Any creator knows the feeling of looking at a blank page and coming up with zero ideas on what to make. On the other hand, creators also know the feeling when a lightbulb turns on in their head and they develop a creative idea. What makes the difference between an empty canvas and a masterpiece?
It all starts with an idea. Ideas are thoughts about possible courses of action, and they are the heart and soul of creation. Sometimes ideas come naturally, but it takes some hard work and creativity to create something new most of the time.
In the product development process, product ideation is a critical component to sparking new ideas and features.
What is product ideation?
You can think of product ideation as a strategic brainstorming session on steroids. But it’s not quite like your typical brainstorming session though, since it utilizes ideation management. This is when managing ideas become a formalized process in your product vision. Product ideation usually has several sessions, and it can last for weeks or months.
Instead of a product manager holding the product vision by themselves, product ideation allows the entire team to participate. By including everyone from developers to customer service, a product manager can leverage the expertise of their team to build a better and more well-rounded product.
Product ideation also creates tangible next steps to get ideas approved (or denied) by upper management. This means that great ideas aren’t lost in the matrix and instead become part of the process of building new product features.
What is the product ideation process?
It’s not enough to gather various team members in one room and have them start shouting ideas and writing them down on a whiteboard. There needs to be preparation for the product ideation process first.
If you want to get good ideas, there needs to be research. The first step to prepare for the product ideation process is to gather and analyze data. If a product manager is going to pitch a new feature to upper management, they will need data to back up the value and ROI of the new idea.
Make sure to understand your users’ challenges, goals, and interactions with your product. You will need to analyze data like user feedback, usage patterns, and interview users to get a clear idea of what they may be missing from your product. It could also be crucial to involve your sales and customer service teams at this stage. Since they are interacting with users the most, they may have valuable insights about what users need.
The next step is to define the objective. What do you hope to achieve by the end of the product ideation? The goal is usually to solve a problem that users or the team are having with the product that was identified during the research phase.
Before the product ideation sessions begin, you may want to consider giving the participants the data you gathered for them to analyze. This can allow them to form their own ideas on what may be needed, especially if they work in a different department.
Now you’re ready to start the product ideation sessions. This may take a long time for great ideas to form and build on them. The goal for this stage is to consider ideas from various angles, find potential issues and solutions, and ultimately produce solid data-based product feature ideas.
There are some parameters to consider before you start though. First, make sure you only involve the right people. Choose a product ideation team that is filled with people that are constructive, creative, and can have a good dynamic together.
You also want to ensure that your team has a creative space to create ideas. Have them focus on the objective, challenge existing assumptions, and let them experiment. You might find that your team will come up with innovative ideas when encouraged to think about problems differently.
But what do you actually do in a product ideation session that reaps results? It depends on your team’s needs.
9 product ideation tools and techniques that work
Each team will have different personalities, creativity levels, and experiences, so there’s no one clear way to implement idea generation. A product manager will need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of their team when choosing product ideation tools or techniques.
Let’s review some popular product ideation tools and techniques to consider using for your team.
Product ideation techniques
“How Might We” statements
This is a classic design thinking technique. You will begin by sharing data insights or user pain points, and then asking your team “How might we…(accomplish this goal, solve this problem, etc)”. This encourages your team to discuss ideas and encourages a collaborative approach. Examples include “How might we design a public transportation system that is efficient, safe, and affordable for people?” or “How might we create a fitness app that makes users feel like they are getting healthier?”
Assumptions could prevent team members from not exploring new avenues for accomplishing goals. You should have an open-minded environment that allows space to question how things are done. One way to do this is to list all of your assumptions and then list the opposite reality. Then your team can consider if the opposite reality is a solution to your problem. For example, you could assume that beds always take up a certain amount of floor space. The opposite reality is that you could have a Murphy bed that folds down from the wall and gives you more space during the day.
Some people are visually stimulated, and they may come up with creative ideas if they can visualize what’s happening. A product manager can pre-select relevant images to share in this technique and then ask team members to write down ideas based on the picture. Images should be visually stimulating, show a variety of subject matter, and show different interactions and relationships with people. You could even throw in some random photos to see if it sparks any creativity.
A storyboard is a visual sequence of events. You don’t have to be Walt Disney to create storyboards, even simple doodles can do the job effectively. You can start with the problem that you are trying to solve, and then have your team members add to the storyboard about what should happen next. Make sure there is a clear ending that resolves the story.
Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to look at what you currently have differently. SCAMPER stands for substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, and reverse. These action verbs help you explore problems with seven different solutions. It’s one of the more simple ways to encourage innovation in your team. You can get a more detailed explanation here.
Product ideation tools
Round Robin is a 3-step tool. First, you have someone write an answer to a “How might we…” question. Then it gets passed to a different person who will write why the answer will fail. It gets passed to a third person who will resolve the issue. This could help discover interesting and new concepts.
This tool is designed to bring unlikely things together and spark fresh ideas. First, pick a “How might we… ” question. Then you’ll choose two broad and unrelated categories, but one of them is related to your challenge. Create a list of things that fit into their respective categories. When that is completed, you will “mash-up” one thing from each list and invent something new.
Pick 2 or 3 inspiring companies (a mix of in your industry and outside of it). Then do some research about what makes their products great. This can help inspire ideas of what you could do with your products. You don’t want to copy products or business models, but you do want to identify what makes it so successful and build upon it.
Take a variety of “How might we…” questions and put them on cards. Propose a challenge to your team and then ask them to use those questions to come up with a solution. You might want your team to do this individually at first and then come back together to discuss ideas.
What is the most popular product ideation model or methodology and how to choose the best for you
The best product ideation model is the one that generates the most creativity from your team. Since each team can vary, it’s hard to say what would work best for product managers. This is when product managers will need to lean on their soft skills and determine the best way for team members to collaborate and innovate together.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to be married to one product ideation model. You can incorporate multiple tools or techniques to help your team maximize their creativity levels. This is especially true if you find that some team members thrive with visual stimuli like storyboarding, but other team members give more creative answers when answering “How Might We” questions.
There’s no right way to do product ideation, but it’s important to choose tools and techniques that foster creativity and innovation in your team.
This also means creating an environment where team members aren’t too shy to voice their opinions or where one team member is taking up too much of the conversation. Product managers will need to use their communication and negotiation skills to ensure that every team member is actively involved in the product ideation process.
Active participation, implementing product ideation techniques and tools, and a focus on solving a user’s challenges will ultimately lead to success.