Q&A With Chris Miller What’s in a Name?


Our new team lead has asked me to look into what other organizations call their ‘fuzzy front end’. A portion of her inquiry is a desire to rename the group into something more meaningful, better tied to other organizations’ vernacular and perhaps even have a cool acronym. Any sense of what other companies are using to describe their ‘front end’?


Donald G. Reinertsen was at Booz Allen Hamilton when he coined the term “Fuzzy Front End” in an article for PMI in the 1980’s. He did so because he thought there was something going on up there but it was fuzzy. I interviewed him for a Visions article a few years later. He had come to dislike the term, “Fuzzy Front End”. He felt that, after more study, there were a number of tools and processes in place (some for decades), that made the front end into a repeatable process. Together we changed the original premise to Fuzzy Logic for the Visions article. That concept of Fuzzy Logic (sampling the environment, the market, technology, the competition, etc.) became the basic concept behind the Scouting stage in my Hunting for Hunting Grounds™ process; “finding new growth opportunities.”

Never mind Reinertsen’s new thinking, the term “Fuzzy Front End” was catching on in the mid-90’s in the New Product Development community… so what are you going to do.

The PDMA (Product Development and Management Association) was working on creating a Body of Knowledge at this time (in 1995) that started with the “glossary of terms” on its first web site. C. Merle Crawford donated the original glossary of terms from his text book, New Products Management. To my knowledge that was the first widely agreed to taxonomy. This discussion generated an effort in the academic community to structure the field. Discovery, Development and Commercialization is what was agreed upon to describe the processes around exploring the “fuzzy front end.” My position was that it should be called Discovery, Development, Commercialization and Life Cycle Management, but I lost that naming battle.

To answer the question; the proper name for a team engaged in the earliest stages of innovation management would be some variation on “discovery” or words closely connected to discovery. Names I have heard that I feel are taxonomically correct:

  • Discovery team
  • Team discovery
  • Exploration Team
  • Far View
  • Seekers
  • Horizon team, BlueOcean, Hunters, etc… all connect to branded tools

Note, I’d probably avoid using the discovery root ‘disco,’ “disco dudes n dames” does not inspire my confidence.

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