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Conference Report: "Bringing the Fuzzy Front End into Focus"

| On 15, Jan 1998

Ellen Domb, Editor
The TRIZ Journal
190 N. Mountain Ave., Upland, CA 91786 USA
+1(909)949-0857 FAX +1(909)949-2086

TRIZ was featured at the Product Development Management Association’s conference “Bringing the Fuzzy Front End into Focus,” December 15-17 in Scottsdale, AZ. The “Fuzzy Front End” refers to the beginning of the development cycle, when new product and service concepts are not clear, and many organizations are now at the beginning of defining processes and systems to manage the “fuzziness” of the front end of new product development cycle.

Abbie Griffin of the U. of Illinois gave an outstanding paper “Technology and Customer Needs” that examined the interplay between needs that the customer recognizes and possible technologies that the customer does not yet recognize as needs. Christina Hepner Brodie of the Center for Quality Management did a joint presentation with David Bennell of L.L. Bean Co. on understanding product needs from the customers’ point of view, and translating those needs into product specifications. The audience was particularly impressed with L.L.Bean’s extensive network of testers for its outdoor products, and the efforts of the design team to understand the testers’ reactions—even if it meant climbing the mountain with the testers, or getting into the sleeping bag with them.

Preston Smith’s presentation “The Fuzzy Front End: the ‘bargain basement’ of cycle time opportunities” was complementary to the marketing presentations. His emphasis was on understanding your product development cycle, and understanding the value of time—knowing the actual impact on sales and profit of introducing a product one month sooner, or with one additional feature, or with a lower defect rate, etc. The rigor of his approach appealed to a large segment of the audience as the way to create a common vocabulary of value for the product development process.

Conference organizer Patrick Brown of Lucent Technologies invited the TRIZ Institute to participate, since he had been impressed by the systematic way that TRIZ explores the possibilities for product and process development. The TRIZ presentation was a panel:

Ellen Domb, co-editor, The TRIZ Journal

Lee Petersen, Manager, Melroe Co., Ingersoll-Rand

James Kowalick, co-editor of The TRIZ Journal and VP of BioFutures, Inc.

Gernot Mueller, President of BioFutures, Inc.

We presented a brief overview of TRIZ (in the audience of 200 product development professionals, only about 10% were familiar with TRIZ!) and showed how it had been used in the two very different corporate environments. BioFutures, Inc. is a biotechnology start-up venture, using TRIZ technology forecasting methods to create new concepts for trans-dermal drug delivery. (See the article by Drs. Mueller and Kowalick in the December, 1997 issue of The TRIZ Journal.) Melroe Co., by contrast, makes heavy equipment, and is most famous for the Bobcat line of skid-steer machines, that are used for construction, agriculture, mining, warehousing, and other activities that require versatility and durability. Lee Petersen showed how TRIZ problem solving had been used to simplify many aspects of Bobcat construction, and talked about how TRIZ is being introduced for technology forecasting.

Audience questions focused on the issues of how to integrate the possible with the probable and how to predict market success, not just technology success. The systematic nature of TRIZ seemed to have universal appeal to people who wrestle with the “fuzziness” of product development.