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Product Thinking Playbook – Ideation

Amina Saigol

Amina Saigol

Practice Director, Product

June 29, 2022

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Every great product experience, every piece of cutting-edge technology, and every leading innovation that spurs human advancement all begin precisely the same – as an idea!

But how do you apply a repeatable framework to something like ideas?

Step 1 involves consulting our Product Thinking Playbook and looking up Ideation. But if you’re hard-pressed for time, here’s the abridged version of how we help serendipity strike. 

What is Ideation?

Ideation is a process by which we generate ideas and concepts for solving a problem or taking advantage of an opportunity. Similar to brainstorming, they both aim toward rapidly gathering new ideas; however, ideation can be viewed as a more structured approach to formulating new and novel ideas. When viewed specifically through a product lens, it is the act of ideating “how might we” solve user/customer challenges with a new product, service, or feature.  

The structure of an ideation session depends largely on the problem trying to be solved. There are numerous ideation exercises that all hold different strengths in different scenarios, but the commonality among them is that at the end of the session, your team will have a set of ideas that can be prioritized and refined into the final concept(s) for prototyping and testing. 

Why would product teams do it?

Ideation, when applied as a systematic framework of activities, can empower product teams to:

  • Ask the right questions that lead to solving the right problem
  • Focus on the jobs, pains, and gains of the user/customer
  • Align group thinking and points of view
  • Increase quantity and quality of ideas

Most of us are good at analyzing and dissecting a problem, otherwise known as convergent thinking. As humans, we have an innate ability to try and bring disparate bits of information together in order to make sense of it. However, when it comes to getting creative to generate original possibilities and new ideas to solve that problem, also known as divergent thinking, we tend to lack the same ability. 

When should product teams use it?

Concept Generation: To generate multiple product or feature ideas that leverage key insights and areas of opportunity uncovered through immersion and research. Ideas can come from anywhere at any time (they’re fun like that); however, that doesn’t mean you need to reside in wait for them to strike, especially during concept generation. 

Who is required?

Product Strategist/Manager: Responsible for structuring and leading the ideation session, some activities include:  ‘how might we… “how might we” statement creation, ideation stimuli and activity setup, ideation session facilitation and participation, affinity mapping and prioritization.

Product Designer: Acts as support in stimuli creation and ideation session facilitation, participation and synthesis. Can also lead if requirements of the project dictate. 

Design Researcher: Further support in stimuli creation, ideation session facilitation, participation, and synthesis of data post-event. 

Software Engineer: Supports stimuli creation (especially technology-related stimuli) and participates in ideation sessions and synthesis of data post-event.

How do I do it? (Best Practices)

  1. Prepare “how might we” statements in advance:
    • Begin with your problem statement by rephrasing and framing it as questions by adding “how might we” at the beginning.
    • Segment the larger problem as smaller, more actionable and meaningful questions. Aiming for 5-10 HMW questions for one big problem is a good starting point.
  1. Don’t get trapped in convergent thinking or analysis paralysis. Utilize a divergent ideation activity to generate as many ideas as possible, create stimuli, and build out the environment required for the activity (e.g. in Miro).
  1. Align on the Ideation Mindset to set the stage:
    • Quantity over quality – The more the better. Filtering takes place later.
    • Reserve judgment – All input is equally valued
    • Build on other’s ideas – More “Yes, and” less “No, but”
    • One conversation at a time – Give full attention to new ideas
    • Stay present – Avoid multitasking
    • Get wild – No limits; the more creative, the better
  1. When the session concludes, gather key stakeholders to synthesize ideas and concepts into related themes
  1. Prioritize top ideas for further development into product concepts and prototyping
  1. When conducting virtual ideation sessions, keep the following in mind:
    • Gather small, cross-disciplinary attendees (no more than 10)
    • Keep ideation sprints short and at an intense pace 
    • Assign a facilitator to make sure rules and timing are respected
    • Start with individual approaches, followed by collective share-outs
    • Have inspiring stimuli/materials/prompts ready 
    • Avoid clustering, discussing, or analyzing while ideating
    • Play instrumental/no lyrics music during the activity
    • Set a timer visible to everyone
    • Have blank stickies ready and pre-populated in your collaboration board for participants to drop in their ideas
    • Create a space for an Idea Parking Lot

Our Product Thinking Playbook is filled with tactics and techniques that help product teams build better products. Click here to download your copy of the complete playbook and stay tuned as we share more from it in the coming weeks.

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