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Product teams brainstorming during Ideation week: This might be a terrible idea, but …

Imagine standing up in front of your team at work and saying the worst possible idea you’ve ever had. Did that make you feel uncomfortable? We’ve been conditioned to bring only our very best ideas forward, but voicing the worst possible ideas is exactly what I asked my team to do during our recent Ideation week. Let me explain why this “outlandish” exercise was actually a very good idea.

Our product team working with Employment and Social Development Canada to help improve the CPP Disability application process just wrapped up a 12-week Discovery phase. By conducting our own research and combing through existing statistics and research, we learned a lot in this phase. How then do we turn the information we collected into possiblities for improving the service?

We decided to host an “Ideation Week” during our last sprint of the Discovery phase. The main goal of this was to get the product team to bring forward a couple of hypotheses that we could explore in the Alpha phase.

Here’s a breakdown of the week:

  • Day 1: Get the team on the same page We went through all of the research insights and statistics we gathered, and a journey map that was created based off our interviews.
  • Day 2: Find the opportunities We did a couple of icebreaker games to get everyone in the brainstorming mood, including one called “Worst Possible Idea”. We then used the journey map to identify opportunities for our team to improve the CPP Disability application process.
  • Day 3: Explore possible hypotheses Each team member went off on their own to come up with an idea. This ensures that every voice and perspective has an opportunity to be heard.
  • Day 4: Collaborate on ideas with the team We all reconvened to present our ideas and began discussing them and collaborating.

It was important to set up the week right. I wanted the entire team to come to a consensus on what they felt was a good approach into Alpha, which is a tough thing to do when there are 15 people on the team. One way of achieving this was to encourage everyone on the team to participate and feel comfortable asking the tough questions and voicing their ideas. I came across this icebreaker game called “Worst Idea Possible” and decided to try it out with the team.

How it works:

It’s quite simple! You present a service that everyone is aware of and loves. For our activity, we chose Netflix. Then everyone actively tries to think of the worst possible user experience for Netflix. And you must start by saying “This might be a terrible idea, but…”

It took a bit of time for the team to start, but once we got going it was surprisingly hard to stop. Here are some of the terrible ideas we came up with: “… what if everyone had to watch the same show at the same time?” “… what if you could only watch the endings of movies?” “… what if a random stranger chose what you had to watch?” “… what if the movies had to be mailed to you?”

Now some of you might remember, Netflix actually started off as a DVD mail delivery service! Sure, maybe looking back on it now it seems like a terrible idea, but it was an idea that got them started and then allowed them to pivot, when needed, into the world’s seventh-largest Internet company by revenue. The truth is it’s rare that you have an amazing idea the first time around. It takes many iterations, evolutions, and perspectives to get to something people are really going to love. The important part is to not be afraid to start with something.

By the end of Ideation Week we had a couple of hypotheses we’re excited to explore in our next development phase. I’m looking forward to running another Ideation Week in our Alpha phase, this time with low-fidelity prototyping and testing involved. Just as teams should be growing and learning, so too should the product we’re building. Our hope is that the team is left with something different by the time we reach the end of an Alpha phase, and likely something better than what we started with.