Turning the Customers Needs into Solution Ideas.

Contents of this chapter
In this chapter, I walk your team through the process of turning the customer needs and insight from chapter 1 into a list of ideas. You will get a tested blueprint for running an ideation session with (your) team.

Group size
3 – 5

Time investment
2h – 2,5h

Preparation time
15-30m

Difficulty
Intermediate

This chapter provides you with a tested blueprint to run an ideation session. This will help you to turn the customer insights from Chapter 1 into customer-centric solutions. Moreover, you find answers to practical questions and learn about ideation best practices. If you already have a list of ideas, I suggest you move on to Chapter #3 which deals with prioritization. 

During my career, I’ve seen many corporates and start-ups assume they knew their customer. Ultimately, this resulted in failure or in wasting a lot of time, energy and money. Therefore, I can’t emphasize enough that before starting to brainstorm on solutions, make sure you absolutely know your target customer, their needs and the insights on their needs!

Ideation is defined as the process of generating ideas and solutions via several techniques for a specific user group that has certain needs and from whom you developed certain insights after extensive research. The Ideation process can be applied by any company independent of the product/service they offer or the industry they are in. It has been successfully practised by a diverse range of companies such as Google, P&G, SAP, GE and ABN Amro. Ideation is so popular because:

  • It’s a process that revers engineers customer problems into ideas
  • It’s a flexible process in a structured format
  • It’s playful and productive
  • It uses both the creative and the pragmatic side of the brain
  • It’s going beyond obvious solutions and thereby enhancing the probability of success
  • It unleashes a competitive drive by team members to generate better ideas
  • The process allows for a dynamic and diverse team with different perspectives which increases the chance of success

Now, let’s make it practical and let me run you through the Ideation blueprint.

 

Noud van Alem

Chief Growth Officer / Public Speaker

Step #1: Introduction & Warm-up

We know that Ideation is a tool that helps to generate ideas for customer needs. The first step in generating ideas is the introduction and warm-up section. This will help you have the right mindset and get the most out of step 3, brainstorming. 

 

Great that you started your ideation workshop. Here follow a couple of steps to boost your creativity and create the right environment for a successful session.

Start: 

Get to know each other by shortly introducing yourself to one another and the expertise you bring to the table. Mention also which innovation you hope to have happened in 30 years from now, and why!

The workshop leader can introduce the topic and share input from chapter 1.

Time: maximum of 30 minutes

Introduction to Tech & Trends:

Introduce your team to new technologies and trends that can trigger innovative ideas.

Explaining each technology and trend by using inspiring startup and corporate innovation examples makes these high-level concepts extremely actionable
. It also allows you to explore how specific trends and technologies can impact the challenges at hand.

Time: maximum of 30 minutes

Step #2: Process for Capturing all Ideas

During an ideation session, you are going to collect many ideas. I often see teams producing over 100 ideas. It's crucial to capture all the ideas so that you can store them in your growth tool. This way you can check the ideas in the future.

 

Writing down all your ideas usually happens in 2 ways: on sticky notes or on an ideation canvas.

The advantages of sticky notes are i.a., that you usually already have them wildly available in your office, that they stick to the wall and the concept is simple. On the other hand, the ideation canvas provides focus during ideation and people will evaluate different perspectives from an idea.

 

Overview Ideation Canvas
Long list section of the Ideation Canvas

A long list of ideas

Create a long list of ideas per category. This helps you to let ideas flow freely, have multiple perspectives on the same issue and mitigate that you get stuck. You can decide for yourself which categories you create. 

Ideation Canvas box focused on consolidating ideas

Consolidation of ideas

Consolidate the long list of ideas in a few ideas you believe in most. Note: you don’t have to ‘kill’ very ambitious ideas nor do you have to keep ideas in all categories. 

Shortlist section of the Ideation Canvas

Creating a shortlist 

Plot your list of consolidated ideas on a 2×2 matrix. Decide how the ideas score based on feasibility and potential business impact. You can plot the ideas intuitively, rather than creating the ultimate evaluation framework. Evaluation and prioritization will happen in chapter 3.

Step #3: Brainstorming

You have been set-up for success, let's start brainstorming. Truth to be told there is a never-ending list of brainstorming techniques. Also, there are many ideas which support participants to be creative. I don’t believe in the best brainstorming method. The one I often use in Sprint workshops is the Post-Up Brainstorming method. Let's go you through the steps of running a brainstorming session.

In an ideation session, it’s important to let your ideas flow freely. Before you can go wild, it’s important to create the right scope.

Prior to brainstorming, make sure you as a team know 1) your customer, 2) the need the customer has, 3) the customer job and 4) insights regarding the customer need. These 4 steps help you define the following statement:  [User] … need [need] … because [insight]. An example could be: Starting college students dislike cooking because they don’t know how to cook.

As a next step, you formulate the question for everybody to ideate on. This question starts with ‘How might we …?’. An example could be: “How might we create a tool to help to start college students know how to cook?”. Now everybody has the same focus which will make your ideation session effective.

