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Improving the Fuzzy Front End Part 3

By Donald A. Coates

The following article is the last one of a three part series. Part one, Improving the Fuzzy Front End of Product Development, talked about how the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving plays a critical role in invention and innovation. Part two expanded on the author’s four-part model for continuous innovation. Part three introduces the multifamily product and development plan along with the last element known as environment and offers a conclusion for the fuzzy front end and the innovation process model.

By using concepts that are underway in the fuzzy front end one can develop the multifamily product development plan. This can be accomplished by usinga major development that is archived in the portfolio of concepts or generated in a company meeting. Part of the outcome of this activity could look like the figure below where the multifamily product plan is supported by a multifamily technology plan that feeds and enables it. Another part of the outcome is an actionable plan for the different organizations (including the fuzzy front end) which can include working with outside partners and universities, licensing, research, venture capital, spin offs, special task forces and projects, etc.

If a continuous flow of innovation is not available from the organization it can create a crippling effect on the business growth and viability. This is why the productivity of the fuzzy front end is so important.

Business Planning


The environment is defined to mean the physical surroundings for workers (especially in the fuzzy front end), the organizational structure, benefit policies andthe human interactions (motivation, vision, leadership, trust, friendship) that a person experiences while conducting innovation related activities.

The environment permeates all elements of the innovation process model. The environment acts as a catalyst or amplifier in the operation of the model. A better environment improves innovation productivity. Some stress is helpful and too much stress is harmful for innovation productivity. Even under the most stressful situations, some innovation can occur. In Jump Start Your Business Brain, author Doug Hall shows a formula relating innovation productivity to stress and stimuli.1 Factors that have been effective for the author andare considered useful in the environment include:

  • a. Leadership
  1. Classic attributes: technical, human, conceptual skills2
  2. Standout attributes (vision-conceptual-technical, charisma-human, conviction-human, alacrity-human, insight-technical)
  • b.Fresh view/optimistic/no old bad images/prejudices
  • c.Chaos to a degree
  • d.Skunk works
  • e.Consultants/collaborative/university research
  • f.Knowledge management (maintaining a portfolio of solutions or concepts)
  • g.Spin offs
  • h.Physical comfort/pleasant surrounding
  • i.Satellite organization
  • j.Diversity
  • k.Delegation
  • l.Opportunistic
  • m.Time for invention and investigation

Attempts at Measurement of Innovation Process Model Effectiveness

Attempts to correlate the four key elements of the innovation process model for company success through an innovation audit have been difficult. It may appear naive to think that companies would want to reveal its weaknesses and executive’s inadequacies or to reveal competitive advantages. Correlation is also difficult since this is a holistic model where all parts must work reasonably well and failing on one or more parts may not produce company success even though some elements are present. Also it is rare to find a company using all four elements as prescribed. It is understandable why many of the books on business management use the case study method.

Validation of the model from other sources has been more successful. Books have spent extensive time on the subject and validation through the literature has been attempted. The site, 1000ventures, founded by Vadim Kotelnikov appears to support a system for innovation.3 A blue ribbon panel was commissioned by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in 2007 to measure innovation and it confirmed the difficulty in measuring innovation.4 The concern with the approach is that they tend to measure results versus identification of the key drivers, methods and tools as prescribed in this article.


The innovation process model can provide a simple structured process for the fuzzy front end of the development process that can improve the productivity and flow of innovation concepts. There are four main elements of the innovation process model:

  1. Problem solving
  2. Business analysis
  3. Business planning
  4. Environment

Prescriptive methods are provided in all three sections of this series of articlesthat facilitate implementation of each of these elements. One key tool of the model is the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) methodology. This will improve innovation productivity when combined with the rest of the model.

The innovation process model is a holistic representation that must be executed in total to be effective. It has been developed based on many years of personal industrial experience, research and study of the literature. For it to be effective all elements must be executed.

Finally, the innovation process model is a work in progress and it is not presented as a finished product. Validation work to measure its effectiveness and further research to develop the model must be conducted. The author welcomes collaborators who would be interested in validation and development of the model.


  1. Doug Hall, Jump Start Your Business Brain, Brainbrew Books, Cincinnati, p 287, 2001.
  2. Robert L Katz, “Skills of an Effective Administrator,” Harvard Business Review, 52, No. 5 (September-October), pp 91-102, 1974.
  3. Vadim Kotelnikov, “Systematic Innovation – The New Holistic Approach,” December 2008.
  4. The Advisory Committee on Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century Economy, “Innovation Measurement,” January 2008.

About the Author:

Dr. Donald Coates is an assistant professor at the School of Technology at Kent State University in Ohio and has developed an online course for TRIZ. He also teaches and conducts research in innovation morphology and energy/power. Dr. Coates holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the State University of New York and a M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. He was formerly the vice president of engineering in the Speed Queen Division of Raytheon and director of research for the Hoover Company of the Maytag Corporation. Contact Donald A. Coates at dcoates (at)