Evaluating Product Ideas

In traditional product development, teams often start with brainstorming lots of new ideas. To generate the most ideas, traditional brainstorming has only one rule: there are no bad ideas. Unstructured brainstorming is inefficient because the goal of idea generation is not to generate more ideas. The goal is to generate only the best ideas to satisfy the unmet customer needs.

To generate the best ideas, a product development process should have unambiguous and quantifiable criteria to judge the ideas. This is what most product management processes lack, yet it is critical to a product team’s success. The criteria to judge an idea are the unmet customer needs.

When you get your team together to generate ideas, start by writing an unmet need on the whiteboard and note the top speed and accuracy with which the existing solutions attempt to meet the need. Then, ask the room: “What can we do to satisfy this need faster and more accurately than the existing solutions?”

It’s still helpful for your team to think out of the box–perhaps your product is a website but a chatbot would serve the need much faster–but now, because you are answering a specific, measurable question, you know whether to keep the idea or move on.

If surgeons were your customers and you wanted to help them restore artery blood flow, you would ask about the unmet need, “Does the idea help surgeons reduce the likelihood of restenosis?”

If drivers were your customer and you wanted to help them get to a destination on time, you would ask, “Does the idea help drivers reduce the time it takes to determine if an alternative route should be taken faster and more accurately than the existing solutions?”

If the ideas do not satisfy the needs, quickly move onto the next idea. If they do satisfy the needs, keep them on the list.

Push the team to build on the ideas and achieve step function improvements over the existing solutions. Don’t let them be boxed in by the limitations of your existing product. The sky is the limit. Later, you can plan your roadmap to get there, step by step.

Now that you have a list of ideas that serve the unmet customer need, measure how well they do it–how much they improve the probability of achieving the goal as stated in the need.

Stack rank the ideas based on how much more reliably or faster they meet the needs than the existing solutions. If you see an idea that produces a step function improvement–reduces the time from days to hours, minutes to seconds, etc.–you may be sitting on a gold mine.

Jobs Theory enables more efficient, precise, and relevant idea generation. Not only can you ensure all the ideas are relevant, but you can also avoid ideas that don’t add customer value.