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Do you folks have any ideas on how we should solve this problem?

This is a question that each of us asks a team of talented engineers and designers at least a couple of times a week. Then, of course, the room grows loud with lots of solutions and ideas. If you've been in this often chaotic and hard-to-manage situation more times than you can recall, here's a simple 3-step ideation process that you can set up for your product to get all that chaos under control.

Step 1: Create An Inflow Of Quality Ideas And Feedback From Valuable Sources

I usually pay the most attention to this step of the ideation process, and I recommend you do the same.

Back in the days, when I was an associate product manager and could barely understand some of the key concepts of the profession, my understanding of a great product manager was the person who could come up with the best ideas in the room.

It sounds silly now, as, over time, you start realizing that spitting out ideas in isolation has no value and you can end up building things that nobody wants.

I am sure that I wasn’t the only one who was wondering how the customers end up using the product incorrectly.

how to drink gif
Source: Knowyourmeme

Well, the bad news was that it was me who had built the wrong product by spitting out ideas without considering the needs of our users, the strategy/vision of our founders, and the data.

Therefore, before even thinking about setting up a brainstorming session, we should make sure that we have the correct insights, feedback, and ideas to discuss during the product ideation workshop.

Gathering Feedback and Ideas from Internal Sources

Getting out of the building and talking to your customers is always a great idea, but you can also gather a significant amount of valuable ideas and insights from inside your company.

Let’s go over a couple of internal sources and see what we can get from them.

Customer Support

If you have a relatively-established user base, then the information that your customer support team has gathered can be a treasure trove of feedback, requests, and ideas.

Users will reach out to them to complain about their sub-par user experience, issues that are impeding them from reaching their goals using your product, or the lack of specific features that they wish you had.

To create a steady inflow of valuable information from your support team, you can do the following:

  • Create a Slack/Teams channel where your support agents will post interesting insights or suggestions.
  • Use the analytics features of your support/CRM platform to gather statistical data about the frequency of complaints for each issue type, as well as the frequency of users suggesting specific new features.

You can then gather the most common requests from the Slack channel and the analytics dashboard and take them to your next brainstorming session to process.

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Apart from being customer-centric, great products must also follow the vision of their founders. If you rely purely on customer requests to build your new product, you might end up with either something bloated with features or a product that is not revolutionary.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

-Henry Ford
graphics for faster horses ideation process

It is critical for you to ask for and gather ideas from your leadership as well as align your existing product and feature ideas with them to make sure that you are following their vision and strategy.

To get this done, I recommend that you either actively involve your leadership in your team’s brainstorming sessions, or, if they have a time constraint, organize a separate smaller session for them to share their thoughts with you.

KPI Review Sessions

We live in the golden age of data and many economists consider it the "new oil." Why? The short answer is that it fuels progress. The long answer, however, is that it brings a lot of clarity to the people who make the decisions while also allowing them to uncover potential issues and pinpoint the product areas responsible for them.

If you have analytics data on your customers, it will serve as one of the most valuable sources of ideas and insights that you can take to the brainstorming room.

In order to facilitate this process, you can organize so-called KPI review sessions where you gather your product/marketing/growth team and look at the current state of your KPIs as well as their dynamics over time.

This is when you can discover many potential issues that you need to brainstorm a solution for.

Let’s look at a practical example to better understand the value you get out of these sessions.

Imagine that you are leading the product efforts of a Slack-like messenger app and you have set “the number of first-time messages” as your North-Star metric as its growth correlates positively with the growth of your revenue and retention.

During one of your weekly KPI review sessions, you and your team notice that there is a drop in your north star.

image of KPI review sessions

This will trigger a quick investigation to understand what is the reason behind it. After looking at the conversion funnels (which in your case was Signup → Channel Create → First Message use), you find out that the conversion from signups to channel creation has dropped by ~2.5%.

screenshot of kpi review sessions

By investigating a bit further and reviewing a couple of session recordings, you understand that there are more people visiting your messenger on mobile, and the mobile experience of creating channels is very confusing.

Voila! You have just identified a serious problem that needs an idea-generation session to find solutions.

So far we have covered your internal sources of valuable ideas, problem statements, and feedback. Now let’s move on to the sources that are outside your company and look at the most important source of them all—your users.

Gathering Ideas from Your Users

You’re not a user-centric product if you don’t communicate with your users and incorporate their voices into your ideation and decision-making processes.

The most obvious way of doing this is, of course, through user interviews. But this is a topic worthy of a separate guide. So, let’s instead focus on a couple of alternative sources of ideas and user feedback that you can use on your products.

