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Aha! Roadmaps | How to host a collaborative brainstorming session

Brainstorming sounds easy enough — but without structure, it can be a fruitless effort. With the right documents and quick planning, however, you can have a productive virtual brainstorming session. In this article, we will cover the key steps you should take to ensure any brainstorming meeting is worth its while.

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Plan ahead

Before holding a brainstorming session, we need a solid plan and clear expectations so we can ensure it will be a productive use of everyone's time:

  • Settle on a topic: Just like you would when beginning something new, start with your "why." Why do you need to brainstorm new ideas? What are you hoping this brainstorming session will achieve? What are the goals of the session? Once you understand your "why," you can narrow in on your session's topic.

  • Identify who needs to attend: It is also important to involve the right people in your brainstorming session so you do not miss out on insightful ideas from someone who understands your topic and customers well. This could be members of your product team and customer success team, or even a group of customers.

For this article, let's say we are a product team responsible for Fredwin Cycling, a mobile app for social fitness. One of our goals for this year is for Fredwin Cycling to be a top-rated social fitness app. One of our initiatives that supports that goal is to enhance activity tracking. So we will hold a brainstorming session focused on generating ideas about how we can boost our activity tracking capabilities. We will invite folks from the product and customer success teams to the session, as they are close to our customers and have valuable insights.

Prepare your documents

Because we all work remotely, we will facilitate our brainstorming session through a virtual whiteboard, using a meeting agenda to keep the session focused and productive. We prepare a meeting agenda in a note and embed a whiteboard into the agenda that we will use for the brainstorming session. We will use pre-built templates from the Aha! template library for both.

If you are following along:

  • In your workspace's Notebook tab, find the most logical folder to keep your brainstorming session in (if it makes sense for your documentation hierarchy, you might want to create a new folder).

  • Click Add Use a template, then find the Meeting agenda template. Click Use template to apply it to your note.

  • Name your note. Add the brainstorming session's date in the Date field.

  • Customize the template with details about your upcoming session in the Overview section.

    • Our Purpose for this meeting is to generate ideas for our activity tracking initiative.

    • Our Agenda will be a bulleted list of what we plan to discuss and do during our brainstorming session. We can use @mentions to add the invitees to the meeting agenda as watchers. This will ensure they receive notifications if anything in our agenda changes.

      A meeting agenda for a brainstorming session

      Cater your note and agenda to how your team structures its meetings. After you do, you might want to save your note as a custom template for future use.

  • From the text editor toolbar, click the More options menu to embed a whiteboard in your note below the Overview section.

  • Click into the embedded whiteboard and select the Template icon to access the template gallery. Then, select the Brainstorming session whiteboard template.

  • Customize the whiteboard template to suit your purpose — add your topic and any other pertinent details. We will add Ideas to enhance activity tracking to the top of our template along with the date the session will take place.

a blank brainstorming template on a whiteboard

Great! Our templates are ready — but before sharing them, let's make sure meeting invitees will be able to access them. From the whiteboard's Share menu, click the dropdown next to Reviewer access and select Edit. This ensures reviewers will be able to edit your whiteboard when participating in the brainstorming session. Then, minimize the whiteboard and do the same for the meeting agenda note.

Share your agenda

Our templates are prepared, and we know meeting invitees will be able to edit them. We can now share our agenda so everyone is ready on the day of our brainstorming session. We will send a to-do to simultaneously share our agenda and kindly ask our invitees to come to the meeting prepped with their thoughts:

  • At the bottom of the meeting agenda, create a to-do for the attendees asking them to review the meeting agenda ahead of time so they can prepare for the brainstorming session. We will set the Due date a couple days before the session to give invitees time to review the agenda before the session will take place. In the to-do, we will include the session's date and time.

  • Click Save to send your to-do.

A to-do on a meeting agenda template assigned to multiple people

Sending the to-do will also share the document you have added it to. Invitees can check the box to complete the to-do when they have reviewed the agenda. This will give us visibility into who has reviewed the agenda prior to the session — so you can remind attendees who have not yet reviewed after the due date.

Outside of our Aha! account, we will also send invitees a calendar invite for our session. This will include a link to the videoconferencing meeting we will use.

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Facilitate your virtual brainstorming session

It is time for our brainstorming session. Invitees have all reviewed the agenda and have come prepared with ideas. Everyone has joined the video conference virtually. Let's facilitate a meeting!

If you are following along:

  • First, we will share our screen with the meeting agenda displayed. We begin the session by reiterating the purpose of our meeting to keep everyone focused.

  • We let invitees know that the session will be timed. We will also ask them to add their ideas on sticky notes in the Capture ideas portion of the whiteboard.

  • We have a lot to cover in our meeting, and we want to respect everyone's time. So we will use the timer tool to timebox each item on our agenda.

  • After the timer runs out, we determine as a group if there are any obvious themes in the ideas we added to the whiteboard.

  • Next, we group ideas by theme using the middle column on our whiteboard. In our brainstorming session, several clear themes emerged: push notifications, location-based enhancements, and social features.

  • After all ideas are categorized by theme, it is time to select the best ideas! We ask the session attendees to add emoji reactions to the sticky notes. This helps us determine how everyone feels about each idea. Our team will take three to five minutes to do this, so we will set the timer tool again.

    a brainstorming session in progress on a whiteboard
  • When the timer runs out, we discuss the ideas with the strongest reactions.

  • Last, we drag and drop the sticky notes that best align with our strategic initiative to the Identify solutions column to the right. Later, we will convert these stickies to ideas in our Aha! account.

At the end of the meeting, we will confirm that attendees are comfortable with the solutions from our session by discussing them individually. When we have alignment on our solutions, we select them all, right-click, and select Convert to ideas. Then, we choose the workspace where we want to manage the ideas — and make a plan to score and prioritize them later.

a brainstorming session template on a whiteboard with stickies being converted to ideas

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Evaluate and follow up

After the session is over, the real work begins! You will want to do your due diligence on each idea to determine whether it fits your strategic vision and whether it will bring value to your customers and organization. You should also thank the meeting attendees for a collaborative session.

Send your session attendees a note to follow up. Let them know what will happen to the ideas that came out of your brainstorming session:

  • Our team will score the ideas to determine their value.

  • Our team will research ideas and document our findings on each idea's Research tab. Research will potentially include customer interviews or collaboration with our engineering team.

  • We will promote high-value ideas to features on our product roadmap.

  • We invite attendees to add themselves as a Watcher on the ideas so they can receive notifications about status changes.

  • We thank them for their participation and invite them to attend future brainstorming sessions.

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If you get stuck, please reach out to our Customer Success team. Our team is made up entirely of product experts and responds fast.

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