The 2 hour ideation workshop

How to generate a wide range of ideas to solve a user problem.

Over the past couple of years I’ve discovered the need for a new weapon in my product design arsenal: a short, effective ideation workshop to solve a specific user problem. Working closely in a cross-functional team of product, engineering and UX, I’ve been able to experiment and get this down to two hours.

Although I’ve borrowed (liberally) from Design Sprint, the format below isn’t a substitute. Instead, it’s focused on generating a wide range of ideas from participants in a short space of time. By the end of the 2 hours everyone should:

  1. Have a strong understanding of the problem.
  2. Generate ideas to solve the problem.
  3. Prioritise ideas by effort and value.

This workshop has been successfully run by designers, researchers and product managers at Schibsted, with over 150 participants using the process to generate ideas that solve user problems.

Inviting the right people

If you’re a product designer, this should be most of your cross-functional team and any key stakeholders who can green-light ideas. Limit this to 10 participants max.

Keeping a balance of UX, product and engineering is essential for the effort vs value task. The cross pollination between disciplines will also lead to a wide range of ideas. As a rule of thumb I always have our user researcher Matt and product manager Sebastien Penot attend.

Your role

You’ll be the facilitator, making sure everything runs smoothly and on time to maximise the two hours. This means one less designer participating so be sure to invite another.

Checklist before the workshop

  • Understand the problem your users are facing through research and insights. Create a deck that makes this easy to understand.
  • Print out research insights, personas, screenshots of competitor products, and user journeys. These will be stuck to the walls for reference.
  • Stock up on A4 paper, sharpies, pens, large post-it notes and 5 dot stickers per participant.
  • Download Bit Timer on your iPhone for the Crazy 8’s exercise.

The ideation workshop

  1. Introduction — 5 min
  2. Present the problem — 10 min
  3. Get inspired — 10 min
  4. Individually take notes based research — 10 min
  5. Crazy 8's — 20 min
  6. Solution sketch — 10 min
  7. Present and vote — 20 min
  8. Effort vs value prioritisation — 30 min
  9. Wrap up — 5 min

2 hours total

1. Introduction — 5 min

Hide distractions: Ask everyone to close their laptops and put away their phones.

Introduce yourself: Do a round of introductions if anyone is new to the team or project.

Some people might be new to this so explain what ideation is. I’ve found doing so often helps engineers understand why they’re involved so early in the product development process. How I sum it up:

  • The creative process of generating new ideas
  • Pushes you to think differently
  • Cross pollination of expertise from different disciplines
  • Solve problems from a user perspective

Explain the intended outcomes:

  1. Have a strong understanding of the problem
  2. Generate ideas to solve the problem
  3. Prioritise ideas by effort and value

2. Present the problem — 10 min

  1. Use research and insights to explain how the user problem was discovered.
  2. End the research with a clearly defined problem statement and write it on a whiteboard for reference.

3. Get inspired — 10 min

  1. Demo how the problem is being solved by competitors. You can assign this as homework beforehand and capture screenshots, or videos, for people to present.
  2. Limit this to 4 apps or websites.
  3. Screenshots should already be printed out and stuck around the room.

4. Individually take notes based research — 10 min

Walking around the room, participants take notes based on research insights, personas, data and journey maps stuck to the walls. Remind everyone that this will be used for generating ideas.

5. Crazy 8’s — 20 min

Run two rounds of sketching Crazy 8’s using the same format as the Design Sprint:

  1. Take your paper and fold it into 8 sections.
  2. Set the timer for 8 minutes (use Bit Timer).
  3. Each team member sketches one idea in each rectangle.
  4. When the timer goes off, put your pens down.

Doing another round is tough but the first round tends to work well as a warm up for anyone new to the exercise.

After the first round, have participants explain their best idea to the person sat next to them for no more than a minute. Then have them swap and explain for another minute. This will allow ideas to cross pollinate.

6. Solution sketch — 10 min

  1. Participants take their best idea from their Crazy 8’s or an entirely new idea.
  2. On an A4 piece of paper sketch a 3 frame storyboard.
  3. Sketches should be as visual as possible, interface elements work best.
  4. Give it a catchy title to make it easy to remember, and include annotations beneath each frame to explain what’s happening.

7. Present and vote — 20 min

1 min per participant, 10 min to vote

  1. Present: Keep this moving and ask everyone to be conscious of not going over a minute. Remind participants when their time’s up.
  2. Vote: Everyone gets 5 dot stickers to vote on ideas. Ideas can have more than one vote.

8. Effort vs value prioritisation — 30 min

Engineers sort ideas — those requiring the least technical effort go to the top

Work as a team to identify ideas that require the least technical effort whilst bringing the most value to the user and business. Doing so as a UX, Prod, Eng collective, gives each discipline perspective on why one feature should be built over another.

  1. Group the top voted ideas.
  2. If there are more than 8 participants, split into two groups and distribute the ideas. Keep a balance of UX, Prod and Eng in each group.
  3. Engineers physically sort the ideas, with those requiring minimal technical effort at the top.
  4. UX and product stick post-it notes of “low value”, “medium value” or “high value” on the ranked ideas.

9. Wrap up — 5 mins

  1. Thank everyone for coming and let them know when to expect a follow up.
  2. Take pictures of all the ideas on the wall.
  3. Breathe.

The follow up

  • Share the presentation you used during the workshop and include photos of all the ideas.
  • Plot the names of the ideas on an effort vs value graph. Include this at the end of the presentation.
Plotting the ideas on an effort vs value axis helps identify quick wins
  • Explain the next steps. Will the ideas be used to define your product roadmap? Are you going to begin sketching and prototyping any ideas for further validation?

I hope you’ve found this useful and can see a use for it when you next need to solve a user problem. If you have alternative or better practices for facilitating ideation workshops, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy ideating ✊