Feedback-gathering UI Elements on Your Product.

You have probably noticed this trend of many SaaS tools asking for feedback right in their UI. The reason it is becoming popular is because of the quality and relevance of feedback you can get by using them.

You can achieve this relevance by strategically placing your feedback elements on the spots in the journey where your users have just experienced your features and have a high intent to tell you what they thought of them.

The transcription service Otter, for instance, asks you to rate its transcription on a 5-star scale right on the page where you read the transcript.

screenshot of otter transcription service

Moreover, if you are giving a low score, it will ask you to leave them a short message explaining what was wrong with your transcript.

screenshot of otter transcription service

They also ask you for permission to access the content of the transcript you have evaluated to analyze it and pinpoint the mistakes they have made. I am pretty sure that they will feed this data to their AI models to further improve them in the future.

Note: Features like this are relatively easy to build on your own, but you can also use specialized idea management software to handle it for you.

User Communities

Another great platform for staying in touch with your users, hearing their feedback, and incorporating their voices into your ideation process is the communities built around your product.

These can be everything from Discord servers to Slack communities and even dedicated forums like the Atlassian community.

screenshot of atlassian community

No matter the format you choose, if you manage these communities well, your users will start pointing out some of the issues that you might have missed or give you valuable ideas for improving your product.

User Community Best Practices

To get the most out of these communities, let me share a couple of handy tips based on my experience running a beta community for one of my products.

  1. The free version of Slack is a good enough solution for a small community. The benefit is that many of your users will already have a Slack account and they will not have to go through a signup process to join your community.
  2. Make sure that you have a code of conduct that is easily accessible to all members. I had a dedicated #code-of-conduct channel for that.
  3. Keep your #random channel and encourage members to chat there on any topic they want. If people can't have any fun on your platform, they won't stick around long.
  4. Have a #{your_product_name}-news channel. This is a perfect way to post your public announcements and release notes to the users who care the most about them.
  5. Add a #ideas-and-suggestions channel where you encourage everyone to post their ideas. After all, we're doing this for the sweet user insights, right?
  6. Get a #bug-reports channel. This is where your community members will point out your product’s issues.
  7. Dedicate some time to personally communicate with members and answer their questions. This is the most important tip of all.

Public Issue Tracker

Another method for gathering suggestions and feedback from your users is to create an issue tracker and let everyone open bugs, feature requests, and enhancements on your product.

Have you heard about the Jira of….um…Jira? That’s right, Jira, the project management tool has a Jira instance where you can open tasks and send them to the Atlassian team.

Here’s what a feature suggestion looks like on it.

screenshot of atlassian community

One of the smartest parts of what Jira has done here is they've given users the ability to vote on the bugs and suggestions, which helps the product team prioritize those that have the most votes.

Although this one is relatively common for engineering-related products, you are free to do it for any kind of product you want.

It’s OK (and Great!) When People Share Dumb Ideas

Before moving on to the next step of our ideation process, I wanted to talk about something important. There are no bad ideas!

Yes, people might suggest adding a feature that is not aligned with your strategy, or it is something that only they would benefit from.

Yes, you might say no (saying no is a product management superpower) to most of them, but always make sure that your users and colleagues are comfortable with sharing any kind of idea with you, even the “dumb” ones.

You want to encourage creativity and freedom when it comes to sharing ideas, as users might have brilliant ideas that they might not want to share because they're worried about what others will think.

Now that the all-important part of gathering the right user needs, ideas, and feedback is complete, we can confidently move on to the second step of our ideation process.

Step 2: Use An Ideation Technique To Process Your Ideas And Feedback

We have reached the actual ideation phase itself when you place the issues gathered from the previous one on the table and start looking for solutions.

Probably the most obvious and effective ideation method (especially for startups in the early development process) is brainstorming. It usually includes the following:

  • An icebreaker as the starting point of the ideation session—this lets teammates empathize with each other.
  • An unstructured conversation—when the team can share innovative ideas and new concepts for product design, do problem-solving, evaluate others’ ideas, and challenge assumptions.
  • The finalization—when participants list takeaways and follow-up items.

Brainstorming is great, but it is not the only way that you can come up with ideas and solutions. There are lots of other (usually more structured) ideation workshop types that you can use, such as:

  • SCAMPER, when you are trying to solve the issue by Substituting, Combining, Adapting, Modifying, Putting to another use, Eliminating, and Reversing some of the solutions that you already have on your product.
  • Mindmapping, when you start with an empty canvas, place your central idea in the center, and add solutions, thoughts, and concepts that are related to the core idea. You then repeat the process for each of these newly-added concepts, and so on.
  • Six Thinking Hats, when your team members look at the issue from various perspectives (e.g. security perspective, product perspective, design perspective, etc.) and try to find innovative solutions from each perspective.

