How to Run a Product Brainstorm

Max Mullen
3 min readOct 6, 2017
Teams present their ideas to each other during a product brainstorm session at Instacart HQ.

As a product leader, you have many ideas for products and features. On a small team, you might put many of your own ideas directly into the product roadmap without much input from others.

However, as your team grows, your role will transform from idea generation to idea curation. Many great ideas will come from your team, and it is now your responsibility to draw out and promote the best ideas from others.

That’s where the product brainstorm comes in. At Instacart we use product brainstorming sessions to ensure that all of the best ideas are heard, and that the entire team participates in the process of creating our product roadmaps.

Here’s how they work:

Step 1: Set the proper context

Developing good ideas starts with understanding your goals. Create themes around metrics you want to move and problems you want to solve for customers. Ask the team to develop ideas against those themes ahead of time. If you are holding a brainstorm to improve an existing product, make sure the team has recently used that product. Print out screenshots of the existing user flows and those of similar products for visual inspiration.

Step 2: Agree on a framework for assessing ideas

The team should know in advance how you will choose the best ideas. Will you pick the idea that makes the biggest impact? The one with the smallest scope? Or some combination? By understanding your framework for assessing ideas, team members can think like a product person and you will raise the quality of the ideas your team generates.

Step 3: Conduct an actual brainstorm

There are a few important elements to a successful session.

  • First, maintaining a positive atmosphere is key. This is not the time to worry about scope or requirements or to critique ideas. Simply aim to generate a large quantity of ideas that match the themes. As the facilitator, speak up if you feel the meeting turns negative or becomes too focused on one idea or theme.
  • Secondly, participants should feel safe during the meeting. You should set the expectation that there are no bad ideas, and that ideas should be heard without judgement. It’s absolutely fine for a team member to present an odd or half-baked idea. Often, these ideas are iterated upon by others and they add to the creative energy and momentum of the meeting.
  • Lastly, alternate between individual contribution and group discussion. Ask participants to start by writing down their own list of ideas. Then, ask them to present those ideas out loud to each other. As ideas are heard, more ideas will be generated. Breaking into multiple groups of 4–6 people can instill a healthy spirit of competition and also make sure there is enough time for everyone to present their ideas.

Step 4: Organize the ideas

At this point, you have a pile of ideas. Group similar ideas together and organize them into a shortened list around themes. Present this organized list back to the team and ask for their feedback and support. You will most likely have many more ideas than time to build them, so make sure that the team understands that you will need to prioritize them, and that not all of the ideas will make their way into the product roadmap.

By using product brainstorms at Instacart, we make sure the entire team stays engaged in the product planning process, while making sure the best ideas rise to the top of our roadmap and get built.

Special thanks to Hetong Li and the Growth team at Instacart for developing this process.

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