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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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1. Introduction

A product has got various stages within its lifecycle, most commonly the product comes from an introduction phase and eventually comes to its end through a phase of growth, maturity and decline  (Steffens, 2002). However, considering the most used, popular or innovative brands and products, some products are not intended to role down the hill towards the end. For these products complete R&D departments brainstorm day and night in order to come up with new possibilities, possibilities which, hopefully, will lead to something new and will bring the product back on the menu. One has seen it at the majority of leading companies like Apple, Nokia, TomTom, Dyson, and many more. Companies who anticipate on the fact that “never change a winning team” is often the mindset of the beginning of the end. These companies managed to either chose a new way of playing a role in the market segment or reviving its core business or flagship by innovation. But, what does it take to revive a product? An innovative idea is, obviously, the starting point of rejuvenation or restart. Only, an idea is not enough. This idea needs to be lead in the right direction through many important yet complex trajectories. New markets have to be researched, possibilities have to be compared to alternatives, but more importantly, one has to figure out how this process could be conducted and formed in the most efficient and effective way. The employees of choice, the way of documentation, the degree of external resource usage, co-creation, etc  (Tzokas, Hultink, & Hart, 2001). An innovative idea is only the gateway to revival or value preservation, and the method is the way of moving forward towards its success. This paper will go deeper on some of the subjects connected to the trajectory of the fuzzy front-end of product development. Among these subjects, team selection, managing idea selection, and the usage of external resources will come forward. In order to enlighten this way of thinking the paper will be connected to a product, a product which will be “innovated”. Methods, ways of thinking and examples will be explained through the use of this product.

The product of choice throughout this research will be the well-known drum kit of the firm Yamaha. A product which has not had any major innovations throughout the centuries. It has come to the attention that, during a concert, a lot of parties are involved in order to give the audience the best feeling and experience. So not only the music and the energy, brought forward by the band, are the leading aspects to a successful performance. A certain light show is a core aspect as well. Often a drum kit and the lighting show are combined into a whole by the different parties supporting the performance (Band and lighting personnel). This lighting is often coupled to the beat of the drums, and thus, both the drummer as the lighting personnel are working closely together, but would it not be more efficient when the lighting is integrated into the Yamaha's drum kit? The process of integrating both with each other will be leading throughout this research, Yamaha's process of finding the right knowledge and how to use this knowledge to come to a development (fuzzy front-end).

2. Methodology

In order to conduct an answer on the main question, a qualitative research will be carried out. This qualitative research is primarily exploratory and will be mainly executed by a literature review concerning the different stages within the fuzzy front-end of new product development and is a non-numerical method of observation. This literature review will be used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations of how Yamaha should establish the fuzzy front-end of a NPD concerning the innovation of a drum-kit. Firstly, brief research will be done regarding what the so called “fuzzy front-end” is. Subsequently, the fuzzy front-end will be subdivided in aspects needed to establish an NPD's fuzzy front-end. Based upon the information, extracted from the literature review, a conclusion and discussion will be made.

3. What is the fuzzy front-end in NPD?

The drum kit has not been innovated over the last centuries, but on the other hand, it is not needed to innovate this product since it is still filling its function completely. Nevertheless, if one would take a step back and does not look at the drum kit on its own but also looks at the aspects surrounding the product, one could come up with some functional additions that would make a drum kit more interesting and possibly more valuable. Integrating the lighting of a concert into a professional drum kit used during concerts is one of those ideas. But still, at this moment, this is only an idea, an idea combining Yamaha's instrument-knowledge with another company's lighting knowledge. A long route has to be taken in order to go from ideation into realisation efficiently, starting with the fuzzy front-end.

