How can I come up with new product ideas?

The first step towards coming up with ideas is to work closely with your senior management and product leadership team to define your goals. More specifically, you should establish a firm definition of what your team and product's goals are for the next 3 months.

Sample goals might be:

  • Growing your user base

  • Increasing conversions

  • Retaining more users

  • Improving performance

All of this depends largely on your product. You will have to analyze the data and work closely with senior management to figure out where your concentration areas should be in the short term. For example, you might see that your users get hooked once they start using your product, but you are having trouble bringing them into the funnel. If that is the case, then your goal might be to acquire new users.

On the other hand, you might notice that conversions among referrals are very high, which means that when one of your users invites one of their friends, a very high proportion of those friends ends up joining. However, very few of your users actually invite anyone. If that is the case, you should consider creating a goal around referrals.

Whatever the goal is, you need to take a close look at your product to understand where you might need to concentrate your efforts. Once you have a better understanding of this, you can start to set your short-term product goals. Oftentimes, at mid to large sized companies, these goals will include an actual target which you can set with your senior management team. It might include something along the lines of, "Increase registered users by 15%." Or, "Improve purchase conversion rates from 3% to 4.5%."

From the product management perspective, you want to look at these goals and consider which types of product themes might correlate to these department or company goals.

What Is a Product Theme?

A product theme is a set of product features which are connected to a single area. If your goal is increase conversion rates from 3% to 4.5%, you might develop a theme around conversion. If your goal is to increase users by 15%, you might use a theme that addresses acquisition.

Setting these themes is a key way to help you to focus and strategize which types of features and ideas you should concentrate on. This helps you ensure that your product is moving in the right direction and that your team and company are focused. Many teams try to do too many things at the same time, which causes performance to decline.

By getting you and your entire company on the same page, you can make sure that everyone is moving towards the same goals and themes. In the initial short term timeframe, strive to identify 3 core themes. This will allow you to improve your product in specific key areas, and help you hone in on ideas in that area.

Ideas Around Themes

The next step is for you and your team to brainstorm new ideas. But rather than the freeform set of ideas where people (including yourself) might suggest anything and everything, you can organize the ideation process to focus on your 3 key themes. This ensures that you are spending time on features where your product needs the most work.

Let's say that you choose to pursue themes around Acquisition, Conversion, and Referrals. One week later, your Sales Director starts requesting and devising tons of ideas around allowing people to "favorite" different things in the product and hoping that it can be more social. He also proposes a separate idea to translate the product into a different language with the goal to start signing international clients.

In this situation, look back at the key themes that you are focusing on for the next 3 months: Acquisition, Conversion, and Referrals. Do the Sales Director's ideas fit into your core themes? If they did, then you would add to them to the ideation list and place them into the respective themes.

But the Sales Director's ideas do not align with your chosen themes. So, take those new ideas and jot them down in your list of future potential features. You can revisit these features once you have a different set of goals and themes for the product. This list of ideas is called your product backlog.

Focus is hugely important in the product management role. Everyone tends to want to build everything and devise all sorts of "great" ideas. But this leads to a disjointed product made of halfhearted features that fails to achieve any of your core goals. Left unchecked, this can cause your company to lose focus and fail to achieve goals as well.

Once you have your themes set, you might ask yourself: "How do I come up with ideas which fit my themes?"

Take that instinct one step further and ask: "Within our chosen themes, what could we build right now that will achieve my core goals and create the most value for our customers?"

These are not easy questions to answer. But if you are able to get into this mindset, it will ensure that you build the best product possible for your customers.

Researching New Ideas

Research and analysis will play a key role in helping you to come up with new ideas. On the research front, you can do both primary and secondary research.

In product management, primary research involves monitoring customer behavior based on data that you should be capturing. Secondary research involves monitoring competitors to review their products and analyze what they excel at (and where they can improve).

In this same vein, it is important to constantly be trying new products and exploring different user experiences. The more you are exposed to, the more familiar you will be with potential feature sets and ideas which can help you achieve your goals.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Steve Jobs

Founder of Apple & Pixar

The experiences that Steve Jobs references do not necessarily have to be personal experiences based on products or features that you have built. These can be experiences from websites or products that you have used. Think about a website that you loved due to its amazing user experience.

Remember what a joy that website was to use, and how easy it was for you to achieve what you needed from it. This sort of experience is what you should draw on and incorporate into your own product.

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