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Which idea to choose?

Brainstorming generates a LOT of ideas. How do you go about sorting and prioritising them, and picking the good ones?

Dot voting

If you want to pick the best ideas using group consensus, you can use dot voting. Everyone gets a small number of votes, usually ⅓ of the total number of options. Individuals assign their votes to their favourite ideas by putting a dot on the note detailing the idea. They can vote for an idea more than once if they want to. When everyone has voted, rank the ideas by the number of dots to quickly prioritise them: more dots means the idea is more popular.

Image of dot voting

Affinity mapping

A simple technique for spotting duplicates and grouping ideas into categories is Affinity Mapping. To do this:

1. Write all of your ideas on sticky notes, with one idea per note.
2. Stick the first idea on a large flat surface. (Read it out if you’re working with a group.)
3. Pick up the next note. Is it similar to the first? Does it share a theme? (Discuss this if you’re with a group.)
4. If it’s similar, physically group it with the first note. If not, start a new group of notes.
5. Repeat for all of your ideas. Move the notes into groups or columns as you discover similarities. You can keep duplicates as they remind you that several people thought the same thing.
6. When you have worked through all of the ideas, look at each group and try and suggest a name that summarises that group.

This technique allows you to quickly summarise many items in just a few themes. You may find connections between groups, too.

Stack ranking

If you have a smaller number of options, perhaps ten categories from an affinity map, you can stack rank:

1. Stick the first idea in the middle of the wall.
2. Pull out the next idea. Is it better or worse than the first one? Put it above or below the first note, where higher is better. Leave a gap between them.
3. Pick the next idea. Compare it to the first idea. Is it higher (better) or lower (worse)?
4. Is there another idea as you move in that direction? Compare it to that idea, again higher or lower? Continue until you have a ranked stack of all of the ideas.

Impact/Effort matrix

You can rate ideas against more than one criterion. An impact and effort matrix lets you work out which ideas could be easy to do (requiring less effort), whilst having the best results (more impact).

1. Draw a big square cross on the wall, labelling the top of one line high impact and the end of the other high effort.
2. Pick an idea and get a rough idea of how much effort it would be to do. If you’re with a group, you can discuss this together.
3. Hold the note at about the right place on the effort line, then decide how much impact you think it will have. Move the note against the impact axis until it feels in the right place.
4. Repeat for each note until you have all of them placed on the matrix.

Ideas in the high impact / low effort quarter are quick wins and you should concentrate on those. Any in the low impact / high effort area are probably not worth doing. You can find a template of an impact / effort matrix in the Downloads section.

There are many other ways of prioritising and ranking ideas and product features, but these methods let you make quick, ‘good enough’ assessments.

Now it’s your turn:

Look at the ideas you brainstormed to help Tariq. In a later step you’ll prototype one of these ideas.

  • Which of the techniques above do you think will help you pick an idea to prototype?

Have a go at using one of the approaches you’ve just seen then share how you got on in the Comments.

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This article is from the free online course:

Get Creative with People to Solve Problems

University of Leeds