Build a Better Product With Product Ideation

Ben Robinson Ben Robinson  |  January 24, 2020

Thomas Edison once said, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it."

In the world of SaaS, product managers, marketers, and customer success professionals alike are honing the way they go about this funny little concept known as product ideation.

So what’s it all about? Subscription models in the software world mean customer retention is now the metric above all others, and retention only happens when customers are successful with your product. Software product owners need to continually step up their game in order to stand a chance of leading in their category, delivering solid value for their users and assuming the title of category innovation.

A software product that stagnates...fails.

What is product ideation and why is it important?

How do you ensure your software product develops and adapts to your customers’ ever-changing values and needs? That’s where product ideation comes in. Many people mistakenly think product ideation is about big picture, end-state thinking, all while dreaming up a fantastic version of an end-product that’s not just three or four iterations away from where you are now – but light years away. In contrast, when it comes to successful product ideation, the devil really is in the details.

You’ll should ask yourself the following:

  • Who is using this tool and how are they using it?
  • What pains are we solving?
  • What tasks are we performing in order to get there?
  • What outcomes are generated?
  • How does this evolve not only our category but the industry we are serving?

We can never fully move away from making assumptions, so let’s make peace with that. But when product owners challenge themselves with the harder questions and turn to concepts like design thinking, software product vendors can become disruptors that can change the way an industry functions.

Successful product owners are those that are able to take a user’s needs or desires, and not only satisfy what the user knows they want — but deliver what they didn’t even realize was possible.

As MakeIt so brilliantly puts: “An idea on its own is worth nothing. The process of coming up with an idea that can be turned into something valuable is called ideation.”

Design thinking and ideation in software development is rapidly becoming the norm with forward-thinking product owners. Taking this user-centered approach to building software products that define and even create categories is clearly the approach à la mode for 2020. Will we continue to find new and better ways to ideate and iterate on our software products in future? Probably so. After all, design thinking predicts it.

Design thinking focuses on solutions, not problems. It requires product owners to step out of the traditional bells and whistles or “feature” thinking, and into the shoes of their users.

In a retention-dependent subscription economy, employing design thinking requires a business to first understand the objectives of their customers, before defining the challenges they face, ideating on solutions, and then prototyping and eventually continually iterating on these.

In SaaS, customer-centric product ideation is only one way you can increase retention. You can also facilitate effective self-service and drive customer engagement and success. Smart applications of design thinking allow product owners to shape the user experience in a way that not only provides the desired solution, but that benefits the software provider’s business. Think about how UX specialists are able to shape the user experience and journey within a software tool to facilitate onboarding or drive freemium upgrades.

How does an effective product ideation process look?

The most important element of effective software product ideation begins with understanding your users’ objectives, challenges, and steps/tasks your product can enhance in their day-to-day.

Software product ideation puts the user at the center of the process. Learn how the product-user feedback loop puts the user front-and-center in product ideation. Solving their problem – whether acknowledged or as yet still unknown by them – is the be-all and end-all of your purpose as a product owner.

But how can we possibly manage to understand their problems intricately enough to approach the product ideation process in this way?  Plus, building relationships with your users is a vital part of software product development. Of course, there are a wide range of ways to do this. Here are four of the main ones.

Online surveys

While you might not like filling them out, you may be surprised at how many people do, and what great insights they can give you. Just make sure your questions are positioned in a way to ensure you get the most useful insights into how your customers really feel about your product. 

TIP: Start creating online surveys today with survey software. Find all available solutions on G2.

See the Easiest-to-Use Survey Software →

Individual user interviews

Sometimes there is no replacement for face-to-face interactions. Interviews can be a great way to really get to know your customers and learn where they would like to see your product going in the future.

Online ideation groups

Creating a closed group online where users can test features or give feedback/suggestions on ideas is a great, transparent and hassle-free way to improve your product development.

Peer-to-peer discussion

When users can bounce ideas off each other, often they come up with the most ingenious adaptations or innovations to your product. So get peers engaged with each other and watch the product suggestions roll in!

The most effective way that we’ve found to develop this special two-way relationship with your users is by harnessing an online user community that facilitates peer-to-peer discussion, problem solving and use-case discussion – as well as providing a space for more direct ideation groups, like feature ideas and requests. Furthermore, online communities offer a space to run beta tests with select users and garner feedback on your product or feature iterations.

How to capture product ideation data and use it to your advantage

Product ideation data is the key to effective prioritization of feature requests. No matter how you gather ideation requests, choosing exactly what to action in your development process can be the hard part. So, here are three tips to help you prioritize user feedback.

Have a platform where customers can comment and vote on ideas

This could be something as simple as a specific page or group on a social media platform, for example. Or, you could launch an online community where customers can upvote and/or comment on requests, meaning product teams can easily identify the most popular ideas.

Example of upvoting on product ideation requests

Have a clear workflow for filtering and reviewing proposed ideas

Make sure that channels of communication are established internally with the right departments or areas, as well as externally with the ideators engaged in the process of proposing ideas, discussing those ideas, and voting for their preferred ones.

Integrate the tools you’re using

In order to help with the above, it’s a good idea to integrate the tools you are using. If you have a community, integrating it with your ticketing system and/or your workflow management system can really streamline your customer feedback workflow.

No matter how you’re gathering user feedback, remember how to say no. Ideation is not about ticking off a list of feature requests. Refer back to design thinking methodology, and ask yourself: What is the user really trying to do here?

Daniel Boon, Product Manager at inSided notes:

“We always make sure that every idea gets a response, no matter how ‘out there’ it may seem. Our approach is always to ask ‘why?’. It’s vital that a product manager can get to the root problem. What is the user trying to achieve with this idea? What’s the problem they’re trying to fix? Once we get confirmation of what the problem really is, we’re in a much better position to solve it – and this way we can often find a much better solution than the original idea that was proposed.”

Conclusion

One of the main objectives in any SaaS is to keep your customers happy. The best ways to do that? By making sure that your users are getting maximum value from your product and building a product that suits their needs. Of course, that’s a tall order. But having an effective process for product ideation that, crucially, involves your customers goes a long way to helping you achieve both. 

Now that you've got your product ideation strategy down, how about seeing what product management software is out there to help your transition? 

Find the best Product Management Software on the market. Explore Now, Free →

Author

Ben Robinson

SaaS expert and writer at Customer Success community platform, inSided. Sharing value-driven content that helps customers help themselves.

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