4 Essential Principles for Generating (Better) Product Ideas

If you’re staring into a blank Word document waiting for the next big ideas for your product roadmap to arrive, rest assured, you’re not alone. 

As the person responsible for the roadmap and everything product, knowing how to generate impactful, high quality ideas for new products and features can be daunting. 

The figures speak for themselves. Leading consultancy McKinsey suggests that 40% of all new product fail and only 1 of 7 ideas yield a successful product. No pressure, right? 

But although it can be overwhelming to start, there are a few basic unnegotiable principles that, if done right, can steer product roadmaps and produce ideas that smash targets and attract users. 

Ready to know more? Get stuck into the absolute essentials for generating better product and feature ideas below: 

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1. Always start by defining the problem 

We’re all guilty of it but starting with the idea itself is a bad move.  

You may have people from different departments or even your CEO (been there before?) insist you take their idea for a new “game-changing” feature which more often than not is just that. An idea. 

Without looking at ideas through the prism of ‘how does this solve my problem?’ you will inevitably stray off course, resulting in all of the following: 

  • Wasted time 
  • Wasted resource 
  • A higher likelihood of failure when it goes live 
  • A higher chance you have not solved the problem at all 

That’s why knowing the problem inside out is not only advantageous, but it is ESSENTIAL. This often means knowing: 

  • The user: Who they are, what are their goals and ambitions, what are their pain points, etc. This can be developed from a user persona and enriched with existing quantitative or qualitative data you have to give you the full picture. 
  • What corporate objectives is the problem linked to?: All decisions have a motive behind them, whether to prevent customer churn or to attract new customers. What’s the benefit of solving this problem? How will it benefit the stakeholders? You can create ideas to solve a problem, but if it isn’t rooted in a corporate pain point too, you may struggle to get buy in or may only tackle a less pressing issue. 

Once this foundation is in place, you can now start cooking up product ideas knowing you’re focusing your energy at a defined target. 

Practical Tip: ‘How Might We’ Questions

Framing problems using “How might we [solve x problem]” questions can have a dramatic effect on your team’s ability to generate the right solutions.  

Using the framework as a team forces all everyone to focus on the problem itself and approach the problem from different angles.  

E.g.  You’re product managing a newly launched app.

Problem: Low paid subscriptions to an app with paywall features 

Framing: How might we inspire existing users to explore the app’s full functionality beyond the basic tier? 

For more inspiration, check out ideanote’s examples of ‘How Might We’ questions. 

2. You have more information internally than you think 

Data feels like a big part of the modern-day gold rush, serving as a fundamental resource for better decisions, impactful iteration and what we’re all after, better ideas.   

But what if instead of mining for new insights to spin ideas off of, you look to people who are (often) untapped wells of knowledge on your customer? Experts in your organisation. 

Product Manager’s usually work in collaboration with UX and engineering teams who chip in with great suggestions, but if you cast your net a little wider you can gather more info that may help you find the best solution. Who do you ask? 


Often a point of contact for survey results and competitor insights, the marketing team will have valuable knowledge on customer sentiment, market direction, innovation and competitor movements to help inform your next move.

Great for: Customer sentiment | Market conditions | Competitor knowledge 


They’ve heard the objections. “It hasn’t got this feature”. “I can’t afford it”. Being so close to the customer gives them a unique insight into what product challenges could be overcome to improve the likelihood that your ideas are on the right track.

Great for: Sales objections | Customer issues 

Customer Service Desk

When there’s a problem with the product, they are the customers go to contact. They’ll know the frustrations they hear most frequently and hear suggestions on how their performance can be better, helping you target your resources more efficiently.

Great for: Customer issues | Customer suggestions 

By pulling all the information you have into your idea generation process, you can not only best define the problem, but use the mass of information to more confidently create ideas that real customers have said they want, not what you think they want.


