Preconditions for successful ideation and concept work

Preconditions for successful ideation and concept work

Innovation requires great ideas. Luckily, we don’t have to rely on fuzzy brainstorming sessions anymore but have a much more sophisticated method set at hand.

Design Studio for example allows us in only 2-3 hours to explore many more ideas compared to brainstorming sessions AND collaboratively develop the best ideas into a tangible prototype. Design Sprints go a step further by combining Design Studio elements with an exploration of real customer needs / problems in order to set the right context upfront and later a validation of the most critical aspects with real (potential) users.

Despite having these advanced methods available, most teams are not satisfied with the results after the short burst of enthusiasm has vanished. The following three aspects help to get the most out of ideation and Design Sprints:

Get clarity about your mandate

The investment in days for collaborative ideation and concept phases is high compared to conventional concept work usually done by the product manager alone at his/her desk (but they pay off – see “Agile Cost Accounting”). Accordingly, this investment is done not very often. And if the time is spent, expectations reach a dangerous level, resulting in very broad and unspecific problems that should be solved all in one step.

But without a clear focus it is impossible to direct ideation. And without direction, it is easy to fit almost any idea into the problem space. Fear of missing the “best” solution leads to endless discussions. As a result, only the surface of many problems is touched instead of taking a joint and collaborative leap into valuable solution spaces.

Especially for inexperienced teams require a focused mandate so that everyone understands the intent. This implies having quantitative measurable goals and clearly stated causalities to have a guideline to select ideas according to the expectations. Rule of thumb: The higher the expectations for the concept phase, the stricter the constraints should be set. A target to radically reduce a flow from ten to one click will generate different concepts than a mandate to “simplify the flow”.

Some examples of worse and better mandates:

Worse Better
„How might we increase customer satisfaction?“ “How might we increase customer satisfaction measured by KPI A by 100% until date B, so that we can reach outcome C?“
„How might we improve customer experience?“ „How might we enable users to solve User Story X with one click instead of 10 clicks, so that they can satisfy need Y and we can reach outcome Z?”


Make biases transparent

All projects that run through an ideation and concept phase have a history. This means that there are biases present which restrict ideation right from the start. In this setting, it is easy to bent the problem framing so that existing ideas (in case of doubt the idea of the highest-ranking participant) magically ends as winner.

A clearly framed mandate with evaluation criteria helps to enter ideation unbiased and to prevent reverse engineering of ideas. Additionally, it makes sense to make explicit which ideas are already have been discussed and excluded these ideas at least from the first rounds of concept work.

Leave room for iterations

Even a perfect ideation and concept phase will result in still rough prototypes. If you are lucky, some first hypotheses can be (in)validated fast, but your solution will be full of other critical things that you want to test.

Between ideation and coding the real thing and scaling there is still a lot to be done and iterate. Again, the more complex and innovative the concept, the more time you will need to invest.

If this time is not planned right from the start, chances for success will drop dramatically. Without a sufficiently staffed team that is capable of iterating the solution fast, the project will suffer a slow and painful death full of unmet expectations.

Foto by Drew Bates on flickr under CC License