What is a Brainstorm

is a group or individual creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its member(s).

The above definition, courtesy of Wikipedia, defines a brainstorm broadly as an endeavor to generate a list of ideas from a group of members. So a brainstorm can be a meeting, a one on one conversation, or any other sort of interaction where the objective is to generate ideas around the solution of some problem.

Brainstorming for Product Managers

The brainstorm is a key tool in the product manager’s toolkit that should be leveraged whenever the time is right to bring in some new life to the product design or search for a solution to a tough problem. The basic premise is that collaboration beats a silo. You can always set up a brainstorm, but it is important to make them effective and structure them to get the most bang for the time you have.

Brainstorm techniques

Before we dive into the specific brainstorm techniques, I want to take a moment to preface how important it is to spend some time thinking about what success looks like for your brainstorm. What is the problem that needs to be solved. Do you need tons of ideas for new products, do you need to whittle down new features to an MVP, do you need to improve an existing product? For each of these objectives you may choose different technique(s).

With that said, let’s look at some great techniques you can use to help generate ideas in your next brainstorm.

How-Now-Wow Matrix:

Rules reference:

Objective: create a list of ideas that the group can all work together to prioritize into categories of How (not sure how they will be implemented), Now (know ideas that should be implemented immediately), and Wow (novel and easy to implement ideas)

When to Use: when you are looking for new ideas from the group and you want to keep focus on what actions should be taken on these ideas at the end. With this matrix at the end you have a loose timeline for what ideas should be worked on now and what should be put in the parking lot.

Buy a Feature

Rules reference:

Objective: this exercise creates a forced prioritization that can be used with your internal stakeholders or customers. You provide a limited amount of money and price out features based on the high level estimate of how difficult they are to implement. Then your stakeholders have to choose what features they want to purchase, and naturally they can’t afford all the features that are available.

When to Use: this exercise is best to use when you need to narrow down and prioritize product initiatives. Traditionally this is something that can be used as a focus group technique, but it can also be extremely useful in showing senior leaders that they can’t have everything and this can help you prioritize together.

Card Sorting

Rules for reference:

Objective: this exercise is most useful to help determine information architecture. The information of a website is placed on individual index cards and sorted into similar categories. The act of sorting helps elucidate high level categories in a sensible way.

How to use: Card sorting comes fairly far down the chain once you have already determined your product and the types of content for your website. However, it is still important to do before designing your site because the content hierarchy can have major impacts on your site design. It’s also important to re-investigate card sorting frequently as content is continuously added to the site.

Post-It Storm

Rules for reference:

Objective: pure idea generation. This exercise is of the ultra simple variety, and simply consists of asking for your group to start creating ideas and putting them on sticky notes. It will bring in tons of ideas and it can be a great way to start out any brainstorming session.

When to use: use this tactic when you need to get a big list of ideas. When you are starting from the ground level, or you know that the group you are working with has a lot of ideas already that they want to get out. This simple tactic can be used to get a lot of ideas fast and then you can move to another game, such as How/Now/Wow.



About Author

Co-founder of, ex-Audible (Amazon), AmEx and TribalScale Product Management leader, currently living in Portugal leading product management of vertical expansion for automotive within OLX. Mike has built products and coached teams all over the world.

Leave A Reply