Ideation – and why you need it

July 2, 2014 David Suydam

How many times has this happened: You find yourself thinking “You know, there really oughtta be an app for that. Why has no one done this yet?” You then proceed to Google your idea only to find out that, yes, someone has done it and it’s actually quite a good solution.

On the one hand, it can be a letdown to realize that your technological epiphany was not original. We all like to think we’ve stumbled upon the Next Big Thing. On the other hand, it can be comforting to know that you’re not alone in your desire for a better solution. It’s a great reminder that none of us exist in a vacuum – and sometimes we just might need another perspective to really bring that idea and solution into focus. This is the premise behind a well-executed ideation session.

Follow the leader?

As we’ve already discussed, it’s critical to understand your company’s business goals and to be able to concisely define any challenges that must be overcome in order to reach them. Strong leadership is a must. But when it comes time to understand all the ways a potential solution impacts an organization and its market, even the most insightful leader needs to draw on the vision, experience and insights of a broader team – including real users, customers, and outside experts.

The ideation process is designed to level the playing field and give a voice to anyone who might be able to bring a new idea, insight or detail to the table. Some of the best ideas often come from those who are furthest from the top.

Alison Tracey, Architech’s Solutions Lead, has seen this happen many times. “The leaders come up with the vision, the mission and the strategy,” says Tracey. “Everyone else usually just executes on these areas. Ideation sessions are designed to access the collective wisdom and knowledge of everyone in the room. It’s often the first time they’ve ever been brought together. Sometimes, the folks in the trenches bring a perspective the executive hadn’t considered before.”

Details, details, details

Of course, having a room full of your best and brightest doesn’t guarantee ideation success. Without the presence of a skilled facilitator who has conducted some industry-specific research prior to the session, it can be like herding cats.

Tracey reveals how Architech’s facilitators ensure that ideation sessions deliver valuable insights into the challenges an organization is seeking to address.

“We look at three key areas. Loosely termed, we’ll call these areas Business Objectives, Personas, and the What-If-There-Were-No-Limits Scenario.”

  • Business Objectives are the foundation for any great software solution. What are your strategic business objectives for the upcoming fiscal year? Where does software play a role? What specific business issues do you want to address? What business opportunities exist? Spending time at the beginning to refine and align on goals helps define the cornerstone for the strategy going forward.
  • Personas are detailed descriptions of every customer or user who might be impacted by the solution. How old are they? What is their level of tech savvy? How do they interact with you and for how long? The goal is to understand the “who” as much as possible, from a user point of view, instead of taking a business-first approach to the problem. In addition, it’s important to invest time in understanding how personas behave and engage with your product or services. What are they currently doing? What do they want and expect from your product or service? When you combine these insights with the different Personas you’ve identified, you develop a more complete picture of your target users.
  • What-If-There-Were-No-Limits represents a truly open-world. Everyone in the ideation session is encouraged to think big. If the company had infinite amounts of time, money and resources, what kind of solution would you create for the Personas? At this point, the ideation session has generated myriad new and different ideas ready for assessment and selection in the next step of our process (and explored in our next blog post): Solutioning.


Get ready for your ah-ha moment

Digging deep and exploring business objectives, personas and thinking big provides the ultimate value of clarifying the business goals and objectives. Ideation sessions – when run effectively – can be incredibly powerful tools for understanding a company’s real challenges and how they affect the customer or end-user. But they can also radically change an organization’s understanding of what the business objectives really are.

“It happens all the time,” says Tracey. “In one case, a client came to us with the objective of raising revenue. The solution appeared to be a client-facing app that would raise awareness of their various products and services. But once we started the ideation phase, we asked if there might be even greater cost-savings to be achieved with a new, employee-facing app.”

This one simple question moved the thinking around the table in a whole new direction – one that was ultimately pursued and resulted in an innovative solution with much greater benefit than originally envisioned. The insight was simple, but it might never have been brought to light without ideation.

As the second step in our process as an innovation accelerator, Architech ideation sessions organize objectives, business problems, target customers and product ideas into a consolidated vision – a giant step towards bringing your great idea to life. Contact us today to see what’s possible for your organization.


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