In my previous 2 posts on Techniques for Generating App Ideas and Rules for Idea Generation I discussed the building blocks of a solid app idea generation framework. In this post I’m going to pull all of those things together in a simple way to give you a structured way to generate ideas for apps.
Preparing for the session
The very first thing to do is organise a place to conduct the exercise, any required equipment and any people you want to be involved. Once you have all these things in order create a spreadsheet to capture all the important decisions you need to make before the idea creation process.
My app idea generation worksheet template is available as part of the Free App Creation Toolkit.
I really like to capture the date of the exercise and the number of people involved on this sheet – it can really help when referencing back to an old worksheet. The key elements that you need to capture are:
The reason(s) why you are making an app in the first place. Its better if you just have one reason, but if you have to you can list multiple reasons (keep it below 3 at all costs – if the reason isn’t in your top 3 then drop it). Rank them in order of priority with the most important at the top, and the least important at the bottom.
Examples of reasons are
- To make money to supplement my income
- To make money so that I can leave my job
- To drive traffic to my blog / website
- To learn how to make an app
- To have fun
Now list out all of the constraints that you’re going to apply to the idea generation exercise. Remember that constraints are a good thing, they can really help focus and ensure that you’re not wasting your time. Some good constraints are:
- Maximum time
- Minimum time
- Narrow to a specific subject matter
- Only list problems
- Maximum number of ideas
- Minimum number of ideas
In order to have a really productive idea generation session, I’d say you need a time limit, and probably at least 1 more constraint.
Next list out the approach you’re going take in the ideation process. The approach is the general way you going to attack the idea generation process, and influences how you progress through the idea generation process. Some examples of approaches you can take are:
- Focus on removing steps from existing jobs
- Focus on problems within a certain subject area
- Look at your interests or passions
- Focus on what you are good at or what you know
- Look at what apps are already out there or currently trending
You can occasionally combine these approaches (e.g. problems with whats already out there), so its really up to you to put down a meaningful approach that you’ll take. The approach can make or break idea generation as it provides clear guidance on how to complete the exercise. Also note, if the approach you take introduces some new constraints then document them in the constraints section.
The final thing to add to the worksheet is the technique(s) you’ll be using. The technique is a much more specific thing regarding exactly how you’re going to be undergoing the exercise. It may dictate that you need certain pieces of equipment, need to be in a certain location and may also enforce additional constraints. Some of the techniques I discussed in 10 Techniques for Generating App Ideas are:
- Going around the room
- Mind mapping
- The idea wall
- Using the internet
- Lean ideation
This is by no means an exhaustive list – but it is important to acknowledge a technique that you’re using, and what is required for that technique.
During the session
Its a good idea to take 5 minutes at the beginning of the session to lay-out the ground rules and cover all of the items mentioned in the idea generation worksheet. It can even be a good idea to complete the worksheet in the first 5 minutes of the exercise so that everyone involved is fully bought in to the idea.
Once the initial review is out the way its time to start generating ideas. Its really important during the exercise to monitor the rules for idea generation such as:
- There are no stupid ideas
- Don’t go too deep, too early
- Stick to the constraints
- Use the visualisations, but don’t get caught up in them
Rounding up the session
The final thing to do in the last 5 minutes of the exercise is to run over all the ideas with the team involved. It ensures that nothing has been misunderstood, that duplicates can be weeded out and can sometimes help motivate the team.
You should also capture all the ideas, so create a space on your idea generation worksheet to record all the ideas. If you’re using some visualisation tool then you may want to leave this until afterwards – you don’t need to write them all out, its just useful to keep a record of it all as you’ll almost certainly want to come back to something. You could always:
- Take a print out of your mind map and attach it
- Take a photo of your idea wall and attach it
- Keep all of the post-its with the worksheet
Whatever the case its a really good idea to keep things together so that you can come back to previous ideation exercises and get inspiration.
Another thing that’s also a good idea is to make a note of who came up with what idea. With the best will in the world some of the ideas will be really hard to understand when you revisit them in a weeks time – knowing who came up with the idea will really help resolve this.
Once you’ve got a set of ideas its time to move onto the next phase of the app creation flow, build some business models and determine whether or not its worth progressing any further.
In a future post I’ll be running through an actual app idea generation exercise that I completed to give an idea of what everything looked like before during and after the exercise, and where I went from there.
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