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How to Run a 2024 Brainstorm (that doesn't suck) with Your Team

Helping you avoid "collaboration theater"

It’s the first week of Q4, and you know what that means – gingerbread houses, rushed deadlines to accommodate holiday vacations, and drumroll... 2024 planning team brainstorms!

Did you just “ugh”?

I know. We’ve all been there – a huge (and expensive) team brainstorm that falls flat. Only a few people end up talking while everyone else zones out. Even after all that effort, you leave with the same tired ideas you started with.

It doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be this way.

Over the years, I’ve developed a process that helps guide productive brainstorms. This year, I’ve started layering in AI, which takes it to another level.

A quick word from this issue’s sponsor: Zeda.io

Zeda.io is an AI-powered product discovery and strategy software that helps product teams uncover problems that matter to customers, decide what to build next, and create strategies to drive outcomes.

  • Boost product-led sales by up to 50%

  • Free up over 90 hours every month for team collaboration

  • Cut customer churn rates by 20%.

  • Craft product strategies in just a third of the time.

Alright, let’s get into it.

🛠️ Quick note on tooling. In this article I’m using:

  • Miro for the brainstorming

  • ChatGPT Pro for the AI portions

Prep Work

Easily the biggest mistake I see in brainstorms is a “wing it” mentality, which is virtually guaranteed to result in the kind of boring, useless brainstorm we all know so well.

Here are a few things you need to prep for a great brainstorm:

  1. The User Journey. Maps out the entire user journey for the focus of your brainstorm. This gives the full picture of pain points. Here’s an awesome, free Miro template. You only need to fill out the first two rows to prep.

  2. User Research. Compile all your relevant user research in a doc everyone can access. If you want, you can try using an awesome AI tool called Collato to host these docs in a space where anyone can query them using AI. I covered how in my thread here.

Put both of these together in a pre-read and send it a few days before the brainstorm.

Generate "How Might We" Statements

Now you’ve got everyone together. Before diving right into solutions, you need to come to a shared understanding of the problem.

We’ll do this by coming up with “How Might We” statements.

All-in, this should take about 2 hours.

  1. Review user journey and UX research (30 mins). Review the pre-read package together and talk through any questions. This ensures shared context. You can have your designers or researchers lead this portion.

  2. Pain point storm (30 mins)! Individually, everyone adds sticky notes to the user journey map highlighting pain points and questions users may have at each step. You should end up with a ton of stickies, something like this:

  3. Affinity map swarm (15 mins). Work together to group the stickies into themes. Put similar ideas together and label the groups.

    You should end up with something like this (but maybe messier!)

    This is a great opportunity to have AI help you too. In Miro, you can export a group of stickies to a CSV, then load them into ChatGPT’s Advanced Data Analysis and ask it to do an affinity mapping.

    Results may vary with this approach, but it gives you another set of grouping your team may not have considered.

  4. Dot Vote (5 mins). Together, the team votes on the top 3-4 problem areas to focus on based on importance and ability to solve. You can let everyone vote on their favorite two problem areas. In Miro, the easiest way to do this is to have everyone put a circle on their favorite ideas.

  5. Generate “How Might We” statements (20 mins). Finally, it’s time to make your How Might We (HMW) statements. These should tie specifically to the category and related pain points and be framed in a way that immediately makes someone start thinking of ideas. Here are some examples based on the example I’ve been using:

    Search & Discovery: How might we make the recipe search and discovery process more intuitive and personalized?
    Usability & Experience: How might we enhance the overall user experience by reducing clutter and improving usability?
    Ingredients & Shopping: How might we simplify the ingredient sourcing and shopping process for the user?
    Cooking & Preparation: How might we assist users in the cooking and preparation phase to ensure a successful meal?

See how impossible it is to read those questions and not have ideas start jumping right out of your brain?

Take a break, then let’s get all those ideas out there.

Ideate on How Might We's

Now we’re in the home stretch. In many ways, you’ve done the hardest part already. Good problem statements make good solutions that much easier to come up with.

This will take about 2 hours.

  1. Solo ideation (8 mins each HMW). Go through each problem area and have the team list as many ideas as they possibly can to solve the problem, individually.

  2. Share ideas (10 mins each HMW). Everyone shares their one favorite idea for solving the HMW. (Going through every idea takes too much time.)

  3. Affinity mapping (10 mins each HMW). Same drill as the last section. Group ideas and label the groupings. Again, a good chance to see what ChatGPT comes up.

  4. Dot Vote (5 mins)! Finally, the team votes on their favorite 3 solutions. (This is not how you should prioritize your ideas, but it helps you get a pulse on where everyone is at.)

And you’ve done it!

Your team now has a shared understanding of the landscape and a divergent set of ideas tied to real user problems - exactly what you need heading into 2024 planning.

Of course, the hard work has just begun. Next, you’ll need to converge on which of these many ideas you’re actually going to build by investigating the feasibility, potential impact, and alignment with your company’s overall strategy.

But that, my friends, is a topic for another day.

Spread the word! If you missed my giveaway of LLMs for PMs on X last week, fear not – you can still get it for free by sharing this newsletter with your friends. (Or you can also buy it here for $59.)

And if you already got it, I’ll be adding more Referral rewards soon like more resources and sweet PM merch, so if you refer people now you can get a head start.

Further Reading