Every business, product, project, campaign, blog post, and plan starts with an idea.
Bringing an idea to life can be a long and challenging process. But arriving at a good idea can be a challenge as well.
You could brainstorm 100 ideas and find that none of them seem worth pursuing.
Or you could arrive at a handful of good ideas, only to be faced with the difficulty of choosing which idea to pour your time and resources into.
The aim of a creative ideation workshop is to optimize the brainstorming process.
The problem is, if your ideation workshop isn’t focused and structured, you can end up wasting a lot of time.
That’s where this guide will help you.
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Identify the Goal of Your Workshop
There’s no such thing as a bad idea, right? I’ll leave that one up to you. But there are definitely ideas that aren’t relevant enough to be prioritized.
In order to come up with relevant, viable ideas, you need to identify a clear goal from the get-go. Specifically, you should identify a particular metric or product feature you want to impact.
The first step of any creative workshop is to identify the goal.
For example, say you wanted to do a blog content ideation session. Rather than simply ask, “What are some new topics for blog content we can do?” hone in on a more specific goal. Your goal could be something like “to increase conversions on this particular landing page” or “to get more people to use this feature of our product.”
Having a specific metric you want to impact will help you come up with focused ideas. This will also help you eliminate (or backlog) any ideas that don’t directly impact that metric.
If you’d like a more detailed guide to identifying key metrics, check out this growth strategy guide.
Now let’s talk about the dream team you’ll need to assemble for your creative ideation workshop.
Pick the Right People For Your Workshop
Time to assemble your dream team.
To gather the best ideas, make sure you have the right people participating in your workshop.
Generally speaking, it’s helpful to have a group of people with varied perspectives participating.
Think: who on your team knows the most about the metric you want to impact? Who has worked on similar projects in the past? Who might be able to offer an important perspective?
Get Multiple Perspectives
Returning to the blog content brainstorming example, you would certainly want to include members from your content team. But depending on the metric you want to impact, you may also want to include a member or two from another team.
For example, say you were brainstorming content ideas with the goal of promoting a new product feature.
It could be useful to include a member of your customer support team in the workshop. They interact with your customers on a daily basis and will know first-hand what kinds of problems they face.
Or say your goal is to brainstorm a new product feature.
Not only would you want engineers in the workshop, but also someone from customer support to help you identify customer problems. Or someone from your Marketing team, who would be familiar with your competitors and be able to identify differentiators.
Use a Structured Ideation Technique
If you want to maximize your time and effort in your creative ideation workshop, you need to follow a structured approach.
That’s why you should create a framework to ideate, narrow down and prioritize ideas.
A quick search will yield hundreds of different ideation techniques you could use. The key is to use a framework that allows your team to come up with a pool of focused ideas, which you can then narrow down to select the best contenders.
Here are some tried and true ideation techniques you can use.
Across all of these ideation techniques, it’s a good idea to give your team some homework prior to the workshop. Every participant should come to the workshop equipped with some knowledge of the problem so that their ideas will be informed.
All of these ideation techniques will require a facilitator to be appointed. They’ll be in charge of leading the workshop and making decisions about which ideas to prioritize.
Idea Sprint (from the book Sprint)
This the method is very effective. It’s typically used for both product and marketing ideation.
This method was adapted from the Google Design Sprint outlined in the book Sprint, which takes place over five days. We condensed the framework down to a shorter version that can be completed in a 1-2 hour creative ideation workshop.
Step 1: Intro (15 minutes) Communicate any key information participants should know before they dive in. For example, if you’re doing a product ideation workshop, then you will need to share your product vision.
There may also be specific user pain points you want to address, a particular challenge you want to overcome, or any requirements the final solution must contain.
You may also want to offer some examples of competitors’ solutions. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses they present.
Step 2: Crazy 8’s (10 - 20 minutes) Crazy 8’s is a fast sketching exercise that challenges each member to sketch 8 distinct ideas in 8 minutes (roughly 1 idea per minute, unless you want to a lot more time). The goal is to push participants to come up with a wide variety of ideas.
Each participant should take a piece of paper and fold it into 8 sections. Instruct them to sketch one idea in the first rectangle. When the time sounds, tell them to move on to sketching a new idea in the second rectangle, and so on.
Here’s a template you can use:
Step 3: Storyboarding (20 minutes) Instruct each participant to take the best idea from their Crazy 8’s session and create a thorough solution sketch in storyboard form (305 screens with annotations). They should explain how the solution directly addresses the goal of the ideation workshop.
These don’t have to be beautiful but they should be coherent and easy to understand.
Step 4: Dot Voting (10 - 20 minutes) This step follows a heat map-style approach to review solutions. Every participant should be given dot stickers. Let the participants walk around and vote for which features of a solution, or which solutions in their entirety, they like by placing the do stickers beside them. Popular solutions and features will become apparent when they have multiple dots clustered around them.
