“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away.” — Linus Pauling
In the process of ideation, the most important part is to be mindful, non-judgemental, and think of crazy/ out of the box ideas. As a moderator of an ideation session, it is very important to create a safe space for your peers, making sure that we encourage even stupid ideas so we can extract as much as we can. Make it a norm for our peers to not judge other.
Our goal is to generate as many ideas as we can, regardless of them being possible or not. Then filler out the bad ones later.
What we want to achieve from an ideation session is the green asterisk. If you judge your ideas before you share them, we will go as far as the second circle. Whereas, if we are encouraged to share all types of idea even if it’s crazy, we will go as far as the outer most circle. The green asterisk is where innovation happens.
Having to facilitate an in-person interaction is already an everyday challenge, because we want to put all of our peers in the right mindset and time box our exercise to make the most out of everyone’s time. However, when working in remote offices, we cannot rely on in-person interactions. We need to rely on technology. The difference is you never know if in that one hour meeting there will be problems with the internet connection on a certain day or if someone gets kicked out of a session while posting their ideas on a virtual ideation tool or if the sound is working right.
Problems with Remote Ideation:
Scenario 1: (6 mins ideation) tool: Realtimeboard (Miro) Participants: 5
After the time starts, only 3 people were able to access the board, the other 2 had to wait to post their ideas. This creates inconsistency and by the time they meant to type the idea, the stimulation was already gone. At this point, time boxing doesn’t really help.
Scenario 2: (10 mins discussion) tool: Realtimeboard (Miro) Participants: 5
Because it was a virtual co-ordination, not everyone understands the big picture of our problem that we are trying to solve. Which in turn, provided us with very little solutions to work with because our peers don’t fully understand the context.
Having to do remote sessions with the New York office, here are some of the things that I’ve tried over the course of one year and it finally worked!
- Have someone on the other side to help you. In my current Scenario, I’m based in Berlin, but our HeadQuarter and most client facing departments are in New York. Since, I won’t be able to control anything in New York it was really nice to have someone who understands your process enough to help you facilitate on the other side.
- Try to explain the concept of ideation and what do you want to achieve out of this session. A normal ideation session will take about 30 mins, if it’s done in-person, but in this case we have to rely on technical installations and some virtual set up so time it as a 1 hour session.
- Whether that person on the other side is the Lead Engineer, the Product Manager, or a team lead, we need to establish a relationship where we truly understand the intent of this session. Let him or her know that we want our peers to generate crazy ideas and not judging other. Let them be the one to come up with some crazy ideas before hand, in case we get stuck during the ideation. Brief each other about the problems we are solving in this session.
- Make sure you leave as little room as possible for curiosity, because this person needs to understand your process well enough to help you deliver the context.
2. Always know your problem statement. Never start an ideation session without doing enough research.
- You want to be able to tell your peers why are we doing this and why this is a problem. So prior to this session, make sure you have enough information about our users and clearly identify our problems. In this session we can split it into two sessions: Define + Ideate or Just Ideation. However, if you want to do Define+Ideate, make sure that the problem statement is small enough to generate many “How might we….?” questions.
- More times that not, I will try to define the opportunities from our problem statements with our Product Managers before hand and pick the “How might we….” questions that aligns with our business problem the most. This will shorten the time spend on categorizing our focus problems and allow our PMs to walk our peers through certain problems in case of sound defects.
3. Prepare a visual User Journey or a Visualization of our Problem. So we want our peers to get up to speed with the problems we have discovered, but we want to pick their brains for certain solutions. The best way to get make the most out of this session is when everyone understands the problem the same way as us.
- The easiest way to make that easier on our peers is to show them what we’ve discovered in the easiest way possible. A good rule of thumb is if someone can understand it in 10 seconds, it’s good enough to communicate our problem.
- Use minimum amount of words in our visualization. We can also show an empathy map that provides information on the SAY:DO , THINK:FEEL basis.
- Use a timeline journey or a step-by-step Journey and add some percentage if possible.
- Highlight some IMPORTANT quotes from our users. Only the important quotes.
Remember, we only have one hour for this session and we should not drag on the meeting to waste our peers’ time. Take your time to prepare documents or resources you need from above and get ready for the ideation.
- Create a safe space. Remind your peers that this is a safe space, every solution is a good solution, when one person talks all of us should be respectful and listen, and we will not judge anyone’s ideas.
- Think of Crazy Solutions before hand. I would think of crazy solutions before hand just to handle awkward situations when people run out of ideas and they need some guidelines to go further. My solution doesn’t have to be possible, but it has to be crazy enough that it helps our peers think outside the box.
- Explain your problem statements carefully. Again, we want to be on the same page and make sure we are solving the same problem. This step is just as essential as empathizing our users.
- Be Patience. Anything can go wrong during the ideation process, especially, when it is done remotely. Whether it’s the internet connection, the sound from the chrome box, the post-it notes on the board that you cannot read from your screen, etc. Just be patience and trust your co-ordinator on the other side.
Wrapping up the Ideation:
The first session will always be the hardest, but simple feedbacks such as “I like” and “I wish” from the first session will give us an idea of how we can improve them next time.
After the ideation session, you should anticipate to get many useful ideas. Group them into relevant categories and vote on ones that we want to experiment with the most.
In the end, in-person interaction will always be easier. However, whether it’s in-person or remote, we want to achieve the same thing, coming up with smart solutions in a short period of time.
Of course, when remote ideation gets too hard, you can always try to do it alone. But remember, if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.
Happy ideating everyone!