You can find the exact steps of running a brainstorming session below:

Step 1:

The problem owner presents or synthesizes the learnings from the customer research. This means the target customer, the needs and the insight are presented. The best way to summarize this is as follows:

[User … (descriptive)] needs [Need … (verb)] because [Insight … (compelling)].

Step 2:

The “How might we …” question(s) is/are defined. This means that you create a question that starts with “how might we …” and where you include the target customer, the need/problem/challenge and the insight. Now everybody has the same question(s) on which you can ideate. I personally prefer to run 1 ideation session for 1 question or 1 group per question.

Step 3:

Everybody is handed out post-its and pens, or an idea card.

Step 4:

Everybody gets 5-10 minutes to silently write down ideas on the post-it or idea card.

Step 5:

The ideas are posted to the wall. Team members can read the ideas out loud and thereby inspire others or read it silently and get inspiration for more ideas and write those down on new post-its.

Step 6:

When the team members run out of ideas they can check for inspiration on the wall, take a short break or group their current ideas into categories and then explore further.

Step 7:

The facilitator ends the brainstorm session.

Do’s

To make an Ideation session a success, use the following best-practices:

  • Feel comfortable. There is NO wrong or stupid idea
  • Keep your focus on idea generation. Don’t get sidetracked
  • Keep the energy up. Avoid Negativity, Device checking and energy draining commentary
  • Build on the ideas of others or turn dead-ends into breakthrough ideas
  • Be Visual
  • One Conversation at a time
  • Quantity over quality = don’t overthink but write down everything

Don’ts

Use the following don’ts to improve your Ideation session even further:

  • Don’t Judge, let ideas flow
  • Don’t Comment on an idea, this changes the mood and flow
  • Don’t edit an idea, those details will come later
  • Don’t think about execution, this will come later
  • Skip ‘this didn’t work before’
  • Don’t compare your ideas
  • Don’t laugh about an idea

Practical Checklist

Use this tested checklist to make sure your workshop will run smoothly.

Space & Room

  • Choose a space and make a reservation
  • Space: Make sure you have enough space for all the participants
  • The room is a natural environment that encourages creativity, plenty of daylight has good ventilation and no echo

Brainstorming Material

  • Paper
  • Sticky notes with a range of colors
  • Markers (different colors)
  • Elevated tables & chairs: Encourage participation in team process
  • Whiteboards & Flipcharts

Other:

  • Tape
  • Pencils
  • Beamer/Screen for presentations

Food & Drinks:

  • Availability of coffee, tea, and water
  • Availability of food and snacks

Opposite Thinking – mitigating when you get stuck

Opposite thinking will help your team to challenge their assumptions about the problem and possible solutions and come up with non-obvious ideas. It is a great structure to use when your team is stuck.

  • Assumption: describe the assumption you have about your concept or domain
  • Opposite: describe the opposite of this assumption
  • Describe a new service, offering, improvement out of the opposite

Frequently Asked Questions

Anybody who is willing to prepare the session and understand the basis of facilitating a creative process.

We believe though that there a facilitator can apply principles that can improve the results of an ideation session. Having a single clear objective beforehand, encouraging ideas and handling those as equal are the basics.

If you feel I can lend you a hand, please let me know!

A diverse group of stakeholders related to the Ideation objective.

By having a multi-disciplinary group and diverse stakeholder group on board you get a more complete picture of customer perspectives and different type of solutions. I recommend having people in the ideation session with a diverse functional background (e.g., sales and operations) and who have different thinking styles (e.g., conformist, creative thinker, detail oriented person).

Lastly, If you can involve customers in the ideation process, you generate even better ideas and will be truly customer-centric.

Here is more in-depth information:

We advise to run an ideation session with 5-25 people with 10-12 as the optimal number. We recommend to have a maximum of 15 participants per facilitator.

Independent of the number of participants and facilitators we generally recommend dividing people in groups of 3-5. This way you can even host ideation sessions with groups of over 100 people. Please note that this requires more time and that facilitating an ideation session gets significantly more complicated to facilitate.

A great room with motivated people with post-its and markers to write down your ideas.

If you want to go the professional route, you can use my Ideation checklist.

You can host an ideation session anywhere.

However, by carefully choosing a place you can improve the creativity and thereby the ideation output.

Here are the main factors to evaluate a room on:

  • Preferably run an ideation session away from the office
  • Make sure the room has a lot of daylight and is at the right temperature
  • If at the office, choose a dedicated space for projects/ideation sessions which is not used for meetings
  • Have many whiteboards in the rooms
  • Have flexible furniture so that you can handle the diverse work modes

Here are a few more tips:

Great job! In a short amount of time, you have generated customer-centric solutions. I realize you now have tons of post-its sticking to the wall and that you can’t execute on all those ideas. Therefore, we will focus in chapter #3 on prioritizing all ideas. You will get a framework that helps to pick the most promising ideas. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Best, Noud