There is also storyboarding and brainwriting that I personally like the best (a purely personal opinion, all of these collaborative methods are good), so want to discuss them in a bit more detail.


In my opinion, this is the best method for visualizing the user journey and discussing the UX design of your ideas.

The term storyboarding came from the film industry where you draw a series of cards showing different scenes and explain what is happening in them. This is a useful tool to visualize and refine the script before doing the shooting.

Here’s what a storyboard looked like for the infamous velociraptor scene in Jurassic Park.

storyboard of david lowery
Author: David Lowery

The storyboards of digital products generally follow this idea by visualizing the user journey throughout your product.

You can find them very valuable as a tool for facilitating your brainstorming sessions, as they make your discussions visual and establish a common understanding of what is being discussed.

You do not need any kind of design/illustration skills for this exercise (unlike its counterpart in cinema), a template, or special equipment to create a storyboard for your idea. All you need is a set of sticky notes and a board to place them on.

Source: NN/g

You can also draw these cards on the whiteboard, but I like sticky notes more as you can easily rearrange them and change the user journey for the solution in your mind.

The main reason I like storyboards (apart from their ability to visualize ideas) is that they emphasize great UX design and let you and everyone else in the room look at the solution from the point of view of the user.


This method is best for the speedy generation of ideas.

Sometimes your brainstorming sessions are about deep diving into the final shape of a specific solution, but, most of the time, you gather in that room to generate new ideas and choose the one that solves your problem the best.

This is where you use the brainwriting method as it is optimized for your teammates to quickly churn out lots of ideas. The creative process of brainwriting is as follows:

  1. Give each teammate a piece of paper (or a space on a Miro or Figjam board) and ask them to write down three ideas during a 5-minute round.
  2. After the round, your teammates will swap their cards, read the ideas of their peers, and spend another 5 minutes adding three more ideas to them.
  3. After a couple of rounds, the facilitator gathers all the cards and starts writing the ideas down on a whiteboard (or, again, a Miro board).

You have the freedom to change these rules by adding more rounds, changing the number of ideas to write, or adjusting the round length, as the eventual outcome will not change drastically from it.

The outcome, in this case, is a large list of ideas that you can start cherrypicking from based on various factors or by using a prioritization method (like RICE, which we will talk about shortly).

Step 3: Use RICE To Prioritize Your Ideas

If your brainstorming session was fruitful, then you have a list of potential solutions that will cover the problem you brought to the room to discuss. But which one should you pick to start implementing?

Well, the answer is fairly straightforward—just prioritize the list and pick the top item (or a couple of items). This is what we are going to do in the third stage of our process.

There are a million ways to handle this phase, including many prioritization methodologies of various levels of complexity, but my advice would be to keep everything simple and use one of the most straightforward techniques out there—RICE.

RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. With this technique, you are creating a small table where each row is a solution you had from your brainstorming session, and each column represents one of the four aspects above. After making this table, you'll fill its cells with values along with your team.

Here’s what the table looks like.

table of rice

And here’s how you get the values on this table:

  • The number of users that your solution will Reach.
  • What does your team think the Impact of this solution is on the problem? It is a number between 0.25 (very little impact) to 3 (strong impact).
  • How much Confidence your team has in this solution’s success? Again a number between 0.25 - 3.
  • How much Effort will it take from your team to implement it. Ranges between 0.25 - 3.

Finally, you have the score that you calculate with this formula:

After calculating this score, you will simply arrange the list of possible solutions by their score and pick the one with the highest number.

It All Starts With A Great Idea!

Ideation is one of the most important (and fun) parts of the life of a product manager. Sometimes it can be chaotic and get you in disarray. But, luckily, I've shared a tried-and-true process for you to organize your ideation efforts and get the most out of them.

As soon as you have your ideas figured out, you can move on to implementing them. For this, I can recommend you read a couple of great guides from my colleagues:

And of course, don't forget to subscribe to The Product Manager newsletter!

By Suren Karapetyan

Suren Karapetyan, MBA, is a senior product manager focused on AI-driven SaaS products. He thrives in the fast-paced world of early stage startups and finds the product-market fit for them. His portfolio is quite diverse, ranging from background noise cancellation tools for work-from-home folks to customs clearance software for government agencies.