"Fuzzy front end" practices in innovating Japanese companies
In this paper, we report on the results of a large-scale study about typical front-end-related innovation practices in 553 Japanese mechanical and electrical engineering companies. We explore typical activities concerning the generation and assessment of new product ideas, the reduction of technological as well as market uncertainty and front end planning. Finally, we report on differences between successful and unsuccessful companies. Our study confirms earlier findings about the frequent use of creativity techniques in Japan during the process of idea generation. We also find companies to intensively involve upper management and customers into NPD projects. While integrating upper management is of vital importance for assessing new product ideas, integrating customers and users is primarily used to developing product ideas and concepts. We further find evidence that successful companies integrate their customers more frequently in the process of developing and assessing new product ideas than non successful companies. In addition, the former integrate customer requirements into their product definitions more often and also translate these requirements into technical specifications more frequently than non-successful companies. Finally, successful companies more often systematically plan a project prior to its start than unsuccessful ones.
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