Did you say Fuzzy Front End?
The very front end of change initiatives, the innovation stage or the ‘fuzzy front end’ is the most perilous stage of the project lifecycle for most potential projects.
The fuzzy front end is the stage at which business challenges are addressed, solution concepts are tested, viability is assessed and approval to proceed is sought. Turning these ideas for change into a business case with approval to move forward is where leaders and organisations are most likely to come unstuck. Seemingly great ideas, ‘must do’ initiatives and obvious change activities are killed off or wither away without ever progressing to the ‘build stage’.
Is it good or bad?
Don’t get me wrong though, this can be healthy. The process can kill off bad ideas or those that don’t have the buy-in of key stakeholders within the organisation. However, it also consumes the momentum for important projects that could generate significant business value. Moreover, other unintended side effects often result from this indecision: undelivered commitments; staff morale issues; loss of goodwill; and a failure to deliver aspects of the organisational strategy.
Over the years at 4OC, we have seen many organisations allow this ‘innovation stage’ eat up and kill off some great, and much needed, change initiatives. Many of these ‘misses’ resulting in significant impact to their operational success, people and culture.
Making it work for you
We spend a lot of time working in, and thinking about, this fuzzy front end and how to ensure that this phase can be productive and value creating, and ideally as short as possible. We believe organisations should have a rapid and ongoing cycle of idea generation (or innovation), review and decision making. Our aim is to support organisations progress ideas through this stage as well-founded, supported and defined opportunities that can go into delivery or can be legitimately axed if they fail to make the organisationally defined criteria for approval.
From our collective experience over a lot of years working with many organisations and drawing on new and old ideas from research and business writing, we feel that there are five common challenge areas that sit at the core of good (or bad) programmes. Getting these right will make all the difference. We provide an overview of these areas in the second part of this short series, which will be shared later this week.
If you’d like to speak to John about some of his ideas on progressing your ideas for change, why projects and programmes often fail, or even if you’re feeling a little fuzzy after reading this, he’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org.