Tag Archives: Frontend Innovation

Back End Innovation

Front End Innovation Needs More Backend Reality

The term Front End Innovation implies an unhelpful distance between the concept stage and the hard work of getting products to market. Teams that are great at Front End Innovation, tends to understand that great Front End Innovation starts at the Back End.

If your goal is a product in market, thinking backwards from that outcome helps teams focus their work on what matters at every stage in their work.

It helps you focus on the right things at the right time

Corporate innovation typically means developing solutions that can scale within massive corporate systems. Those systems come with complexity startups don’t typically have to deal with. When we see teams getting lost in complexity, we ask them to pause, let go of where they are in the process and think through the journey of designing a new product or service in reverse, from the moment it hits the market to right now. Thinking in reverse reminds teams of what it really takes to get a solution to market and helps them prioritize the right things at the right times to keep moving forward.

It helps you focus on the right stakeholders

While working with an automaker in North America, the outcome we wanted was a better customer experience. We could have gotten lost in all the ways this could happen. Thinking the challenge through in reverse reminded the team that this outcome sits in the hands of dealers. We redesigned our project to think through the challenge from the perspective of dealers rather than the automaker. The result was a suite of services dealers would be willing and able to deliver well.

It helps you focus your questions

On an consumer goods project, we hit a roadblock when a team could not agree on the details of an ambitious round of consumer research across 3 countries. We paused and all agreed that the outcome we wanted was a successful product on shelf. When thinking backwards through the journey, we realised our biggest challenge wasn’t consumer insight (we had loads of it). The real challenge was that the organization’s existing manufacturing assets limited our landscape of solutions dramatically. We shifted our focus to rigorously iterating around the three products the organization could deliver and a product hit shelves 18 months later.

It helps you focus your consumer research

On a project focused on alcohol occasions, we realized that no matter how great our final product was, it would go nowhere if it was not embraced by bartenders. We designed a week in each market where our first and last interactions were with bartenders. That vantage point helped us ground our work in what mattered to our key gatekeeper before finalising our thinking about what a successful product would need to do in order to succeed.

It helps you create innovation for the real world

An innovation process that starts at the back end is more consider all of the factors that dictate success at those final stage gates. On a drinks innovation project, we involved R&D in our research stage. Being present during those early conversations sparked connections between what consumers told us and an amazing technology that was available through a vendor. That technology became the core of our winning concept early on. The result was a project with an immediate roadmap through their system into market.

It helps you focus on your organization’s strengths

Many organizations respond to opportunities without really thinking about whether they are the player in their industry to deliver. Starting at the back end can give you a healthy dose of perspective around whether this is an opportunity your organization should tackle alone or whether this is better approached as a partnership or through an acquisition.

Amazon has a similar approach to innovation called “Working Backwards”. You can hear our friend Wen talk about that here.


If you are looking to put more back end in your front end innovation process, here are six exercises to re-focus on what matters by forcing them to think projects through in reverse.


Propellerfish is an innovation and insights firm with offices in London and Singapore. Our teams lead innovation projects with an eye on what it takes to get products and services to market.

6 Ways To Ground Front End Innovation In Back End Reality

Successful innovation first needs to make it to market. Too much front end innovation ignores the backend realities that dictate real success. Here are six exercises to help teams work backwards from the realities of getting innovation to market.

01. Start at the shelf

If you’re inventing a product, walk into a store and go to the shelf you’d like it to sit on with your team. Think through what it would take for the retailer to make room for your product on that shelf and design your journey backwards from there. Even better, engage your retailer on day 1 with the same question.

02. Solve it now

Ask your teams at the start of a project to solve the challenge in thirty minutes, present back, and then reflect on what aspects of their hasty solution makes them most nervous. Those areas of anxiety become a compass for where to focus future work.

03. Write your recommendation in reverse

If your project ends with a presentation to a set of gatekeepers, start your project by writing that presentation. Writing a complete presentation won’t be possible but understanding what knowledge gaps exist will give you a sense for the work ahead of you on a project.

04. Prototype the route to market

We helped an organization design a business unit that would work collaboratively with artists across a range of fields. One of our biggest questions from the start was how a large organization could successfully collaborate with smaller scale artists. To understand how to get this relationship right, we rented a loft in New York and brought everyone together, ranging from our ideal artistic partners to our multinational R&D teams. Together, they spent a day prototyping the 18 month process of co-creating a product and bringing it to market so we could foresee any implementation issues before they happened.

05. Interview gatekeepers first

All too often, we leave the limiting conversations to the end of a project. Having those conversations upfront can focus your team on the realities of back end implementation early on so your innovation is more likely to succeed in the real world.

06. Write The Press Release

Amazon’s “working backwards” process encourages product people to start by writing the press release they intend to use when the ultimate product launches. Once they feel they’ve nailed the press release, then they move forward with development of something they know the world wants.

Next time the complexity of a project feels overwhelming, align your team around what they’re setting out achieve. Then work backwards from that outcome prioritising the things that get you there. The result will be more energy on the things that matter and fewer distractions from the things that don’t.

Propellerfish is an innovation and insights firm with offices in London and Singapore. Our teams lead innovation projects with an eye on what it takes to get products and services to market.