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How product managers generate new ideas and solve problems in a meaningful, productive way.
If your go-to tool for generating ideas with a group is traditional brainstorming, it is time to learn some new tools. Ideation tools are specifically for generating new ideas, such as ways to create additional value for customers, how a problem could be solved, or exploring directions for radical innovation.
Some ideation tools can be used alone, but most are intended for small groups.
In the discussion, you will learn several tools, including:
- Mind mapping
- Six thinking hats
Video Describing the Tools
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:55] What is ideation?
I think of ideation as idea generation. A deeper definition is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas. It’s an essential part of the product process. We start with ideas and eventually develop them into product concepts. We also use these ideation skills to push past barriers later in the project, and at the post-mortem stage at the end of the project.
SCAMPER stands for a lot of action words to help us break out of our mindsets.
- Substitute: What can we substitute on a product to make it work differently?
- Combine: What can we combine together to add new value to a product?
- Adapt: Can the product be adapted for another use?
- Modify: How can we modify a product?
- Put to use: Can a product be put to another use? This leads to new market thinking.
- Eliminate: Is there something about a product that can be eliminated? Bosch removed an electrical cord from one of its saws because they saw no one was using it and some contractors were actually cutting through it.
- Reverse: What can you do differently next time?
This is something many of us have no doubt done before. A small group gets together and generates ideas that can solve a problem or improve a process. It’s meant to be free-flowing with no criticism of ideas. The ideas are eventually filtered into something we can work with. Unfortunately, it’s not very efficient.
My go-to method for better brainstorming is called the nominal group technique (NGT). It provides more structure around the brainstorming process. The key difference between NGT and traditional brainstorming is that NGT involves giving people time to generate ideas on their own before the group discussion begins. It really balances the discussion and gives everyone the same amount of time in the brainstorming session. You can go round-robin around the room until everyone’s individual ideas have been shared. If someone’s idea inspires a new idea for you, add it to your list and say it the next time it’s your turn.
From there, you can go through a simple voting process to determine which ideas everyone likes best and thinks are the most viable. NGT moves toward a model of generating more ideas overall and bringing more voices to the table for voting and generating ideas.
[13:52] Mind mapping
Mind mapping is a graphical technique for doing an outline. You start with the key thing you’re analyzing in the middle of the board and then start moving out from there with layers and details about a topic. It’s another great way to bring everyone’s voice into the conversation and get people to think about a problem or product in a different way.
This is particularly useful when we’re trying to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. What is the customer doing before or after they interact with our product? You can use a whiteboard or pieces of paper to create the story of what’s happening for your customer and the different elements within it. You are communicating a story through the drawings.
This sounds like brainstorming, but it’s based on writing the ideas down instead of talking about them. Like traditional brainstorming, you start with the problem and everyone writing ideas in response to it. Everyone then passes their ideas to the next person and the ideas build on each other. After about 15 minutes of doing this, you discuss the ideas together and vote on them.
[21:05] Six thinking hats
This is a useful tool for when we need to get out of our own way. It forces team members to separate their thinking into roles and personas. There’s one hat for each type of role:
- Focus on facts
- Positive values and benefits
- Black hat (devil’s advocate)
- Expresses emotions
Some people naturally gravitate toward one role or another. This is a good way to get people away from their traditional thinking patterns. It also takes the personal element out of the process because everyone is on a level playing field in assuming the roles. The controlling hat also makes sure that everyone is staying in their roles throughout the process.
This is a classic strategy tool that’s used a lot at the leadership level. It has four elements:
- Strengths: This is what gives your business or product an advantage over others
- Weaknesses: The opposite of strengths; things that place you at a disadvantage
- Opportunities: External factors outside our control that we can take advantage of
- Threats: External factors that could cause trouble or impact a product negatively
SWOT helps us think outside our environment and account for what’s going on in the marketplace. It’s quick and easy to do and also provides an opportunity to assess existing strengths and weaknesses.
This is another acronym that’s used a lot in business school. It stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental. If there’s a trend taking place in any one of these areas, you can either take advantage of it or use it as guidance to stay away from going in a particular direction. For example, there are certain products that you might not want to launch around an election year because the election will dominate the news cycle.
This is collecting a group of experts to help you think through a problem. It relies on getting the right experts involved. It’s typically conducted over email. You gather responses, synthesize them, and then share it back out to the group for additional feedback. A few rounds of that will generate really great ideas, as long as you have the right people and enough time to allow for feedback.
- Get the PDF with the ideation tools
- TEI 050: Use design heuristics to improve idea generation – with Seda Yilmaz, PhD
“Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” -Larry Page
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.