Innovating Products by Breakthrough Iteration

Our goal in brainstorming product concepts is to see if we might be able to improve on a baseline product concept (if one exists) and at the same time de-risk them.  When you brainstorm, ensure that you include team members with the domain knowledge relating to the top requirements.  Often teams just include the several top managers and don’t populate the team with the right range of expertise.  The goal of this exercise is to create a concept proposal.

When we refer to a concept proposal, we are referring to something simple.  At a minimum, it can be a line drawing (even for the software) and 5 or so bullet level attributes, or at the maximum, up to a one page description with a rendering, a paragraph describing the concept, and some bullet points that illustrate the key points of differentiation.

1. Create Team.  Recruit team, and ensure that you have members that can address key points of differentiation.  Brainstorming rules apply – don’t say no, but say ‘that’s a good idea’, be open, build rather than demolish, support, rather than detract, and create a positive, supportive and stimulating environment.  Enough on the soft stuff…

2. Prioritize Requirements.  Prioritize the requirements you have acquired from market research.  Ideally this should be gathered by having the product team perform structured interviews with those that distribute, buy, and use the product.  This is your requirements priority list.  This is very important to end this step with a prioritized priority list.

3.  Generate Concepts.  (You may choose to do only one of these)

Concept alternative generation # 1.  Wear the Direct competitor’s hat.  Audit the existing products.  Ask your team to come up with their next generation product line, without any constraints from their prior generation, and feel free to use a new networking platform, or UI approach.

Concept alternative generation #2.  Given a totally blank piece of paper, generate a set of concepts that would solve the _top three requirements only_ - ignoring the rest of the requirements for the moment.

Concept alternative generation #3.  Put on the hat of a great product company, such as Apple or Google.  Generate a set of concepts that Apple would generate to address this market.  Assume that it would be compatible with the systems they are rumored to be launching.

4.  Rate Concepts.  Review the set of concepts and rate them against the prioritized requirements.  You may choose to combine concepts, or take the best from different ideas.  The resultant deliverable of this step is a matrix with the set of requirements on the left, and the concepts as column headings, and the cells contain 1, 3, 5 for low, medium, and high for the concepts as they perform on each requirement.  Select the concept with the highest score, and discuss it against several others.  End up selecting the group favorite.

5.  Recombine Concepts (Breakthrough Iteration).  Break out the top 5 or so components from your best system idea(s).  These would be a collection of features that address a requirement.  Then brainstorm the best way to do the first component (let’s say it is ‘plug and play, no computer required’ setup).  Brainstorm ways to do it the cheapest way possible, the most risk free way as possible, the shortest time to market as possible.  Please use some categories that you think might stretch your thinking.  Repeat for the 4 remaining components.

6. Final Concept Selection.  Generate 2-3 integrated solutions from Step 5 above, which recognize a kind of ‘Frankenstein’ approach to combining the best from a component level.  Then re-evaluate the best solutions from this step and from Step 4.

7.  Concept Presentation.  Present the top 2-3 surviving concepts to management.  For these concepts you may wish to have a rendering or more artful set of line drawings, along with more description of the concept detailing why it represents the most compelling approach to your design constraints.

8.  Celebrate!  Open a beverage of your choice and share how valuable, practical and fast this clean sheet brainstorming process can be!