzzy it. I wrote more than a dozen blogs on this on Innovation Excellence. In this blog all my advices come together in 20 tips for ideation excellence.
- Create momentum for your ideation project. There must be urgency otherwise innovation is considered as playtime and nobody will be prepared to go outside the box. If this is not the case: just wait until the organisation is ready.
- Manage the expectations of your bosses and of the line management before you start your ideation project(s).
- It is essential to start your innovation journey with a clear and concrete innovation assignment. This forces the top management, from the start, to be concrete about the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed and which criteria these new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines underway.
- Use a team approach to get both better ideation results and internal supporters for the innovative outcomes. Invite people for whom the assignment is personally relevant. Invite both people for content as for decision-making reasons. Invite also a couple of outsiders as outside-the-box thinkers. Get a good mix between men and women, young & old, et cetera.
- Let the internal top problem-owner (vice-president) participate in the ideation team.
- Use a structured ideation approach. To think outside the box is a good start. But you have to come back with innovative concepts, which fit the ‘in the box’ reality of your organisation, otherwise nothing will happen. The FORTH innovation method connects creativity and business reality in five steps. FORTH is an acronym and stands for Full steam ahead, Observe and learn, Raise ideas, Test ideas and Homecoming.
- Great ideas for innovative new products or services fit 7 criteria. Use them actively in your project: 1. Very appealing to customers. 2. It stands out in the market. 3. It has great potential for extra turnover. 4. It has adequate profit potential. 5. It fits management’s personal goals. 6. It is (somehow) considered quickly feasible. 7. It creates its own internal support.
- When you brainstorm unprepared with the usual colleagues hardly anything new appears. That’s why it is essential to get fresh insights before you start creating ideas. Let all team members visit customers and others that serve as a source of inspiration for innovation opportunities
- Winning new concepts give potential customers a concrete reason to change. It will solve relevant problems of customers. If you want to create innovative products or services start with discovering relevant customer frictions to solve. There are several ways to discover them, like personal visits, focus groups, web searching and crowd sourcing.
- Be aware of the fact that a new product idea is not only ‘a creative product’ but also must comply to all the regular business criteria of your organisation too.
- In ideation workshops, apply creative think techniques in the most effective way and monitor all participants and involve them in the process at the same time.
- Time box. Work with strict deadlines. They help you to get people outside the box. And to make choices.
- Be open to ideas or suggestions from your ideation team to adapt the process. Do not always try and keep to the programme for the workshop series you have set.
- In brainstorming sessions, spend twice as much time on the convergence process as on the divergence process.
- Allow people to choose which innovation opportunity, idea, concept board or mini new business case they want to work on. If you allow them to do this then they can choose not only that which they have a passion for but also what they have knowledge of which will lead to good results.
- Hire visualisers, cartoonists or make a movie to visualise your ideation process and the results.
- Keep the pace of your ideation process going; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.
- How attractive are the new product or service concepts really? That’s a legitimate question. Therefore you reflect on the concepts immediately. And you should check the strength of the ideated new concepts among potential customers. Use the voice of the customer internally.
- Return with mini new business cases instead of post-its or mood boards. And substantiate, in a businesslike and convincing manner, to what degree and for what reason the new concept can meet their criteria.
- Make use of the specific expertise of others from within the organisation as much as you can in an early phase.
So, I hope my tips will stimulate you to ‘unfuzz’ your own front end of innovation.
I wish you lot’s of success in your own ideation projects. Do you like more tips, formats and checklists? You can download thirteen free checklists of the FORTH innovation method here. Do you have other tips for successful ideation? Please share them with us!
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.