Managing the Fuzzy Front-End of Innovations at A1
On the basis of a deep analysis of strengths and pain points of the current management of the Fuzzy Front-End (FFE) of innovations at A1, this project provides a recommendation on how to optimize the structure of the FFE management for a more successful idea selection, evaluation and new product development.
Mobilkom Austria and Telekom Austria have merged recently and formed together A1 Telekom Austria AG. A1 is operating in the telecommunications industry, which is characterized by constantly changing consumer needs and fast technological changes. In order to outperform its competitors, the company has to react quickly to market changes and is forced to develop an idea today for a product that is still desired at the time of its launch. These environmental factors cause the high importance of innovation at A1. The company operates both on the B2C as well as on the B2B level.
The Fuzzy Front-End (FFE) of innovations is defined as the period between when an opportunity is first considered and when an idea is judged ready for development and comprises of idea generation, product definition and project evaluation.
Problem definition and project goals
One particular challenge A1 is facing after the merger is the management of innovations. As the current new product development process is a compromise between the former processes of the two single companies, there is no unified new product development process at A1 at the moment, and the company lacks a structured and unified idea generation and evaluation process. In particular, A1 struggles to (1) enable employees to bring their ideas to the table, (2) get ideas from different channels pool potential ideas and review them , (3) provide a platform for objective evaluation and (4) push promising ideas into the product development process.
The main goal of this project is to give a recommendation for the management of the fuzzy front-end system of the A1 Group.
The following sub-goals assist in solving the main goal:
(1) Finding and monitoring pain points in the current process,
(2) aligning the existing initiatives with a structured and transparent process for idea generation and evaluation
and (3) create a structured and transparent fuzzy front-end management.
In a first phase a thorough literature research was conducted. The project team searched for best practices for the FFE management in other companies. Secondary data was derived from case studies, business reviews, academic publications and personal contacts. Four best case examples (BMW, Google, IBM, Swarovski) were chosen to underline the final recommendation.
An as-is analysis was conducted with the focus on those business units and initiatives having the highest relevance for innovation activities at A1. The departments identified are Customer Service, Business Marketing and Small & Residential Marketing, and the initiatives are InnoLab and Wanted Next Level. Information about the departments and the initiatives, respectively, was collected in 21 semi-structured interviews with employees of A1. Preliminary findings were tested in further follow-up interviews. The insights from the interviews lead to a detailed and holistic picture of the current FFE management at A1 and served as a basis for further actions.
In the second phase, the project team scrutinized the pain points and strengths of the current FFE management discovered in the interviews according to the New Concept Development Model suggested in literature. The knowledge about best practice examples and the information gathered from the literature research were brought together to provide a sound recommendation for A1.
Results and Recommendation
The following main pain points in the current FFE management at A1TA were identifies:
• Hardly any top management support concerning employee driven innovation
• No culture and awareness for innovation
• Unstructured idea generation process
• Lack of communication – no exchange of ideas
• Strong informal network needed to push ideas
• Product managers are mainly responsible for innovations
• No “face” for innovation
Taking into consideration the boundary conditions at A1, i.e. lack of resources (manpower, time), the following recommendations were developed. Also, currently existing innovation activities and initiatives at A1 were taken into account as each of them brings its contribution to the innovation process with its own advantages.
The recommendation is built like a modular system, leaving the choice to A1 what modules to implement and what pain points to solve with the specific modules. At the basis of the system lies “The Core”, actions to foster innovation among the employees of A1and to establish an innovation culture. In addition, three modules are suggested.
Module A - Innovation Platform and Innovation Team (pain points addressed: no culture/awareness for innovation, unstructured idea generation process, lack of communication, strong informal network needed, product managers mainly responsible, no “face” for innovation): The central element is a platform allowing employees to enter their ideas and to discuss ideas of others. For the support of the platform, we suggest a full-time team of three people whose task it is to moderate the platform, update information, screen and choose the ideas, give feedback, establish personal contact to the various innovation initiatives and have a broad overview over the innovation activities going on within A1.
Module B - Innovation Coaches in all departments (pain points addressed: no culture/awareness for innovation, lack of communication, no “face” for innovation): Line managers like department or group managers take over the role of an innovation coach. They act as a first point of contact for employees in innovation topics.
Module C - Innovation Workshops (pain points addressed: lacking top management support, no culture/awareness for innovation, lack of communication): One-day workshops are held for employees interested in innovation. The formal opening held by the top management is complemented with the actual workshop, consisting of different tables with different questions and topics, inviting employees to join and discuss.
The project team suggests the implementation of the innovation platform together with the innovation team. Although the three different modules may be introduced separately, the entire package is the optimum way to structure the FFE management at A1.
A1 Telekom Austria AG
Mag Stefan Hauer (CCO Area,
Department for Strategy and Planning)