Fuzzy Front-End

I was struggling last year to frame a sharp and well-defined dissertation topic from my research area on digital transformation. I found it hard to put that very broad field into a specific research question. I had several ideas, but none of them really worked – either there was plenty of research already available (like e.g. on organizational ambidexterity) or  it was simply still too broad.


But then I accidentally came across the concept of the fuzzy front-end. This term is mainly used in product innovation. It describes the initial stages of an innovation project, where the formal innovation process has not started yet, where there are lots of ideas, but nobody knows what the outcome of the innovation should be. Also, this phase is random, ill-defined, and there is little certainty about tools and methodology. This describes exactly what I have observed in my research on digital transformation – companies sense that digitalization will have an impact on their organization and that there is a need to change things, however, they don’t know what to do first, what the outcome should be, how to measure the objectives, etc. Voilà: the fuzzy front-end of digital transformation.

To my best knowledge the concept of fuzzy front-end has not been applied to organizational transformations before. For my dissertation this perspective helps me a great deal, because this is the research area that I will dive into. My research should help organizations to manage the fuzzy front-end stages better. For this I will learn from the research that has been done in the area of product innovation and apply these learnings to organizational transformation and strategic planning processes. I will mainly do this by conducting multiple exploratory case studies and derive typical transformation paths. My previous work on digital maturity forms one part of the dissertation, since one of the typical activities during the fuzzy front-end is recognizing the need to change, analyzing the status quo and defining areas of action, which are all activities that the digital maturity model supports.

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