One of the hardest parts of product management is making visible how you evaluate ideas and make decisions about what to build. Everyone has ideas. Rarely are you sitting around dreaming up what to build next.
More likely, your wading through feature request after feature request trying to identify what’s going to drive results. But few people outside your product team see this process. From their viewpoint, it looks like you just think up ideas and build them.
And as a result, they want in on the game. They want to generate ideas and build them too.
My philosophy is to be 100% transparent. Expose as much of your decision-making process as possible. Let’s look at how you can do this.
Clearly define what problem your product is trying to solve.
Many ideas are solutions looking for problems. Don’t get distracted by these. Start with a clearly defined problem. For example, my company helps college students find jobs and internships. That’s it. It doesn’t get more clear than that.
Identify the current challenges you are facing in solving that problem.
Why is this a hard problem to solve? What does your product do well? Where does your product need to improve?
At my company, we face many challenges. Unemployment is high across the country. Companies hire based on past work experience. College students don’t have relevant work experience. Employers don’t know how to evaluate student talent. College students don’t know how to find a job.
Ask for ideas that address those challenges.
Rather than asking your company to generate product ideas, ask them to generate solutions to some of the challenges you just identified.
At my company, we ask: How can we help employers identify which students will be a good fit at their company? How can we guide students through the job finding process?
Explain how you will evaluate each idea.
Let people know up front, how you will evaluate the ideas they generate. Be specific.
At my company, we evaluate ideas based on their expected impact. Our ultimate measure of success is are people getting hired through our service. But we also look at the intermediate steps along the way: are people viewing jobs, are they applying for jobs, are they getting interviews. If an idea has the potential to improve any of these areas, it’s something we are going to consider.
Provide feedback on each and every idea using the criteria you explained up front.
If someone takes the time to generate an idea, take the time to reward their efforts with detailed feedback. Be sure to evaluate the idea according to criteria you started with. Be consistent. Nobody wants to play a game where the rules keep changing.
Giving good feedback is an art form. We’ll look at how to give feedback on several types of ideas on Thursday.
Make sure some ideas make it to development.
Seeing your idea make it into the product is one of the best rewards. It will motivate everyone. If you go to the effort of asking for ideas, make you sure you actually consider them. If none of them are practical, revisit the previous steps. It means you have more work to do. It does not mean that other people can’t or won’t generate good ideas.
Remember, your job is to set the context. State the problem. Define the evaluation criteria. And then get out of the way. Let everyone generate ideas. Reward participation. Give feedback. Managing idea generation across a company can take more work than just coming up with ideas yourself, but the outcome will be far better. Do the work, you won’t be disappointed.
How do you manage idea generation across your company?