Managing the fuzzy front end of the innovation funnel can be daunting especially when management has high expectations from the innovation efforts.
This weeks show focused on answering a question emailed in by a listener. The question focused on the challenges of creating an innovation process for a team within a large organization and dealing with the “fuzzy front end”.
The fuzzy front end is what some people call “phase 0” of the innovation effort. This front end of innovation is non-linear and can be chaotic and frustrating. It doesn't have to be if you apply a proven approach to getting this early stage innovation work under control.
When creating new innovation processes and teams, the first step is managing management. They've tasked you with creating the team and process that will generate great outcomes. So how do you manage management?
- Manage expectations. Get agreement on the final deliverables such as “2 products per year”
- Keep management focused on the deliverables and don't let them in the “tent” to see the messiness of innovation
- Keep your ideas quiet. Do NOT share them until they are ready
- You control the reveal of your innovation teams output.
If you don't do the above, you run of the risk of trying management's patience and run afoul of the “Rule of 18”
Three Steps To Manage The Fuzzy Front End
Here are the three (3) steps to get control of the chaotic things going on when trying to get started in your innovation process.
Step 1: Create Your Innovation Funnel
- Establish your funnel by defining how many stages/gates it will have. I use four (4).
- Define the deliverable goal. While CTO at HP, my goal was two (2) fundamentally new products each year.
- Back into the numbers of each of the earlier gates assuming a 50% kill rate in each phase.
- In my case, my funnel look like the following:
- New Products = 2 projects
- Limiated lauch/lighthouse trial = 5 projects
- Customer Validation = 10 projects
- Market Validation =20 projects
- This translates to a 10% success rate from the first gate to launch.
Step 2: Fill Your Innovation Funnel
- Fill the funnel using Focus, Ideation and Ranking (three of the four steps in FIRE)
- Test, experiment and be willing to kill ideas.
- Even when you don't feel like you're making progress, you are. Perseverance.
- Understand the impact of long development cycles on filling your innovation funnel.
- Don't be afraid to ask for time to “prime the funnel”. I got two (2) years when I started the funnel at HP.
Step 3: Manage Your Innovation Funnel
- Don't neglect managing the funnel. Be deliberate.
- Move things forward. Don't let them just hang around.
- Be willing to pause an idea if the timing is not right.
- Don't be afraid to kill an idea. Make the tough call.
Show Bonus: A FREE download of my Innovation Funnel and a sample Stage Gate model
- Forbes column on the Rule of 18: Why Projects Are Cancelled For The Wrong Reasons
- Managing the Innovation Funnel
- Four Step of FIRE – Focus, Ideation, Ranking and Execution