Talking through big product problems with clients
Our CEO talking through big product problems with our partners

3. Your customers know best, so talk to them! 

The customer/end user needs to be at the heart of your decision making process, full stop.  

1 in 5 products fail to meet customers needs, resulting in higher churn, negative word-of-mouth and lower ROI.  

So it goes without question that creating dialogue with the end user or customer is vital to product success, and the reasons are straightforward: 

  • Product development is risky: With the majority of organisations using outdated linear frameworks, the only time you receive real feedback is post-launch. After you’ve spent all that money and time, making not talking to the customer extremely high risk. 
  • Customer is king: The customer is the ultimate decision maker. They need to be represented at the C-Suite and in the product development process to best deliver what they will find value in. If that’s not in the product, they’ll take their business elsewhere. 
  • You don’t have the full picture: Customers will use your product differently than your internal testers and even you will. They have scenarios, use cases and pain points that you won’t be able to fully explore without, well, becoming them. As a result, you may not be able to address their needs on assumption alone. 

Many big organisations have learned that embedding customer-centricity early can have significant benefits to ideation. Dropbox’s first prototypes were beta tested with users to gather feedback prior to fully investing in engineering, helping them grow to a multi-billion dollar business knowing they were on the right track early and developing ideas users valued.  

Using intermittent feedback periods, beta testing, prototype user testing and more can ultimately help you iterate on ideas that work early, and shelve the ones that don’t before it’s too late. 

Example: Hintr’s approach to verifying product reviews

During our sprint with Hintr, we needed to find out what customers did to navigate round fake reviews. With Hintr’s business relying on confidence in reviews on their platform, bad or unverified reviews could leave the brand less credible. 

Shoppers were asked how they go about verifying reviews are accurate. Users unanimously said they looked for reviews on multiple platforms to inform their opinion and feel confident in their decision. 

This helped Hintr’s product team focus on helping customers feel the reviews were reliable through the idea of aggregation from multiple sources.

4. Competitive insights and innovation beyond your industry is your friend

How will you know if the grass is greener elsewhere if you don’t look over your fence every now and again? 

Having an isolationist mindset can be a huge barrier to innovation, leading to lower quality ideas, poorer ROI, and awkward meetings with the C-Suite. 

In fact, product managers say they spend 33% of their time assessing product/market fit, looking for innovation gaps and, reviewing competitor movements, showing that the current crop of product managers are scanning the environment to make their next move.  

Scheduling in time to review competitor innovations via the following sources can help you keep up with market trends and continue the evolution of your own product: 

  • Competitor press releases/patch notes – Read what features are coming soon to assess how they’ll impact your own product’s direction  
  • Competitor user testing – Try the competitor’s product. Are there any new concepts that would make a big difference? What gaps does it show you that you can capitalise on? 
  • Social listening – Using tools like Hootsuite and BrandWatch can help you see and action on competitor praise and feedback.  
  • Reviews – Monitoring different sites helps you to see exactly where customers have pain points, allowing you to try and solve those problems yourself to encourage switching. 

But competitors aren’t the only ones you should watch out for. Inspiration can come from anywhere (as the story about how velcro came to be will tell you, a dog walk in the woods!), so always be sure to have your eyes open further afield.  

Sonia Thompson’s article in Inc for example details a great example of how an auto-glass repair company took inspiration from Uber’s real-time driver tracking to overcome service ambiguity for their customer, e.g. arrival times, helping to enhance their customer experience.  

In short, great ideas can exist in your industry already but are not exclusive to it, so keep your eyes open. 

Example: Mortgage Wallet’s search for login inspiration

During our Design Sprint with the Founder of My Mortgage Brokers and his team, we used Lightning Demos to research solutions already in use to create their app’s login process.

Where did the final idea come from? A dog rehabilitation app prescribed by vets to owners post-amputations (ideas can really come from anywhere!)

Want to learn more about Lightning Demos? Check out our process for generating ideas fast here.

Let’s discover better ideas, together

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