Thanks for following our startup help series on putting customers at the center of your business! (If you haven’t yet, please take a moment to subscribe to updates at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a post.) In this post, we’ll explore product ideation.
Problem Space and Solution Space
Everything we’ve talked about so far—conducting customer interviews, developing insights, and defining a customer point of view—falls into what’s called the “Problem Space.” These processes, thinking exercises, and artifacts help you develop a deep understanding of the problem, the customers wrestling with it, and its unique context. The time you spend in the Problem Space will inform your product ideation in the “Solution Space,” where you’ll refine your product to meet those customers’ needs.
Why take the time to explore the Problem Space? Simply put, it makes decision making easier and more accurate. As you build your product and your company, you’ll be guided by your customer insights during ideation, prototyping, feature set selection, product design, and more. The product you put out into the world will then be a real solution to a real problem. You’ll be on the path to finding product market fit.
Take a moment to consider: How much time have you spent working in the Problem Space and in the Solution Space? In which space are you currently working? If you haven’t spent much time in the Problem Space, you risk burning through your startup capital developing a product that isn’t a good solution to your customer’s real problem. Understanding which space you’re working in will help you understand next steps and make better decisions.
Once you’ve investigated the Problem Space, you’re ready to enter the Solution Space and start to work on product ideation. Ideation is the process of further defining or reimagining your product in more detail.
If you feel your interviews, your insights, and your customer POV have validated your product, you can flesh out its potential features. On the other hand, if your interviews and insights revealed that you need to pivot, you can now explore alternatives. Remember: insights are actionable. A “bad” reaction from customers to your initial product concept is good intel for reducing risk—as long as you take action and make smart new choices.
A brainstorming exercise that builds on your customer insights can help you ideate your product and its features. Before you start, you’ll need to set some parameters to make sure you stay on topic. The focus of this particular brainstorming session is customer-identified needs.
So start by creating some “Brainstorm Prompts” from your insights. This can be as simple as putting “How might we . . . “ in front of each insight to make it actionable.
- How might we . . . build a tool that allows marketers who aren’t graphic designers to create high-quality graphics?
- How might we . . . make it easy and cheap for people to do their own taxes?
- How might we . . . make it possible for virtual teams to feel more connected?
You can also create actionable product ideation prompts that provoke creative responses by:
- Increasing customer-identified positives: How might we amp up our product’s strengths?
- Lessening customer-identified drawbacks: How might we mitigate our product’s weaknesses?
- Concentrating on emotional responses: How might we increase our users’ happiness with the experience of using our product?
- Questioning an assumption: What would our product look like if our belief about X is wrong?
- Creating an analogy from insight or context: Switching to our product will feel like switching doctors. How will our product create trust or reduce risk in switching?
- Taking it to an extreme: What would our product look like if we took a radical approach to customer satisfaction?
- Exploring the opposite: What would our product look like if we were trying to alienate our potential customers?
These are only examples. You’ll be able to create other unique prompts based on your interviews and insights.
Once you have your prompts ready, get some post-it notes (paper or virtual ones), and begin to write down as many ideas as possible for each prompt.
Keys to a successful brainstorming ideation session
- Focus on quantity, not quality. The more ideas you have, the better. Don’t stop to evaluate. At this stage, all ideas are good ideas.
- Build on ideas with “Yes, and . . . ” statements. Take a point from comedy improv: reject nothing. Accept the idea and take it one or twelve steps further. Keep trying new directions.
- Time constraints are your friend! Set a clear end point, brainstorm like crazy, and end on a high note, before the energy fizzles out. You’ll be excited to pick up the ideas again if you look back on the brainstorming session with inspiration instead of exhaustion.
In our next post in this series, we’ll dive into prototyping. Don’t forget to scroll down and subscribe!