The Fuzzy Front-End of New Product Development for Discontinuous Innovations: A Theoretical Model

Reid, Susan E. and de Brentani, Ulrike (2004) The Fuzzy Front-End of New Product Development for Discontinuous Innovations: A Theoretical Model. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 21 (3). pp. 170-184.

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The fuzzy front-end of the new product development (NPD) process, the time and activity prior to an organization’s first screen of a new product idea, is the root of success for firms involved with discontinuous new product innovation. Yet, understanding the fuzzy front-end process has been a challenge for academics and organizations, alike. While approaches to handling the fuzzy front-end have been suggested in the literature, these tend to be relevant largely for incremental new product situations where organizations are aware of and involved in the NPD process from the project’s beginning. For incremental new products, structured problems or opportunities are typically laid out at the organizational level and directed to individuals for information gathering. In the case of discontinuous innovations, however, we propose that the process works in the opposite direction—that is, that the timing and likelihood of organizational-level involvement is more likely to be at the discretion of individuals. Such individuals perform a boundary-spanning function by identifying and understanding emerging patterns in the environment, with little or no direction from the organization. Often, these same individuals also act as gatekeepers by deciding on the value to the organization of externally-derived information, as well as whether such information will be shared. Consequently for discontinuous innovations, information search and related problems/opportunities are unstructured and at the individual level during the fuzzy front-end. As such, the direction of initial decisions about new environmental information tends to be inward, toward the corporate decision-making level, rather than the other way around. In order to cope with the special and complex nature of decisions made at the fuzzy front-end of NPD for discontinuous innovations, this process is detailed as a series of decisions occurring over three proposed interfaces: boundary, gatekeeping and project. The difference between each interface lies in the nature of the decisions made: at the boundary and gatekeeping interfaces, the primary impetus is individual-level decision making; at the project interface, decisions occur at the organizational level. By articulating these processes in the form of a model, we achieve two objectives: (1) we outline a more detailed and comprehensive approach to understanding the nature of the front-end decision making process for discontinuous innovations and (2) we detail specific propositions for future research on each stage of the process.

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Item Type: Article
Divisions: Williams School of Business
Depositing User: Dr. Susan E. Reid
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2015 12:57
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2015 17:12

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