The fuzzy front-end - the period beginning when an opportunity is first considered worthy of further ideation, exploration, and assessment and ends when a firm decides to invest in the idea, commit significant resources to its development, and launch the project (Khurana & Rosenthal, 1997) - bulks with uncertainty, and eventually diminishes as the NPD process progresses (figure 1), starting with the biggest uncertainty of all, the acceptation of the management. At the gateway of the fuzzy-front end (FFE) an organization formulates a product concept and determines whether or not it should invest resources to develop the idea  (Moenaert, Souder, Deschoolmeester, & De Meyer, 1995). In this formulation product strategy formulation, product definition, project planning, and early executive reviews  (Khurana & Rosenthal, 1997) needs to be described in order to get the attention and interest of the management.

 (Kim & Wilemon, 2002)

Following figure 1, in comparison with the development phase of NPD, uncertainty is leading in the FFE and is markable in every activity carried out during the FFE. Where activities in the development phase are often disciplined and goal-oriented, covered with a high degree of certainty, the FFE is mainly experimental, chaotic and unpredictable. Figure 2 shows further comparisons between the FFE and the further development phase within NPD.

 (Koen, et al., 2002)

4. Sub-dividing NPD's fuzzy front-end

4.1 Project analysis

Yamaha found a possible opportunity within the music industry, a drum kit combined with its own lighting system. However, is this opportunity truly a valuable addition to this market and does the product concept fill the needs of Yamaha's consumer? An analysis has to be done  prior to actually kicking off the project, an analysis regarding whether the product idea is worth the time and resources in combination with consumer-needs analyses. Lack of consumer relevance and poor application of consumer research at the early stages of the NPD process have been identified as key determinants of failure in NPD  (van Kleef & van Trijp, 2003).  Yamaha's overall responsibility of the proposed business procedure is to define the value of the idea to customers. This value is divided in three sub-divisions: consumer needs, consumer benefits, and the product value towards the consumer  (Kinnunen, Haapasalo, Pekuri, & Kuvaja, 2011). On the other hand, many NPD consumer research methods may tend to be biased toward solutions to consumers' current problems and thereby provide relevant input only for continuous, not breakthrough, innovation  (van Kleef & van Trijp, 2003). Meaning that, consumer information should be used to influence a concept but should not be leading. Consumer information is needed to help thinking of partial solutions and out-of-the-box ideas. These ideas come forward from the creativity and divergence of product developers taking the consumer's opinion into consideration.

4.2. Project definition

Cooper and Kleinschmidt (1987) found that proficiency in pre-development activities and an early, clear product definition (‘protocol') were two of the three most important success factors  (van Aken & Nagel, 2004). Proficiency can be derived from a combination of information, expertise and project definition. Well-knowing where to begin and where to go with an initial idea of what to do is the fundament of a certain proficiency. Subsequently, project definition is one of the main aspects supporting the complete process of NPD since every team member can fall back on it  (Kim & Wilemon, 2002). Keeping this in mind, every mistake made in the project definition will be found back throughout the entire product development. Within this project definition critical determinations are made concerning the extent of the market opportunity, the focus group, alignment with Yamaha's strategy, and availability of key technologies and resources. Meaning that, a precise product concept (project definition) makes it possible to get a better understanding of the NPD's time, costs, required technical expertise, the right development team, market potential and positioning, risk, and organizational fit  (Kim & Wilemon, 2002). Usually, a main question is made within this project definition delineated by every aspect mentioned earlier. This main question is leading for the idea generation, idea development and idea assessment later on in Yamaha's NPD process  (van Aken & Nagel, 2004). Besides, based upon this project definition, development partners could be approached with an already clear view upon the goals and requirements.

