Web Marketing/Usability Think Tank Exercises
August 27, 2008 8:12 AM   Subscribe

What are some good “think tank” exercises for my team to get them to brainstorm a bit on some new initiatives for our major retail website?

Hi everyone,

I was tasked today to come up with a “think tank” exercise for my small team of 5 front-end facing project managers to help come up with some ideas for new projects and initiatives for the next few years for our retail website. These initiatives can range from a complete site overhaul to a simple feature enhancement that improves the experience of our users.

At past jobs, for similar exercises, I’ve asked people to submit to me any URLs that they currently visit that they think are “cool” or that they couldn’t live without. I’d then facilitate a meeting where as a group we would view the sites and discuss why we liked them, etc. I plan on asking this same question to this new team just to get people started, but I’d also like some ideas for additional exercises to get the ‘creative juices flowing’. It would be great to get them to articulate what it is that makes a website something they check every day. For example, is it the features, the content, the interactivity, the design? I plan on asking these as direct questions, as well.

Essentially, our website, while clean and relatively user friendly, has historically been a slow adopter of web usability trends. In the future, however, we’d like to be more current with our site in regards to these trends, as long as they benefit our users and enhance profitability. For example, we’re just now adopting user interface functionality that has been common on other sites for years. We’d like to be more of a driver or at least an earlier adopter of trends in our marketplace.

So my questions are as follows:
1.What are some good “think tank” exercises for my team to get them to brainstorm a bit on some new initiatives for our major retail website?

2. What are ways that you use to inspire people to brainstorm, particularly around web usability and driving conversion rates?

The caveat here is that my team is not the marketing department. We already have a great marketing department that drives a lot of the strategy for our site. The leadership at my company, however, would like everyone in the pipeline of our projects to take a more active role in our strategic direction and planning, rather than just being purely executional. My direct management has requested that I spearhead this initiative for my direct peers.

Thanks, and I look forward to your responses!
posted by anonymous to Technology (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The surefire, no pain, Cool Papa Bell Brainstorming Procedure:

1) Get a comfortable conference room with a big wall or whiteboard.

2) Hand everyone a stack of Post-Its. Ideally, you have different colors for everyone, but that is not necessary.

For five minutes, in silence, you ask everyone to write a single, self-contained idea per Post It. The idea here is to go fast, with one idea or idea fragment per card, as many as you can in five minutes.

In your case, each Post It might look like:

* More rounded buttons
* User comments on page X
* Get rid of Flash navigation
* etc, etc.

Let people go wild, but keep it to one coherent idea per Post It. People can submit as many Post Its as they can write in five minutes.

3) Collect all the Post Its and stick them all to the whiteboard where they can all be read.

4) As a group, start aggregating the ideas into groups of similar ideas. If three people suggest "rounded buttons," then that's a group. If two people suggest "user comments," then that's a group. The idea here is to adjust for parallel thinking -- people thinking of the same idea, or so close as to be effectively the same.

5) Once you have them arranged in groups, then the groups of Post Its are your master idea list, and the size of the groups are the starting point for your prioritizations (i.e. if EVERYONE is suggesting "get rid of Flash," then that's the first thing you should consider because it's on everyone's mind and they all agree, at least partially).

6) I guarantee you will have more good ideas than you can shake a stick at. But you can repeat this process as many times as you need.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:51 AM on August 27, 2008

You mention usability a lot. Does marketing currently do usability testing or is this your department? Their is an inherent danger in a room full of managers brainstorming changes to a website that are supposed to inevitably help the user. What I mean by that of course is that everyone in that room is very accustomed to the website (much like a programmer is accustomed to using a computer) and this drastically alters the way you use the website.

A great thing for you all would be if you have videos of random people actually performing tasks (this is often done in usability testing so if these videos are already available even better, if not you'd have to get that setup first). Then during the sessions you watch some of these videos and discuss what areas the people are having trouble with. This will really help you focus in on where usability can be improved and prevent the "Everything would be better if we put a coat of gloss on it and add some Web 2.0 options" type thinking that is typical today.

Once you've defined the focus of where you can fuel the usability changes, your task becomes how to brainstorm what changes will improve usability. I got nothing for you on that front and perhaps it might be in the company's best interest for you all to hire a usability expert to sit in and guide that. Perhaps others will chime in here though with some good ideas.
posted by genial at 10:01 AM on August 27, 2008

My preferred format for organized brainstorming:

Method 635 brainstorming (pdf)
posted by Señor Pantalones at 11:05 AM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Two ideas, both of which you can customize for your own purposes.

First, mind mapping is a fun and excellent way to capture patterns of thinking and nuances behind ideas. It's great for groups and people get into it once they catch on to the concept.

Backcasting is another method that works wonders. (More info here.) Not only does it capture a great many ideas based on an "ideal state," but you also end up prioritizing the ideas as you complete the exercise. This one is especially good if you need to bring some reality to the situation.

And, of course, take a look at ANY user feedback from wherever: emails to the webmaster, suggestions, help line folks, etc. You're likely to find aspects of the site users would like to improved and conversation starters if things ever go a little quiet during the brainstorming.

This sounds like a cool project; good luck and have fun with it.
posted by Work to Live at 5:42 PM on August 27, 2008

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