4 Mistakes Product Managers Make When Brainstorming Ideas

One of the most important skills that we practice in Product Manager Nation is how to brainstorm ideas. Brainstorming sessions are incredibly important in the discovery stage of the product development process. Not only do these sessions uncover new product ideas but they also boost team moral.

A successful brainstorming session can generate hundreds of product / feature ideas in less than 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, a lot of brainstorming sessions fail to live up to its full potential because of these 4 mistakes:

  1. Group is too small
  2. Ideas are prematurely disqualified
  3. Wrong brainstorming tool
  4. “How” mindset instead of “What” mindset

Group is too small

The main intention of a brainstorming session is generated as many ideas as possible.

Ideas inspire other ideas.

Invite as many people as possible.

Don’t make the mistake of inviting only your peers (other product managers) or only your team.

Invite engineers, sales, marketing, quality assurance, design.

Invite team members from other teams.

A diverse collection of skills and experiences will lead to a diverse pool of ideas.

In addition, engaging as many people to participate will create ownership across the team.

Everyone will feel like they were part of the project from the beginning.

This will lead to greater motivation and excitement to work on the final idea and reduce friction in aligning people in the future.

Ideas are prematurely disqualified

Creativity is a powerful, yet fragile force.

Have you ever had your idea shot down before you had a chance to explain your idea?

You probably felt discouraged and became a less motivated.

Don’t make the same mistake in a brainstorm session.

Judging an idea and disqualifying it instead of letting it stay is one of the biggest mistakes a group can make in a brainstorming session.

Ideas inspire other ideas.

Even “Bad” ideas.

Never shoot down an idea that sounds “stupid” or “impossible.”

Many “bad” ideas are actually good ideas under the surface.

At the brainstorming stage of the product development process, your goal is to collect as many ideas as possible.

Go for quantity, not quality.

Qualification comes later.

Practice the mindset of “Yes, and” instead of “No, but.”

Wrong brainstorming tool

A lot of information can be generated in a brainstorming session. Using the wrong tool can block idea flow and/or result in a lot of painful paperwork.

You need an effective way of capturing many ideas.

Here are 2 of my favorite tools:

  1. Post it notes – this low-tech solution is easy to use and is effective at inspiring other ideas. Give each participant a stack of post it notes and a sharpie and invite them to post their ideas as they pop up. Don’t be surprised if you see hundreds of post it notes and an energized team after a 30 min brainstorming session,
  2. Workflowy – this high-tech outline tool let many people work on the same list at the same time. In addition, it lets you add structure to the list of ideas after the session is done, saving you time and effort.

“How” mindset instead of the “What” mindset

Many ideas are considered stupid or bad because they seem to be impractical or impossible to implement.

This “how” mindset is toxic in a brainstorming session.

During a brainstorming session, the team should not focus on whether the technology exists or how expensive the technology will be.

The focus should be on generating as many ideas as possible to solve the problem.

One of my favorite strategies to combat the “how” mindset is to “think like a millionaire.”

What if you faced a problem and had unlimited resources?

Many creative solutions will appear.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say I craved ice cream.

If I were a millionaire, I’d tell my butler to get an ice cream.

Or maybe I’ll build an ice cream shop in my mansion.

These ideas sound impractical but could lead to the next big app.

The idea for Uber was created when two millionaires thought about how to make the private car-for-hire experience service for everyone.

To recap, here are the 4 mistakes that hold back creativity and limit ideas.

  1. Group is too small
  2. Ideas are prematurely disqualified
  3. Wrong brainstorming tool
  4. “How” mindset instead of the “What” mindset

Don’t make these 4 mistakes at your next brainstorming session.

Learning how to successfully participate and lead a brainstorming session is one of the most important skills a product manager can master.

We hold regular live practice sessions in our Product Manager Nation community. You’ll learn and practice different techniques for generating as many ideas as quickly possible.

If you’re interested in joining, apply here.

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