4.3 Team selection and management

One has come with an idea about developing a product, this idea could either be based upon rejuvenation, innovation or revival of a product. However, besides of the project definition, what does it take to maintain a clear and holistic view on the idea-selection. Firstly, selecting new product ideas based on a single viewpoint cannot answer all the related questions, as each viewpoint looks at a unique aspect of the idea selection process  (Ozer, 2004). Hereby, a broadly filled in team is necessary, a multidisciplinary team which is able to look at the ideas from different perspectives and a project team which is characterized by their ability to reduce uncertainty concerning technological and marketing problems  (Kim & Wilemon, 2002). In case of the combination drum kit/lighting, a technical perspective has to emphasize the new product's manufacturability, both from Yamaha's point of view as from lighting-technical point of view, and a marketing viewpoint has to focus on whether it is interesting, for both companies, to contribute in such kind of a product combination and introduce it into the market (i.e. marketability). A co-creation between Yamaha and the lighting company is being established offering various advantages throughout the rest of the product development like, access to resources, faster time to market and emergent strategy (Frow, Nenonen, Payne, & Storbacka, 2015).

In order to provide all the different perspectives, access to resources and expertise is a must-have within a product development like this. Without these resources Yamaha would have a large field of uncertainty concerning the integration which would lead to possible budgetary as time management risks. In order to prevent getting the same problems when using these resources, both parties (Yamaha as the lighting company) have to be prepared to work in a multidisciplinary team, either virtual or in person, if the team contributes in the product development without sufficient preparation, risks such as project delays and budget escalation problems will occur  (Kim & Wilemon, 2002). Up-front homework is therefore one of the most important  timesavers  (van Aken & Nagel, 2004).

Besides the necessary co-creation with a company in the field of lighting is music something what attracts the interest of all, and thus, is an innovated drum kit a product which should not be defined by solely the companies. Customers should be involved in certain phases throughout the NPD process, if not in the FFE then in the development phase. Customer co-creation will give both companies information concerning customer needs as functional feedback later on in the process. Though, many critical processes of innovation, change, and renewal in organisations can be analysed from a knowledge conversion perspective, knowledge creation and transfer in NPD projects are highly valuable as well. Hereby, the ability to import knowledge from the market is a vital component in the NPD process  (Kohlbacher, 2008).

4.4 Documentation

Both Yamaha's idea concept as the activities carried out by Yamaha as cooperating company in the FFE are characterizing the shape of the fuzzy curve (figure 1). The height of the original fuzziness level is mainly established from the degree of uncertainty of the project idea, simultaneously the fuzziness curve itself is determined by the activities carried out on the project idea during the FFE  (Kim & Wilemon, 2002). Documentation is the factor that preserves this slope. When documentation is not being carried out, important information could be lost, information that made parts throughout the process more clear. After losing information, the initial level of uncertainty will come back.

Not exclusively information regarding the project idea should be collected, updated and preserved, but information concerning the environment in which the project idea is floating as well. Ideas are generated internally but are majorly influenced by external factors as technology changes, markets and external developments.  This market orientation has a profound and advantageous effect on the aptitude of the predevelopment activities  (Newman, Prajogo, & Atherton, 2016).

Information and documentation of both Yamaha as the cooperating lighting company should be cross-accessible. Market information of both the music industry as the lighting industry and technical information of both drum kits as lighting could come in handy to determine functionalities and requirements of the concept.

4.5 Idea generation

Subsequently to defining the project and compiling the multidisciplinary team, ideas could be generated. Ideas that have to be based upon the project definition but still can be as undefined and immature as possible. Every brain spinning is taken into consideration since, every idea could contain, by their very nature, elements, which can make later concepts successful or unsuccessful by just placing them in another context or by just combining elements together with others  (Kim & Wilemon, 2002). The most immature and useless looking ideas could develop the most useful knowledge base lasting and being used till the end of the NPD. Many of these ideas find their start in atmospheres in which there is a deferral of judgements, like brainstorming sessions  (van Kleef & van Trijp, 2003).

