You created your product to help customers solve a problem and align with your organization’s product vision. Your initial product version probably helped solve a problem, but you also realized you weren’t done.
You may have created a viable but incomplete solution. Your understanding of the problem may have evolved based on observing customers using your product. Or, the nature of the problem changed since you originally identified it.
Whatever the case, to have a continuously successful product, you need to continue to revise it, update it, and sometimes add new features.
Each of those changes starts as an idea. Many other changes that don’t happen also start as an idea.
When ideas that have nothing to do with solving customers’ problems become reality, that’s a sign that something is wrong with a product team’s idea management approach.
Because you are not your customer, and your customer does not always understand the possibilities and constraints of technology, you need to cast a wide net for product ideas. It should go without saying that you want to get customer feedback. Otherwise, how else are you going to know what problems they still want to be solved and whether your product helps your customers solve their top of line problems?
Customer feedback helps you identify potential problems and opportunities. Ideas from your team and others in your organization on how to solve those problems or exploit those opportunities to provide potential solutions.
Crowdsourcing can help you collect feedback and generate ideas from diverse people and perspectives.
What is crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing is where you ask people outside your company for ideas, information, and opinions – usually via the internet – to help you craft better products.
Some examples of crowdsourcing include:
- LEGO lets customers submit ideas for new LEGO sets via the LEGO Ideas platform. The platform also allows people to vote and offer feedback for ideas submitted.
- Unilever created The Unilever Foundry to allow innovators and start-ups to suggest solutions to specific challenges that Unilever posts as briefs.
- PepsiCo’s Lays brand uses the “Do Us a Flavor” campaign to encourage consumers to suggest ideas for new chip flavors.
In each of these cases, the company requests ideas from people outside their company, often with some constraints into which the idea has to fit. Some companies (LEGOs, for example) even ask people to give feedback on the ideas to help them select which ideas they move forward with.
While you’re probably not looking to cook up new chip flavors (pardon the pun), you will probably look for feature ideas to address specific customer problems.
You can also use crowdsourcing to identify and solve customer problems with your current solution.
Why crowdsource product ideas
There are several advantages to crowdsourcing product ideas.
Perhaps the most interesting reason to crowdsource product ideas is to get ideas from different perspectives than what you have on your product team. Even if you have a diverse team, chances are there are other perspectives that you could benefit from. Crowdsourcing product ideas provide those ideas.
Identify issues with your current product
Crowdsourcing not only allows you to identify new product ideas but helps you identify pain points with your current product.
For example, when the team from Audible redesigned the interface for their iOS7 mobile app, they didn’t consider a significant portion of their user base – over-the-road truckers. A lot of truckers listen to audiobooks while they drive. This became problematic at night because the original redesign introduced a light background, making their phones blinding distractions while driving.
Had the team crowdsourced customer feedback, they may have avoided that misstep and introduced dark mode as part of their original redesign.
Crowdsourcing provides an avenue to get innovative ideas for solving problems from people outside your product team. When you work on a particular problem long enough, you make assumptions that may or may not be true.
People looking in from the outside aren’t subject to those same assumptions. Sure, they may suggest some wacky ideas, but those wacky ideas can sometimes point to an alternative path.
Strengthen engagement with customers and potential customers
When you ask people to provide suggestions for future product iterations, you give them some skin in the game. If they feel they played a part in your product’s evolution, they will want to see it succeed.
That often leads to a more loyal customer base and may even attract new customers.
How to crowdsource your product ideas
Crowdsourcing sounds great, doesn’t it? But there can be downsides, including having a crop of outrageous ideas you have to filter through and the disappointment that may come if you don’t adopt their idea.
You must couple your efforts with a strong idea management practice to get the benefits of crowdsourcing without falling victim to some of its pitfalls.
Here’s how in a few steps:
Request ideas with some boundaries
Broadcast a request for product ideas and feedback, identifying important constraints you want the ideas to fit within.
To get the largest amount of feedback, draw attention to your request and make it easy for people to submit their ideas. That’s the concept behind the “Do Us A Favor” campaign and LEGO’s Ideas platform.
This step is all about crowdsourcing. It’s in the next few steps that idea management kicks in.
Perform a sanity check
If your request for ideas were successful, you would get feedback…A lot of feedback.
To keep your workload manageable, you’ll want to filter out the ideas that are not valuable, viable, feasible, or usable. To help make this decision establish one or two decision filters to help you assess each idea.
Hang on to all the ideas that pass the decision filters and consider when you may implement them. Throw away all the ideas that don’t pass those decision filters.
Capture & catalog
Even by filtering through all the ideas that don’t meet your decision filters, you will end up with more ideas than you can implement now.
So for everything that passes through those decision filters, you’ll want to keep track of them. This is where a centralized, structured idea management solution comes in handy.
There will be some items that you’ll want to implement right away, in which case they show up on your backlog. Other ideas may not make sense now, so you’ll put those on your roadmap for further consideration.
For those ideas that make little sense now, you’ll want a regular process to consider them down the road when they may make more sense.
Schedule a regular monthly or quarterly meeting to review ideas with representatives from different groups across the company. This allows you to revisit ideas with a fresh eye in case conditions have changed since you first evaluated them.
Build institutional memory
Whether you implement an idea or not, there is value in keeping track of them.
When you keep track of the ideas you consider, you can vet new ideas against ideas you’ve already explored and quickly dispose of ideas that match something you’ve already discarded.
You can also use past ideas before their time as inspiration for future ideas that may make sense later.