Finding Success in the Front End of Innovation (Part 2)

| Hamilton
Contributed by Heston Tobias, Advancement Intern

Recently, in an effort to better understand the elements that contribute to success in the front end of innovation, Peter A. Koen, Heidi M.J. Bertels, and Elko J. Kleinschmidt collected and analyzed data from 197 large, US-based companies.

Continued from Finding Success in the Front End of Innovation (Part 1).

Going Deeper Into the Engine

After the researchers analyzed the data from the 197 large, US-based companies, they found that there were generally two kinds of attributes of the front end of innovation:

  1. Organizational attributes
  2. Effective teams and collaborations

In regards to effective teams and collaborations, the researchers came up with three constructs that contribute to the success of an organization’s front end:


Effective Teams:
 Team members that are committed to their front-end projects and who spend more time and effort on these projects than is required by their jobs.

Team Leadership: Experienced and exceptional team leaders who have the credentials to lead a team in a front end project.

Communities of Practice: The organization supports and even coordinates CoPs, which are internal or external communities of people in the same profession.

The contribution of CoPs to front-end success was generally a new discovery for the researchers. Previous research about the front end of innovation did not indicate that CoPs correlated with success in the front end. However, this research indicated that CoPs contributed to success because:

  • They give professionals the opportunity to meet other professionals from inside and outside their organizations.
  • They enable members to share experiences and knowledge with each other that could not be shared through other means.

Understanding the Activity Elements of the Front End

To understand the different activity elements that contribute to success in the front end, the researchers examined ones which are present in the front end of both incremental and radical innovations.

Incremental Innovations

Incremental innovations are focused on steadily growing a product that has proven to be successful in a market. The researchers found that out of five activity elements, three of them strongly contributed to success in the front end of incremental innovations. The three were:

  1. incrementsOpportunity Identification and Analysis: Since organizations developing incremental innovations build on established markets and products, their opportunity identification and analysis is important — searching for a growing but proven market on which to build.
  2. Idea Enrichment: Companies that focus on enriching ideas, as opposed to generating an abundance of ideas, will have a good IT-based system that shares, captures, and assesses them — as well as tracking progress in research and development.
  3. Concept Definition: A strong and clear concept will enable the organization to confidently enter the development stages of their innovation.

Radical Innovations

Whereas incremental innovations focus on developing a product in a proven market, radical innovations usually seek to discover unmet consumer needs. The researchers found that when it came to radical innovations, there were generally three types of constructs that were associated with success in the front end:

Opportunity Identification: A radical innovation’s opportunity identification process consisted of trying to identify economic trends, demographic trends, and consumer and regulatory trends to try and locate an untapped market.

Opportunity Analysis: This process consists of using technology to predict the innovation’s performance in the market.

Idea Generation: This process includes generating and finding new ideas by examining emerging technologies.

The contrast between the successful activity elements of radical innovations and incremental innovations confirm the long held belief that these processes must be different for each of them to be successful.

While successful incremental innovations tended to consist of carefully calculated activities, radical innovations favoured more experimental, trial and error activities which resulted in identifying a new product or market.

This research indicates that the front end of innovation in a business organization is not only critical to a product’s development and commercialization stages, but that it can also create opportunities for emerging IT systems to refine the very same idea generation and idea selection processes that fuel these innovations.


Elko Kleinschmidt
is a leading expert on the process of new product development, portfolio management of new products, and success factors for new product development programs. He is a recognized researcher in the field of new product development, innovativeness and the impact of the international dimension on new products.

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