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Techniques for Product Ideation: Generation, Selection and Implementation

Image from Patrick Tomasso @Unsplash

Ideation is the composition of ideas or concepts. So what would you label as an idea then? An idea can be interpreted as a spark of light, revealing a new course of action. Fresh ideas are the heart of innovation and advancement. Without them, you are basically dead, you just don’t know it yet.

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come – Victor Hugo

In this article I will elaborate on what lies beneath the world of product ideation. I will cover the main ideation steps, going through the potential sources of ideation, revealing some of the most successful ideation techniques, and finish off with tips that will enable you to successfully perform ideation within your organization.

Three Steps to Product Ideation

There are three steps that each organization has to undergo in order to successfully perform product ideation: generation, selection and actual implementation.

Topics that are addressed throughout those steps include determining the criteria to be used to evaluate the ideas generated, defining who is reviewing them, and deciding the process for handing over the finest ideas to the respective teams for either executing or trashing.

Assigning the ideas to the respective product lines is also part of the process, followed by prioritization, in order to be confident that the most valuable ideas reach the execution stage first. The success of implementation relies upon your organization’s ability to pick the top ideas and follow them efficiently through completion.

1. Idea Generation Sourcing

The idea generation sources through which you can get inspired and come up with new product features, can be divided into two main categories: internal and external.

Internal sources: here we are mainly talking about your very own R&D (Research and Development) as well as other internal employees from various departments. Great sources can be the engineering/IT team, the customer service department as well as the sales force, since they are continuously interacting with your customers and following the industry trends.

External sources: here we refer to, first and foremost, your customers. As Bill Gates once said, your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. Competitors is another source that should never be underestimated. There are huge learning opportunities with bench-marking, and diving into other sectors and industries. Other sources are your suppliers and trade shows or conventions.

2. Several Ideation Selection Techniques

Image from Daria Nepriakhina @Unsplash

When looking at ideation techniques, it is essential to choose the ones that fit the type of ideas you’re trying to generate. You also need to be mindful towards the needs of the respective ideation team, their states of creative productivity, as well as their levels of experience with ideation sessions.

Below are seven of the most successful techniques that can be used when generating ideas.

1. Brainstorming

At the very top of our list ranks one of the most popular and widely used method for both innovative problem solving and idea generation. The objective is to come up with all imaginable ideas about a specific problem within a restricted time-frame. Each and every one of the ideas are documented, with participants being banned from criticizing or evaluating while the session is ongoing. This gives space for the most absurd ideas to be heard and win a chance for making the cut.

A good size for the group is usually 6–10 people which gives you room to exchange further, cluster, join ideas together etc..

One part that can be a little painful is the actual scheduling, organizing and post-documentation of the session in a practical format that you can share and continuously update or refer to.

2. Focus Groups

As the name prevails, this technique brings together a small group of individuals with divergent characteristics, with the aim of providing information in a structured format. It is a form of qualitative research, including interviews, where reactions and perceptions towards a product or service are examined. This way you can extrapolate what can be expected from a larger population.

This technique is very useful in early stages of ideation, to assist in making a concept/feature stronger, incorporating user feedback early enough, before you invest in its actual development.

3. Mindmapping

The benefits of this powerful technique are just endless. You can use it to better visualize and organize information from simply structuring your thoughts, to brainstorming sessions, to managing meetings all the way to event planning.

The process kicks off by noting down a central phrase or word in the middle of the page. With that in place, participants start writing anything else that comes to mind, evolving around that key phrase. Once that is done, you start making connections in order to see how things come together and a web of relationships is created.

It is super easy to add ideas later on at any time and it also helps you focus on the links and relationships between ideas so you never end up with detached information.

4. SCAMPER

Sometimes, all it takes is to study what you already have. Utilizing your current ideas or processes as a starting point can take you to places you never thought were possible.

