AEF at the Fuzzy Front End

The Fuzzy Front End is the early pipeline of innovation where creative problem-solving approaches are used to navigate through ambiguity and to discover real user needs. It’s the first stage an organisation goes through in developing a new idea, where opportunities are identified and concepts are developed, prior to entering the formal development process for the product or service. AEF’s CEO Alison Rowe participated in a panel discussion on this topic at the Swinburne University Design Factory in November. Alison’s analogy to explain the Fuzzy Front End was making dinner on a Sunday evening:

It’s Sunday afternoon and I ask the family what they want for dinner (Poll the people for their wishes and collect ideas.) I look at the resources available and take into account the time constraints. It usually results in limited resources, but there are lots of ideas and often several components. Some components may work together and some not. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but we learn (and occasionally order take away).

The panel identified several favourable conditions for innovation, especially at the Fuzzy Front End:

  • You need to have the right level of risk appetite aligned to ambition of the organisation.
  • The risk appetite must allow for creativity and playfulness and not allow for ideas to be killed too early.

Alison and the panellists spoke a lot about the having the right culture for innovation, the acceptance of failure being part of success, that time is carved out for new ideas and creativity. Alison mentioned that this is one of the specific goals of the AEF Strategic Plan.