It is useful to think of the conceive stage as part of an innovation process and draw on ideas from Lemaitre and Stenier's description of the innovation process (Lemaitre and Stenier, 1988), although the scope of our conceive stage is somewhat different. The conceive stage involves identifying a deliverable to be produced and the benefits expected from the deliverable. It begins with a 'trigger event' (Lyles, 1981), when a member of an initiating organization perceives an opportunity or need. At this point the project deliverable may be only a vague idea, and some initial development may be associated with the 'concept capture' step. 'Clarification of purpose' involving the identification of relevant performance objectives and their relative importance is another key step in the conceive stage. This step may be problematic to the extent that different views about the appropriate objectives are held by influential stakeholders who try to negotiate mutually acceptable objectives. Objectives at this stage are likely to be ill defined or developed as aspirational constraints (e.g., latest completion date, minimum levels of functionality, maximum cost, and so on). Before the concept can be developed further, in a 'concept elaboration' step, sufficient political support for the idea must be obtained and resources allocated to allow the idea to be refined and made more explicit. Other individuals, organizations, or potential stakeholders may become involved. Support at this stage may be passive, merely allowing conceptualization to proceed, rather than an expression of positive approval of the project. The focus of this stage is early cycles through the six Ws's framework of Figure 1.1.
Eventually, an evaluation of the project concept and objectives as defined to date becomes necessary—the 'concept evaluation' step in Table 2.1. Evaluation here (and later) is not simply a go/no-go decision, but a go/no-go/maybe decision. A go decision takes the process into the the next stage. A no-go decision causes it to stop. A maybe decision involves iteration through one or more previous steps. The basic process threat in this stage is moving on to design before the project concept and objectives have crystallized, and before effective concept evaluation. Underlying this threat is a failure to foresee 'concept killer' threats that reveal themselves later in the process and 'concept maker' opportunities that may be lost without trace. The basic process opportunity in this stage is finding all the concept maker opportunities for the projects that otherwise might not be proceeded with and all the concept killer threats for projects best rejected.
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