Step 5: Summarize Voting and Discuss as a Group (10 -15 minutes) Group any similar solutions. Then, allow participants to explain and promote any solution that couldn’t be adequately explained in a sketch.
After the Sprint: Once the sprint is over, it’s time to pick and prioritize. The ideation workshop facilitator and/or project manager should decide which ideas are worth testing.
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The aim of this framework is to come up with as many unfiltered ideas as you can, without fear of judgment. Then, you can narrow it down from there.
Step 1: (5-10 minutes) First, go over what the goal of your ideation session will be and who your main audience is.
Step 2: (10-20 minutes) Discuss the scope and parameters of your project. What timeframe will you be working in? What’s the budget? This will help you
Step 3: (30-40 minutes) Have each participant individually brainstorm ideas. Set a goal of approximately an idea a minute, to encourage them to think quickly and freely.
Step 4 (20 minutes) Ask participants to pick their top 3-5 ideas and present them to the team. Then, eliminate the ideas that aren’t viable or relevant enough. Once you’ve picked the idea (or few ideas) you want to prioritize, you can further flesh them out.
Starbursting is a creative ideation technique that spurs participants to ask questions, rather than trying to come up with instant solutions. This can be an effective approach when you’re trying to prioritize a new project, product feature, or content strategy.
Start by drawing a 6-point star and write the questions Who, What, Where, When, Why and How at the tip of each point. In the center of the star, write the metric you want to impact.
Here’s a template you can use:
Step 1: (15 - 20 min) As a group, write down questions that start with the word at each point of the star. Remember, this is not the stage to try answering these questions - simply focus on asking as many relevant questions for each star point at possible.
It will be up to the facilitator to decide which questions are relevant. They may want to make a separate list of questions that aren’t directly relevant to the workshop goal but that deserve attention.
Step 2: (20 - 30 min) Once you have enough questions, begin to brainstorm solutions to the questions. Write down the answers to the questions in short form on the star template.
Pick One or Two People to Make the Final Decision
When you come up with a lot of ideas, it can be difficult (and a bit awkward) to pick which ones to prioritize, and which ones to drop. That’s why it’s generally most effective to elect one or two people to be the ultimate decision makers.
The decision makers should be people who have a broad understanding of the topic you’re brainstorming. They should be able to see the bigger picture and the potential impact an idea will have on your business.
Identify Which Ideas to Prioritize
Once the creative ideation workshop is over, the decision maker(s) should look through the idea and pick a few that they want their team to pursue. You can do this by organizing your ideas using the Action Priority Matrix:
Odds are, you’ll want to prioritize ideas that can be classified as “Quick Wins” - tasks that are low effort but will have a high impact. But you may also decide you want to embark on a “Major Project” that requires high effort, but that will also have a high impact.
Generally, you will want to avoid ideas that fall into the low impact categories - these are better added to a backlog.
Create a Backlog of Ideas
While certain ideas may not be prioritized, they shouldn’t necessarily be forgotten. Any ideas that you don’t want to prioritize can be added to an organized.
How you organize your backlog will depend on how you organize your workflow and projects. The main thing to keep in mind is that your backlog should be sorted through and updated periodically.
Backlogs can end up being where ideas go to die. To avoid that, you need to maintain your backlog to make sure it doesn’t become a place where you dump any old idea. Fill your backlog with only relevant, viable ideas and pull from it on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.
Visualize Your Ideas In a Project Timeline
Once you’ve decided which ideas to prioritize, you need to communicate them to your team. That’s where visualizing the details and project timeline can be a big help.
Here are a few different types of visuals you can use to communicate your project goals and timelines.
Gantt charts are a classic because they’re simple and easy to understand. Gantt charts show tasks over a period of time. They also allow you to visualize multiple concurrent timelines.
A timeline infographic is a great way to visualize the high-level steps, dates, and goals of a project.
You can organize your timeline by steps:
Or by weeks:
There are a lot of moving pieces in a project that need to be kept track of. A mind map can help you visualize relationships between pieces of a whole.
For example, you can break down a project by tasks:
Learning how to carry out a focused creative ideation workshop can take some practices. You may have to run a couple of workshops before you figure out the best way to approach it. But hopefully, this guide has given you a good framework to begin with.
- Identify a clear goal for your creative ideation workshop - ideally, a specific metric you want to impact (ex. blog conversion rate).
- Assemble the right people for your creative ideation workshop, including people with different perspectives.
- Use a structured workshop framework to help keep your ideas relevant and on track.
- Pick one or two people to decide which ideas to prioritize and which to backlog.
- Visualize your ideas and project timelines so your team is on the same page.
There may be no wrong ideas, but there is definitely a right way to run your creative ideation workshop!