This idea generation technique emerged by Bob Eberle and it exploits action verbs as stimuli with the focus of re-shaping ideas, concepts or processes that already exist.

SCAMPER is an acronym with each letter standing for an action verb:

  • Substitute — replacing a part of your product, concept or process with another to achieve greater outcome.
  • Combine — opportunity of integrating two ideas into one, more solid solution.
  • Adapt — create a more dynamic process and focus on other complementary incremental improvements.
  • Modify — view the problem from a zoomed out perspective and improve the results from a holistic perspective.
  • Put to another use — discover ways to use the solution currently in place for a different purpose and evaluate the derived benefits if applied.
  • Eliminate — what would happen if some parts of the concept were eliminated?
  • Reverse — shift the order of interchangeable elements of an idea.

There are various examples of the use of this technique in products or services. A classic example is MacDonald’s. Ray Kroc used SCAMPER in numerous ways: selling restaurants instead of purely limiting himself to burgers (put to other uses), having a self-service model in place to avoid employing waiters (eliminate) and having customers pay before they dine (reverse). Other examples that we come across on a daily basis is the combined in one washing machine and dryer as well as your very own smartphone that is now, among other things, a calculator, a GPS and a camera.

For further navigation through each letter to assist you in facilitating any workshop, here is a more detailed guide with helpful questions.

Image from José Alejandro Cuffia @Unsplash

5. Storyboarding

Developed by Walt Disney Studio, a storyboard is a visual story, illustrating how a feature will work or how a product can develop. This technique assists creative people in representing information they gained during research. Images, quotes from the user, and other relevant information are hanging on a cork board to stand for a scenario and to facilitate in grasping the relationships between various ideas.

Really helpful tool to continuously show stakeholders your vision on how your product can evolve throughout the upcoming increments.

6. Reverse Thinking

This is one of my favorite techniques that not many are aware of. Practicing reverse thinking is helping you question the status quo and what you normally tend to take for granted. Feel free to use it when you sense your team is stuck with the conventional mindset and coming up with “out-of-the-box ideas” seems to be burdensome.

So now you are probably wondering how on earth you are going to reverse your thinking and the truth is that you have a valid point. A straightforward example to grasp the concept can be the following: ‘how can I double my revenue?’ can transform into ‘how do I guarantee that I have no revenue at all?.’ See, it was not that complicated.

This technique alleviates any tension and self-confidence concerns and empowers people to be bolder since they know their ideas are not going to be inspected for missing the mark. You can easily use this way as an ice breaker and then once you get the ideas rolling, switch to regular brainstorming.

7. Sketching

Remember that one picture is worth a thousand words? Visuals have a way of arousing further ideas and providing a wider lens of thinking. The concept behind sketching out ideas is not to develop the next Picasso work of art that you can mount on the wall. The sketches should be as simple and rough as possible with enough level of detail to convey the key message.

The main benefit of sketching is that for a moment you escape from the restrictions of the computer screen, activate your open ended thinking and come to realize that there is usually more than one way to approach a problem.

The cool part is that sketches are open to interpretation in all possible directions by different people, strengthening the final idea before you work it up onscreen.

3. Six Rules for Ideation Implementation

Image from Alex Radelich @Unsplash
  1. Define the problem/objective well: The more concrete you are, the better and more actionable the results will be.
  2. Be customer centric at all times: Always remember to put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Use the product yourself and see what you miss to make it better or what is giving you a hard time.
  3. Involve the right people: You need to have a good mix of people who have vision, more detailed oriented, etc., as well as people who are new to the topic versus experts.
  4. Define some borders: Certainly the sky is the limit, but at the end of the day you need to stick to your objective to ensure concrete results.
  5. Challenge all existing assumptions:You need to re-shuffle what’s in the bowl so do not take anything as a given, dare to be bold and challenge the status quo.
  6. Successful execution: A good idea is worth nothing if you cannot follow through to its completion, ensuring it sees daylight.

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