4.6 Idea selection

The screening and selection of ideas are the first pillars on the fundament of NPD's development phase. An effective screening procedure in the beginning of NPD can diminish the risk of following poor product concepts  (Martinsua & Poskela, 2011). Meaning that, when the screening and selection of ideas is not carried out carefully, a company could come to a hold or even a fail later on in the process. In order to conduct an effective screening procedure a balance of selection strength has to be found. A process that is too rigid might lead to early exclusion of good ideas while a process that is too weak implies a waste of R&D resources by letting bad ideas continue in the innovation process  (Soonvald & Elerud-Tryde, 2011). In order to maintain this balance, two phases of screening will be followed. An initial screening which serves to sort out the obvious “misfits”, and should be looked upon as a decision to carry out preliminary studies  (Cooper, 1988). E.g. is the idea consistent with Yamaha's objectives and is the idea do-able? The second screening will be more extensive. Using the multidisciplinary project team for broader perspective on evaluating the ideas. Clustering and grouping of the ideas will be done, based on a 2-pager of the idea's founder describing the idea more specifically, followed by screening the grouped and clustered ideas by the use of the table 3.1.

(Ebner, Leimeister, & Kremar, 2009)

5. Into the development phase

A selected team has derived a product concept based upon oppurtunity analysis and project definition. An idea which is do-able and consistent with Yamaha's objectives, resulting positively within al the preliminary assesments. Meaning that, the design requirements for the product concept are all delineated by technical and economical aspects of both internal and external Yamaha-connected factors. Subsequently to the FFE the development phase starts, in which, all market requirements, derived from the oppurtunity analyses, are translated into an operational concept, one that is both technically as economically feasible  (Cooper, 1988). Within this development phase the chosen product concept will be, again, tested on functionality and market fit. These tests will be the base for an additional go/no-go decision for Yamaha, hereby the same questions and statements used in the idea selection phase can be repeated. After Yamaha's management has given a go on the concept, the product is ready for manufacturing and introduction to the target market.

6. Conclusion

This research project was aimed at establishing an understanding what steps Yamaha has to undertake during the fuzzy front-end (FFE) of a new product development (NPD) process. Based on the idea of integrating lighting possibilities into Yamaha's drum kit multiple key steps were found within the fuzzy front-end, steps which are needed in order to come from the very beginning of the FFE to the beginning of the development phase. The research is qualitative based, mainly conducted through literature review. Whereby, the information is used to gain a better understanding of the underlying reasoning, opinions, and motivations of how Yamaha should establish the fuzzy front-end of a NPD concerning the innovation of the drum-kit.

Concluding from this literature review, in order to found a smooth start, Yamaha first has to research whether the idea fits the needs of the consumer. With a profound relevance and application of consumer research at the early stages of the FFE, one of the main determinants of failure is already being bypassed (van Kleef & van Trijp, 2003).  Subsequently, using the information gained in the opportunity analysis, a project definition has to be made. Cooper and Kleinschmidt (1987) found that proficiency in predevelopment activities and an early, clear product definition is one of the supporting pillars throughout a complete project. Team members can fall back on information provided by this project definition and aspects concerning time, costs, needed resources, etc. will become more clear and easy to understand. Ideas could be generated based upon this document, based upon the requirements stated within. However, generating new ideas and selecting which are the best is usually not carried out from one single viewpoint, as each viewpoint looks at a unique aspect of the idea selection process (Ozer, 2004). A cooperating firm has to be chosen in order to provide multiple viewpoints, this company has to be a lighting firm since Yamaha does not have any expertise nor experience concerning lighting. Together with that firm, Yamaha would include the consumers in the process as well, as the eventual product should not be defined by solely the cooperating companies. Together with these three parties, using a profound documentation and communication regulation, ideas will be generated. These ideas could be as mature or as immature as possible, since every idea could contain useful information (Kim & Wilemon, 2002). This variation of ideas will pasby two stages of screening - Firstly, the stage which filters out the obvious “misfits” and secondly a stage which screens the idea more thoroughly in order to be certain that the product concepts will fit Yamaha's mission and vision – where after, the idea stands at the start of the development phase.

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