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Integrating the Fuzzy Front End of New Product Development

Why are new products frequently canceled in midstream or introduced later than planned? Why do product developers often have no time to devote to “top priority” projects? Companies may not be integrating strategic, conceptual, and planning functions at the front end with the detailed design and development that follows. Khurana and Rosenthal isolated seven activities critical to product and project success.

The foundation elements, those that require cross-functional effort and senior management support, include developing a clear product strategy, formulating a product portfolio, establishing a structure that facilitates product development, and sharing responsibilities throughout the organization. Project-specific elements, which focus on the individual project, include clarifying the product concept, defining the product and market requirements, and planning and estimating the project’s resource requirements. The authors point out that the interrelationships between the elements are as important as the elements themselves.

Khurana and Rosenthal examine in detail how the eleven companies in their study implemented the seven activities. While the authors rated two companies as outstanding and two as satisfactory, they considered seven to have serious deficiencies in their development of product strategies. Some had product development teams and managers but no one in charge of formulating product strategy. Others made decisions on new product development based on project criteria rather than strategic fit. And others had an isolated R&;D department that funded projects based on technology rather than on their potential to satisfy product requirements.

How can a company improve its front-end process? Khurana and Rosenthal offer a checklist and map for diagnosing a company’s integration of front-end activities. And they discuss how a company can make the transition to a better managed product development process.

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