Frontend Innovation VS Backend Innovation

Toby Farren
Jul 25, 2016 · 3 min read

There are two universally accepted sides to the activity-sphere surrounding the fostering of innovation: ‘Frontend Innovation’ & ‘Backend Innovation (BEI)’.

Frontend Innovation

Frontend Innovation (often referred to as the ‘Fuzzy Frontend’ due to the seemingly uncontrollable nature of which valuable innovations are born) refers to the starting point of any potential innovation, where opportunities are identified and concepts are cultivated prior to entering the formal development process. Technically speaking, the five key generic steps which take place in the frontend side of innovation fostering are non-sequential due to:

i) Projects at this stage often feed through different steps multiple times as new information, perspectives and insights become available ii) Depending on the type of project (problem solving vs capitalizing on an opportunity, product vs business model etc.…) and the current resources available to an organization, the step which acts as a starting point may vary.

These five steps are defined as follows:

  • Preliminary Analysis: A broad surveying of high-level market, technology, and industry trends
  • Demand Refinement: Customer focused activities such as customer discovery (including customer interviews and collaborative efforts)
  • Translational Research: Activities relating to honing in broader concepts into more focused scenarios and demonstrating initial proofs of concept. This includes the continued research into relevant areas and the building of prototypes
  • Technical Discovery + Development: A continuation (initial application) of ‘Transitional Research’. This step includes locating potential early stage technologies + solutions, and the testing of MVPs.
  • Portfolio Analysis & Triage: An analysis of potential innovations. The goal is to both prioritize and increase stakeholder understanding [of] these concepts before they enter the formal development process (via the BEI).

Backend Innovation

If the frontend side of innovation fostering is ‘fuzzy’, then the BEI can be referred to as the ‘Messy Backend’ (due to the fact that without an extremely well thought out pipeline, it can be difficult to ensure innovations are developed and delivered in a timely and cost efficient manner) which deals with taking the best concepts, generated in the frontend, and executing on them, through a series of testing, development, and implementation processes.

The importance of a well-structured innovation frontend becomes evident at this stage, as no organisation has the resources required to trial all [or even all business aligned] concepts at a backend development level. The best frontend management platforms give decision makers access to an easily accessible holistic view of all potential innovations, and any supporting information. This presents these individuals with the necessary data and context to decide which innovations are worth pursuing into the BEI stage.

As mentioned in ‘measuring success’ (one of the six aspects which are analysed to asses an organization’s innovation fostering capabilities), these BEI processes should be focused around ‘short term deliverables’ and ‘near term development’. Depending on the type of innovation being executed upon, these processes can be designed based on principles (or indeed hybrids of multiple principles) stemming from a number of different methodologies, which include, but are not limited to:

•Project Portfolio (PMI, Prince2, Virtual Chain etc.…
•Software Development (Agile, SCRUM, XP, CoDev etc.…)
•Product Development (PDMA, NPD, PDM/PLM etc.…)
•Lean Manufacturing & Process Improvement (SixSigma, Lean, PDCA, Kanban etc.…)

The common thread across these methodologies is the focus on short term deliverables and ease of measurement, with the goal of decreasing risk and ensuring innovation-market fit is as optimized as possible before launch.

To find out more about frontend and backend innovation, please contact

Until next time,


Innovation Playground

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