Ideation sessions. Brainstorms. Creative workshops.
Nearly always good fun, energetic and home to a myriad of exercises and techniques – all designed to generate original thoughts and new solutions.
But it’s what happens before you get a bunch of people in the room (or on Zoom) that delivers the extra value. The best ideas start long before the first post-it note is stuck on the wall. Effective planning will generate much better, relevant and actionable answers to the challenges or opportunities ahead,
Here are ten questions to answer in advance…
1.) What’s the reason behind the session?
Or, in other words, why are we doing it? According to Nielsen Norman Group “Ideation is the process of generating a broad set of ideas on a given topic”, so make sure there’s a clearly articulated problem or opportunity to address.
It sounds obvious (it is), but the more specific the challenge, the better the outcome.
“How do we drive repeat purchase from students” is a much tighter brief than “How can we increase sales”.
2.) Does everyone in the room understand the wider organisational goals?
What’s the overarching strategy or goal that the company (or department) is working towards?
It’s important that everybody is briefed and aware of the bigger picture, even if the purpose of the ideation session is just a small part of the journey. Context is everything, and can help frame things – especially for attendees who may be new or outside of your organisation. Share what you can beforehand.
Speaking of attendees…
3.) Who are the best people to have in the room?
Get the most out of any brainstorm by inviting a good mix of invested and interested folk. Pick a team of generalists, specialists and stakeholders, and choose them (if you can) for their ability to think freely.
We’ve got a big neon sign in our collaborative space that reads “Keep An Open Mind” for this reason. Ideation sessions are not about quickly closing in on the perfect solution – in fact, the opposite. They’re all about suggesting a number of new ways and then building on them as a team.
Generalists work across different parts of the organisation and usually understand the users best. Their overarching view is important.
Specialists in tech, data, finance or any other particular area relevant to the challenge where deep domain knowledge is valuable, can unlock new possibilities unknown to the wider team. They’re often agency partners, like Apadmi.
Stakeholders offer a really useful representation, both for their input and as influential champions of the ideas.
4.) …and how many of them?
As a rule of thumb, no more than eight people. If you HAVE to increase numbers, definitely think about how you’ll use break out exercises for maximum value.
5.) What do you already know about the audience we’re thinking about?
Don’t wait to get into an expensive room full of people to define personas and existing behaviours.
Share as much information as you can about the existing behaviours of the users who you want to reach, in advance of the session. What are they currently doing? Have you got any existing research?
6.) Who or what are you competing against for the user’s time?
If your users are customers, who are the other brands or companies in a similar space that are also targeting them?
For enterprise challenges, there might be existing solutions or processes that colleagues are habitually using. For both audiences, pre-ideation research into both new market activity and cultural trends is valuable.
For example, has the competitive set shifted now that people are working in more flexible locations and commuting less? Is D2C having a new impact on the way customers spend?
7.) What does good look like?
What are you expecting to leave the room with? Some ideation sessions are designed to deliver a number of thoughts for further exploration – divergent thinking in advance of future workshops.
Others can be shaped to add some convergence into the agenda, agreeing there and then on a smaller number of more defined solutions to develop. Be clear about the objectives of the session and structure the agenda and exercises accordingly.
8.) Who’s in charge?
Good design and facilitation make all the difference.
At Apadmi, it’s often the Product Owner’s job to set the agenda for the workshop and ensure that it runs productively. As well as managing strong voices (and encouraging quieter ones), a good facilitator will drive real value and make sure all the good stuff is captured in a meaningful way.
It’s hard for a good facilitator to be a good participator. Think about bringing in someone less connected to the product or project if you need to.
9.) What happens next?
Plan in advance for the immediate actions that follow. When you’ve run a great ideation session, keeping the energy and enthusiasm up is vital.
Schedule the design resource that might be needed to turn ideas into prototypes and any researchers needed to test them out. Always allow good time to allocate responsibilities to the attendees. Agree to frequent communication as to the progress and set deadlines.
10.) Is there a real reason?
As the old saying goes, “There are always two reasons for doing a thing: one is a good reason and the other is the real reason.”
A good reason – like the answer to question 1 – is usually rational and includes words like efficiency, reach, growth or revenue.
The real reason, though, might require a bit more soul-searching. Challenge yourself to be really honest about the other factors that are driving the need to change. Is it a competitor threat? A new CEO? Fear of being left behind?
Find what’s keeping you awake a night and share it with the team. It’s as powerful as it is liberating.
If you would like to learn more about ideation and what Apadmi can do to help your business please contact us below.