Full citation

Brun, E., & Saetre, A.S. (2008). Ambiguity Reduction in New Product Development Projects. International Journal of Innovation Management, 12(4), 573-596.

Format: Peer-reviewed article

Type: Research — Non-experimental

Experience level of reader: Fundamental

Annotation: A model is presented which depicts a process to reduce ambiguity in new product development. It evolved from four new product development case studies. The investigators believe ambiguity stems from multiple interpretations and interpretations are seen as hypotheses. Consequently, the authors base their model off of the hypothetical-deductive method (HDM). The ultimate theory is in order to reduce ambiguity, new product developers should describe the interpretations and underlying assumptions as hypotheses and test each one individually.

Setting(s) to which the reported activities/findings are relevant: Large business, Small business (less than 500 employees)

Knowledge user(s) to whom the piece of literature may be relevant: Manufacturers, Researchers

Knowledge user level addressed by the literature: Organization

This article uses the Commercial Devices and Services version of the NtK Model

Primary Findings

Model: In situations that are experienced as “fuzzy”, it is recommended to first determine whether this is caused by unwanted ambiguity, i.e. multiple and conflicting interpretations, pertaining either to the product, the market, the NPD process or the organisation’s resources. If so, they should explicate these interpretations and their underlying assumptions as hypotheses and test them individually. Identifying and testing underlying assumptions at an early stage of the NPD project will provide the most efficient reduction of ambiguity.
Four case studies of new product development.
Occurrence of finding within the model: Stage 2, Step 4.8, Step 4.7, Step 3.2

Secondary Findings


  • Dougherty showed that different “departmental thought worlds” — i.e. systems of common procedures, judgments and methods — exist in product innovation processes and that members of these thought worlds produce different interpretations of development priorities and tasks. Dougherty suggested collaboration mechanisms to unify these thought worlds and thereby reduce the divergence of interpretations. (Dougherty [1992])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 4.6
  • Use rich communication media such as group meetings and face-to-face contact to reduce ambiguity by enabling the organizational actors to overcome their different frames of reference. (4.6)

Tip: Reid and Brentani have argued that a better understanding of the fuzzy front end can ultimately lead to competitive advantage, since actions taken to improve the NPD process at the fuzzy front end, when the NPD process is still at the idea stage, are more cost-efficient than actions taken during actual implementation of a product idea. (Reid and Brentani [2004])
Occurrence of finding within the model: Stage 1